We all know her. In fact, you may even be her. I’m talking about the hovering Helicopter Mom who has bubble-wrapped her children from a world of potential dangers and micro-managed her children’s lives down to the tiniest detail. Sadly, I’ve been this mother and therefore, I know firsthand just how hard it is to keep that inner copter in the hanger where it belongs.
Consider the following list of “hovering” behaviors to see whether or not you qualify as a Helicopter Mom. You might be a “Helicopter Mom” if you:
• Repeatedly deliver your child’s lunch/backpack/gym clothes/etc. to school when he/she leaves it behind.
• Are hesitant to take the training wheels off your child’s bike, and he/she is entering middle school.
• Help manage your middle/high-schooler’s day-timer and keep track of their assignment/test due dates. (Bonus points if you know their last three test grades.)
• Require your child to carry hand sanitizer and lather up before/after every meal/snack and bathe in it after playing outside.
• Require your child to wear flame-retardant sleepwear to bed after age 10.
• Find yourself saying things like: “We’re registered to take the SAT this Saturday” or “We’re going to play coach-pitch baseball next year instead of tee-ball.” (Key word: “We.”)
• Have stayed up working on a class project/paper/etc. after your child has gone to bed in order that they can turn it in on time and get they grade they “deserve.”
• Have signed your child up for more than two extra-curricular activities in one season. (And even two can be excessive, depending on the type of activity and time required.)
• Have contacted your child’s teacher/coach to argue injustices, such as deductions on assignments, not enough playing time in the game, failure to make the A team, etc. (As opposed to having your child address the problem on their own, IF a true injustice has occurred).
Truth be told, most moms, myself included, are guilty at some level of lapsing into helicopter-mom-mode on occasion. It’s a mother’s nature to want to protect her children from the dangers of the world, as well as look for ways to help her children get ahead in life. We’ve come a long way from the generation before us, who Helicopter Mom or not, trudged three miles to school in the snow. Uphill. Dragging their younger siblings on a sled behind them. And got licks from the Principal if they were late.
That was back in the day when you didn’t get a participation ribbon if your project didn’t place at the Science Fair. Yet somehow, our parents’ generation managed to survive the trauma of not getting the preferred homeroom teacher on the first day of school or heaven forbid, failing to hear their name called among the first round of picks by the team captains during P.E.
Today, Helicopter Moms have become the norm. And if you think the hovering ends with high school graduation, think again. Many colleges address this ever-growing problem of hovering mothers during parent orientation meetings.
I recently sat in a parent meeting at a college orientation for incoming freshmen where an academic adviser issued a clear, no-fly-zone warning to parents in attendance: Don’t call us, we’ll call you…(but, probably not, so don’t wait by the phone). Ouch! The adviser then went on to share a list of common over-parenting abuses during the school year that include the ever-popular, “I want to check on my child’s grades” or “How does my child go about changing majors?” And let’s not forget, “My child’s roommate is not a good match and WE need to request a mid-semester change.” Excuse me, “we?” Is mama-bear sleeping on a trundle in the same room?!
If we were to examine a root cause of “hovering,” it would most likely be grounded in a need to be in control. Some mothers have a tendency to over-protect their children because they are seeking control over dangers (both real and perceived) that threaten to harm their children. (Guilty!) Other mothers may obsess over their children’s homework assignments, school schedules, and their overall academic progress in order to control their destiny and thus, provide them with future happiness. (They incorrectly believe the formula: Good grades = Good colleges = Success in the real world = Happily Ever After). Yet other mothers may hover when it comes to image-maintenance issues such as staying in shape, dressing attractively (or wearing name brands), having the latest gadgets, or even driving a cool car.
While at first glance, hovering Helicopter Moms may appear to have their child’s best interests in mind, the truth is, their high need for control can be classified as a form of fear-based parenting. Fear of danger. Fear their child will not find future success (a relative term). And fear their child may not be accepted among his/her peers if they don’t look/perform a certain way. At the end of the day, are we more focused on our fear and subsequent need to be in control, or are we more focused on what’s actually in the best interest of our children? More importantly, are we raising children who will struggle to survive and cope with injustices in the real world when it is no longer possible for Mom to swoop down and perform a rescue mission?
We won’t get better until we admit we have a problem. With awareness comes the ability to catch ourselves before we put those whirling blades in motion in an attempt to over-manage our children’s lives. We must also acknowledge that we have misdefined “success” and more importantly, what it takes to raise truly, healthy and happy children. (Hint: Children who love God more than life itself and trust Him for their future happiness.)
If the root cause among most Helicopter Moms is fear, the irony is that our actions send the same message of fear to our children. So perhaps our biggest fear should be raising children who grow into adults who are ill-equipped to survive in the real world and are unable to cope with injustices that will inevitably be a part of their future.
More importantly, parents who are driven by fear and attempt to placate that fear by micro-managing their children’s lives often raise fearful children, who lack trust in a sovereign God who is ultimately in control.
Maybe it’s not our children who are in need of a 911 life flight, come-to-the-rescue mission, but us. If you have Helicopter Mom tendencies, do your children a favor: Take a deep breath. Look for the nearest hanger. Bring your copter in for a landing. Exit the copter.
Now walk away. Trust me, your children will thank you someday. And chances are, that’s one thank-you note you won’t have to hover over them to write.