Confessions of an Anti-Helicopter Parent

As you can guess by the title, I am not a helicopter parent. I do not hover. Even though society says I should.

I was born into a large Irish-Italian family, the 5th of 6 kids. My parents were born at the tail end of the Greatest Generation, during the Depression and instilled a strong work ethic. It was not an easy life. My siblings span through the Baby Boom into Generation X (I’m an X-er). The socio-cultural impact of when each of us were born, combined with the influence of our own parent’s authoritarian style of childrearing heavily influenced how each of us parent today.

According to today’s social standards, I’m expected to be authoritative in the way I parent my 11 year old son. I’m supposed to run my house as a democracy since the research tells me this is the best way to protect my son from the pitfalls of life; drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, as well as low self-esteem. My son should feel special because he is Max. He should avoid being held responsible for his own actions because, let’s face it, the world is a scary place. I should shield him from disappointment and heartache. I should agree with him when he tells me that his teacher is mean, his friends are bullies and that life is unfair. I should edit his homework, have a home cooked meal on the table every night and insert myself into all aspects of his life. And I should feel guilty when I fail to do these things. Because, if I fail to follow the rules, I could ruin him for the rest of his life. (I’m here to tell you, that outside of the fact that my son is special because he is Max, I pretty much fail at all of these things).

I am a 43 year old single mother who struggles with this guilt every day.  A few weeks ago, early one morning, while sitting alone, a thought popped in my head. “You are a terrible mother”, it screamed at me. It was such a profound moment because it came out of nowhere. Nothing had happened. My ever smiling, ever laughing, straight A, introspective, thoughtful, happy go lucky son was the same child he had always been. And yet, in that moment, I was a failure.

Because I am trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I quickly went into damage control mode and made a mental list as to why I am not a terrible mother.

  1. Max is one of the happiest people I have ever met.
  2. Max is one of the most sensitive, introspective, thoughtful people I know.
  3. Max is one of the most well adjusted kids I have ever met despite his father and I splitting up 6 years ago, and enduring having to watch me lose both my brother and mother in a 1 ½ year span. Not to mention, he experienced those losses also.
  4. Max excels both socially and academically. His teachers love him and his friends want to be around him.
  5. Max confides in me. He still believes I’m the safe place to fall.
  6. Max puts up with my shit.

So, why given all of this evidence to the contrary, did a voice deep inside of me tell me I am a terrible mother? Outside of the internal psychological processes that go on individually inside all of us, we cannot deny we live in a world that judges every little thing we do when it comes to our children. And that world didn’t exist when we were being raised. The general social attitude towards parenting prior to 1980 was one that placed a certain level of responsibility on the children themselves to make good decisions, be independent, learn that life isn’t fair and that if you want to succeed, you will need to work hard for everything you get. Your parents didn’t show up unannounced at the school to demand to talk to the teacher if you got a bad grade. They asked you what you did to deserve that grade. They didn’t get mad at the coach when you didn’t make the team. They told you there were better kids that tried out. And they loved you anyway. They didn’t call your friend’s parents when you had a fight. They told you to go back out there and work it out. Someone, anyone, tell me…..what is wrong with that? 

It’s hard not to be a helicopter parent in a world that tells you that you are failing to protect your child. I see it as quite the opposite. I have learned that the only way to get what you want is through hard work and perseverance. Of course, I have looked to others for support, but at the end of the day, every decision was my own.  It was a hard lesson. It still is a hard lesson. But I believe that my anti-hovering position will create a more self-reliant, appreciative human being. It already has. And for that I am thankful.

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