When it comes to parenting, there is always an element of control involved. While trying to balance maintaining control, taking control, not losing control, and trying to control too much, we run the risk of stunting our kids. Control, while a good thing, can damage our relationships with our children and hurt ourselves as parents. This is when regular parents become “helicopter parents“.
Honestly, I want to keep my kids close and safe as much as the next parent. But, I also know that the more that I have a white-knuckled grip on something, the more likely it is to slip from my grasp. Now that my kids are of a certain age, I often remind myself to take a few steps back while they move forward.
For instance, several weeks ago, my oldest daughter asked me to drop her and four friends off at a local shopping mall. She and her friends have been shopping on their own for the past couple of years. Nevertheless, the thought of her and her friends gallivanting around this particular mall gave me pause.
I have a problem with this mall.
In my mind, it has always been the sketchy one. The mall where strange men in trench coats eagerly await the arrival of young and naive teen shoppers (In my mind, at least). Naturally, it also happens to be the mall that is most popular with the teen set and (according to my daughter) contains all the best stores.
As a parent, I had to examine the problems I had with this particular mall. Finally, I realized that they were my own issues, and that I needed to get past them.
As my children get older, I’m better able to recall specific memories of my own life at their respective ages. With this, I am able to see my own bias and pre-conceived ideas seeping into the way I parent. Instinctively, yet unintentionally, these memories cause me to tighten the controls.
As parents, there are many areas in which we can (and should) exert some level of control. Such as:
- Our own behaviour and responses to others
- The setting of house rules and general expectations concerning behaviour
- The enforcement of these rules and expectations through discipline and meting out of appropriate consequences
On the other hand, what we cannot control (even though we may mistakenly believe otherwise) includes:
- Our children’s behaviour and responses
- Our children’s thoughts and feelings
Of course, as parents, we have the opportunity to influence, nudge, lead by example, and gently guide our children. We can even command and demand – if we so choose. But at the end of the day, our children’s behaviour, thoughts, and feelings are their own.
No matter what.
I’m a huge advocate of trusting your gut, but I’m also the first to admit that sometimes my gut instinct auto-corrects toward overprotectiveness. A bit of thoughtful reflection may soften my initial instinct to helicopter parent. If that doesn’t work, then I go with my mollycoddling gut.
According to most parenting experts, some universal signs that you may need to take a chill pill include:
- You won’t let your kid behave independently and you have excuses at the ready:
- they can’t pour their own milk – they’ll make a mess;
- they can’t choose their own outfits to wear – they won’t do it right;
- they can’t climb the play structure – they might hurt themselves;
- they can’t try anything – they may fail.
- Your child doesn’t have any friends and you are fine with that.As a parent, you should encourage and nurture healthy friendships within your child’s peer group. It will set the tone for how well they relate to others in the future.
- Consequences are unrealistic or downright mean.
- Case in point – a friend of mine told me that her neighbour, upon learning that her child told a lie, wouldn’t allow them to trick or treat on Halloween.
- Your child is overscheduled with no down time to play on their own or pursue an activity they have expressed an interest in.
- Your child is fearful of you and your reactions.
- Despite what your old-school parents may say, it is never a good thing for your kids to be afraid of you. They need to know that they can approach you and that you will help them – no matter what.
- You can’t remember the last time you and your child did something together just for fun.
- If you aren’t regularly laughing and enjoying each other’s company, then something needs to change. Possibly you.
From time to time, it’s truly a blessing to hold your kids close with all your might.
And no one’s suggesting that you release your grip – just loosen it a little.
As a parent, you are entitled to sit in that cockpit, ensure the helicopter is flying at a safe altitude, complete all the required checks, but then, sit back and flick on autopilot for a bit.
Turbulence may arise, but you can deal with that when the shaking starts. There’s no point sitting hunched over the controls to wait for it.