How would you respond to these scenarios: Your 14-year-old is upset because her favorite jeans are still in the dirty laundry? Your 10-year-old tells you on Monday morning that he forgot to do his weekend homework? Your 7-year-old is playing the Wii (and keeping out of your hair) before doing her after-school chores? Your 4-year-old is having a power struggle over a toy with another child?
If you’re anything like me (and yes, these are my own real life examples), you may be sorely tempted to take the guilt trip from the teenager and throw her jeans in the washing machine (because a good mother always makes sure the laundry is clean), write a note to the teacher about your busy weekend to excuse your son from doing his homework (why does a 5th grader have weekend homework anyway?), give in to your 7-year-old’s desire to play before taking care of her responsibilities (she’s only 7, after all–let her be a child!), and rescue your 4-year-old from the squirmish with her friend (it’s so hard to hear her cry).
You’ve probably heard the phrase “Helicopter Parent” by now–coined by the authors of the popular book, Parenting with Love and Logic. If not, a “Helicopter Parent” is one who hovers over their child’s every move in an effort to protect them from pain, disappointment, and failure in the process of achieving success. This can manifest itself at the park, in the school, in social circumstances, or when maneuvering important decisions of any kind.
Wanting to help our children succeed while avoiding pain and failure is the most natural thing in the world for a mother, right? So what’s the big deal?
It may not seem like a big deal when children are still, well, children, but according to Wikipedia, “As the children of ‘helicopter parents’ graduate and move into the job market, personnel and human resources departments are becoming acquainted with the phenomenon as well. Some have reported that parents have even begun intruding on salary negotiations.”
Saren’s last post addressed a similar topic, but I’d like to piggyback off her thoughts a bit and spend some time looking at what I think is the ultimate parenting paradox: Wanting so badly to help our children be happy and successful that we actually rob them of the opportunity by our “helpful” (read suffocating) parenting style.
I myself have been guilty of this for far too long. As a fairly recent convert to this “firmer” parenting style (and I still have a way to go–old habits die hard), I can see such a difference in my children since taking myself out of the equation whenever possible. I can honestly say that I now believe my stepping back is one of the most loving things I can do as their mother. (Even if it isn’t as fun or easy as playing the superhero, and always leaping in to save the day. I really do hate to see my kids “suffer”.)
Why do we do it anyway? This hovering behavior that creates incompetent, molly coddled wimps? I think the biggest reason is that we have absolutely no idea what we are doing! I would guess that most parents with a hovering habit probably think it is a show of love–and that’s where the trouble starts. It may be helpful to explore just a few of the possible reasons why we do what we do so we can better nip our “loving” ways in the bud. See if you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions:
The Perfectionist: This is the mom who wants her home and her children to look like a catalog photo shoot at all times. Naturally, if everything is going to be as perfect as possible as often as possible, there is no room for children to help with the cooking, cleaning, or dressing of themselves. (And they become incompetent slobs.)
The Martyr: This is the mom who feels it is her sacrosanct duty to do everything for everyone, all day long. She is either telling anyone who will listen just how much she has to do to keep her home and family going (even if it’s killing her!) or suffering in silence waiting for one of her children to volunteer to take some of the weight off her shoulders. (It’s not gonna happen, and she wouldn’t accept the help anyway.)
The Clueless: This is the mom who, after years of having truly helpless babies in the home, doesn’t realize that those babies have actually grown into little people who don’t need their every move scheduled and approved by mommy anymore. It’s tough for this mother to recognize when her baby has transformed into a capable child, especially when so much of her identity (and daily routine) revolves around “doing” for her children in very physical, measurable ways. (That’s what a good mom does, right?)
The Overachiever: This is the mom who has the skills and the drive to be successful in whatever she does, so she can’t stand to think of one of her own children not being quite as “successful” in the estimation of the world as she has been. It’s very important for this mom to ensure the success of each of her children, feeling that all eyes are on her and what she is “accomplishing” in her home with her children.
Which mom did you identify with the most? The important thing is to recognize that none of these reasons for hovering over our children is motivated by true love; it’s mostly about the mother.
Of course, when I talk about “true” love, I don’t mean the kind that motivates us to make our child’s favorite dessert for their birthday, read their favorite bedtime story three times in a row, or take them out on a private date just because we think they need some one-on-one time. There will always be a place for that kind of unconditional, nurturing love. The kind of “anti-hover” love I’m talking about feels like self-discipline, acts like courage, and wears you out like hard work. I guess you could call it “tough love”. (Another popular phrase from a book by the same name dating back to 1968.)
What does “tough love” look like? Well, in my case it meant that I kindly (but firmly) invited my 14-year-old to do a load of laundry herself, my 10-year-old took a zero on his weekend homework assignment, my 7-year-old lost her screen privileges for the day (even if that meant more hassle for me), and after waiting, listening, and waiting some more, my 4-year-old and her friend actually worked out a compromise on their own.
As we bite the bullet as parents and love the hard way (that is to say, stand back and watch our children do for themselves, make messes, get hurt, feel disappointment, and fail over and over again), not only will we be relieved of much of the unnecessary stress and guilt we inadvertently heap upon our shoulders, but our children will develop the life skills and self-esteem needed to face adulthood and achieve that happiness and success we so desperately want to give them.
But the reality is, we can’t “give” our children happiness and success anyway. It has to be earned. And earning things of such high value means our children will have to pay a price. We can either “love” our children into big grown up babies, still living at home at age 30 expecting mommy to swoop in and solve all their problems, or we can love them into a life of competent self-confidence by letting them experience pain, failure, disappointment, self-denial, and good old fashioned hard work.
So as we wrap up this month’s focus on The Power of Love, I hope you’ll consider not just how to show your children love through all the warm and fuzzy stuff, but also how to show them love through stepping back and getting tough.
Tough love is a tough choice as a parent, but we’re the only ones who can make it.
QUESTION: Are you a helicopter parent? If so, what are the triggers that cause you to go into “hover” mode?
CHALLENGE: After recognizing your triggers, try stepping back and taking yourself out of the equation a little bit more this week.
Photo by Andrew Tate at www.flickr.com
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