Helicopter Parenting: Seeing it From the Other Side

July 14, 2009

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time at all, then I'm sure it's abundantly clear that I, Amy Lawson, am not a helicopter parent.

For those of you who don't know, a helicopter parent is any person, male or female, who constantly hovers over their child. You know the type--they won't allow their son to walk to soccer practice at age 13 for fear of wild animals, they won't allow their daughter to walk to her 2nd grade classroom on her own for fear of overly-slippery floors, and they won't allow their 15-year-old to trick-or-treat without supervision due to the possibility of Snickers laced with crack cocaine.

To put it simply, any respectable helicopter parent most certainly would not allow their child to fall ass-over-tea-kettle into an electrified pig pen. See guys? I failed the test right there.

It's not that I fight the urge to hover over James--to be quite honest, I just don't have it in me. Over supervision plain and simply isn't in my chemical make-up. The thought of it alone tires the hell out of my big, pregnant body.

On the other side of the token, I'm not a laissez-faire parent either. In other words, my kid has a bedtime, he doesn't eat candy for supper, I limit the amount of TV he watches, and trust me when I say that he'll see stars if he has the audacity to throw a rock, a frog, or an unkind word at any other child.

I like to think that I fall somewhere near the middle of the road--I keep James safe, I'm doing my best to instill him with kindness and compassion, and he has freedoms that are appropriate for a kid his age. He can play in the yard when I'm inside, he can deliver items to our elderly neighbor's house without me tagging four feet behind, he's taking the bus to pre-K in the fall, etc. He's also free to dig at his boogers as he pleases, as long as he's in his bedroom.

I'm saying all of this because this morning I had I really strange experience.

James was in the middle of his swimming lesson, while I sat on the beach and watched. It was a small group, so there were three teachers and three students. James had assigned himself to his very favorite teacher, Miss Tina--and really now, who can blame him? She's 19, a natural blond, and has a very suggestive tattoo on the small of her back. After every single lesson James longingly says, "Mom, I weally luff Miss Tina." And I say, "James, I really don't blame you. She's smokin' hot."

Anywho, Tina turned her head to talk to another one of the teachers, and at that very moment, James slipped off of his kick-board and started struggling to keep his head above water--arms flapping, feet kicking, total look of terror in his eyes. My instinct, obviously, was to tear the maternity clothes clear off my body, dive into the lake and save my son. But the logic side of my brain was saying, "Amy, he's one foot away from his swimming teacher and his head hasn't gone under the water once. He's scared, but he's fine."

About three seconds later, Tina noticed James, reached one foot over and plucked him out of the water by the back of his wetsuit. I don't care if I'd been crowned the International Helicopter Parent of the Year, there's absolutely no way I could have gotten to him that quickly anyway. James didn't cry, he just trudged up to me on the beach, gave me a sopping wet hug, and said, "I'm done."

"Done," I said? Trying my best to sound surprised. "I know you fell in, but you're okay. You did a great job keeping your head above the water, James. Let's finish up your lesson." It took five full minutes of convincing, but he got back into the water and finished what he had started.

That left me feeling pretty stinking proud.

After the lesson, James dried off and changed, clicked himself into his car seat, and we headed off to an afternoon at daycare. I walked him in, kissed him on the head, and wished him a really happy day. Then, as soon as I got into my car and drove around the corner, I pulled over, put her in park, and cried my eyes out.

We're talking a major crying moment. It was an OH MY GOSH MY BABY ALMOST DROWNED OUT THERE kind of cry. One of those cries where you're sobbing so hard you can't make coherent words. A cry where a paper bag probably would have come in handy.

For three seconds, while my kid was helplessly struggling in the lake, I felt fear like I've rarely felt it before. If I had to guess, I felt the same level of fear that helicopter parents feel about the idea of almost everything.

So, to all of you moms and dads out there who just can't help but hover, I say this: "I will no longer think bad thoughts when I see you at the park. I will no longer send snide text messages to my husband about how thoroughly insane I think you are. From this point forward, I will empathize with you, feel compassion for you, and encourage you to get a heavy prescription for blood pressure medication--because DANG YO, I bet you need it."

I, Amy Lawson, have officially made peace with the helicopter parent.

21 comments:

onelittletrigirl said...

I am no parent, but I once pulled a little girl from the water (I am a lifeguard- but I was not on duty that day) and although she was okay once I pulled her out, she had went under and it was the scariest moment of my life. I pulled her out, took her to her mom, got all the paperwork filled out and then went to the bathroom and cried for a good five minutes. I can't even imagine how it would have felt it the child had actually come from my own uterus.

Btw, giving James swimming lessons is one of the best gifts you can give him. Every kid should learn to swim.

The Roberts' Report said...

Did I mention that I have 4 kids and I recently read the WHOLE ENTIRE Harry Potter series in 1.5 weeks?

In other words...I'm REALLY REALLY good at ignoring my kids. I'm thinking about offering lessons to parents.

Rachel said...

I'm still stuck on how cute curly haired James must look in a wetsuit!

chattypatra said...

I've always wondered if I would have been a helicopter parent...

Melanie J said...

You know why I can't take it when stuff like that happens? It's because I'm sure my kid will blame me for somehow not keeping it from happening and when he gets to sixteen, he'll remember and then I'll PAY. That's why my husband has to take them for all their shots. I will always be their Angel Mother. He can be devil incarnate.

Krista said...

I teach kids to swim, and once watched my daughter slide off her kickboard when she was younger(I was only 3 feet away) and I let her get to the side by herself. I was so proud of her and instilled this great confidence in her that she could do it on her own and not panic and do the right thing. That feeling was quickly deflated when she got to school the next day and promptly told her pre-k teacher that she had drowned the day before.

I have since learned that no matter what I do or how I parent that I will still second guess if I am doing the right thing. Thank God I have two wonderful kids!

Mindy said...

I watched a friend run and dive into a lake fully clothed when her little boy went under, and I still cry thinking about it... even the THOUGHT of a kid of mine drowning sends me into tears, so I totally understand.

And, I must admit that I'm definitely NOT a helicopter parent. I make my kids walk a mile to school alone, which automatically rules that out.

P.O.M. said...

I'm a helicopter Aunt - does that count?

Grandma said...

It had to hit you later. I was pretty impressed watching those teachers with the kids on Monday. Love how James calls his wetsuit his "cold" suit.

The Other Ashley said...

"...Tina noticed James, reached one foot over and plucked him out of the water..." The first three (THREE!!) times I read this, I imagined Tina using her toes to pull him out of the water, and I was astonished at the strength she must have in her legs and feet. Then I realized "one foot" was a distance, not an appendage. And I felt absurd (but still compelled to share...).

Glad everything worked out ok, and kudos on the swimming lessons for James.

Amber Lynae said...

I didn't think I was a huge hover, but sometimes I see other parents letting there 2 year old do a lot more than I let my girl, and Then I evaluate and adjust. I'm also a first time parent and the youngest, so dealing with little ones is new to me. I think I'm somewhere in the middle leaning more toward the copter.

I would have panicked too, mostlikely afterwards. I always try to put a brave face on in front of my girl so she doesn't panick.

X-Country2 said...

Awww, what a scare. Kids and water can be so scary.

Mel said...

awww poor mommy. It's crazy how hard things can be on us and the kids are over them in 2 seconds.

I can't imagine living my life in that kind of fear though ever day so I choose to NOT be a helicopter parent.

In 20 years YOU will remember this but James probably won't

Jimmy said...

I don't have anything funny or wise or witty to say. Just I like this story.

tornadoalli said...

Um...did you say anything to the Luffly Miss Tina? I guess it wasn't her fault, but urgh...

Sue said...

Whew. Glad he's o.k.

I talk a big game about not being a helicopter parent - I have all of these ideas about letting them go run and play in nature, letting them ride their bikes around the block unescorted, letting them have a little freedom in our Disneyesque neighborhood. I even made Free Range Kids my book club selection last month. But the reality is that I kind of suck at it.

The other day I told my seven year old she could ride her bike over to her friend's house. Most of her friends live down the street, but this one lives TWO WHOLE BLOCKS away, and she has to CROSS A STREET and CUT THROUGH THE PARK to get there. I let her do it. But I waited till she couldn't see me, then followed her in my car to make sure she got there o.k.

I seriously need to unclench.

DeNae said...

I hover WAY more now that my kids are teenagers than I ever did when they were little. In some ways I feel like I've become the "no" mom, and I'm trying to get to a better place where that's concerned. I'll start with medication, and work my way up from there.

Mary said...

When Emma was not quite 3, we were at the YMCA pool. I sat her on the side so that I could spend some time with Steve. The next thing I knew, I turned around and she was at the deep end of the pool, walking down the diving board. No life jacket; no floaties. I don't think I've ever moved so fast! I got Steve and myself out, ran to the other end and dove in from the side just in time to meet her as she bobbed up to the surface after jumping. And I managed to stay calm because I didn't want her to be afraid of the water! It's hard to be a helicopter parent with 4 kids, even if you want to be.

Allred Mom said...

No matter what kind of mom you consider yourself, you are a great one! James is lucky to have one who trusts her instincts and lets him figure out things on his own. He's also lucky to have one who truly loves and adores him!

Sara Luke said...

Oh, the pregnancy hormones . . . they've done it to me, too. Not all the time, but there have been moments over the last few weeks that I've caught myself being perhaps a little too overprotective of my son. Like if I'm not right there with him SOMETHING HORRIBLE WILL MOST DEFINITELY HAPPEN.

It's new for me.

Smarry said...

Very nice article thank you for the posting.............

___________________
Smarry
The only Satellite Television Delivers the Best Value in Entertainment