Helicopter, Lawnmower and Refrigerator Parenting-Part II
After the last blog, a parent noted that she waited with bated breath to see when I thought it was appropriate to be a helicopter or lawnmower parent. That was a kind way of letting me know I didn't fully deliver on what I'd promised. So to end her suspense...
This was defined in the previous blog, but generally we understand it to mean a parenting style in which the parent proactively clears all obstacles (social, physical, psychological, emotional) from her child's path so the child never experiences struggles, hard work, or self-advocacy. Naturally, when children are younger, we direct their lives more than when they are teens (or at least we should). As a child grows and matures, part of the maturation process involves parents stepping back and allowing the child to take on an increasing amount of freedom and responsibility. Struggles, hard work, and self advocacy are part of the maturation process. However, there are still cases when parents might touch fists and declare, "Wonder twins activate!", while taking the shape of a lawnmower. For example, if my 16-year old shares she is struggling emotionally because a close friend disclosed to her in confidence that he is considering suicide, it's time to mow. This friend has sworn my daughter to secrecy and that burden is causing her physical and emotional stress that is beyond her coping skill set. As a parent, intervening to mow that obstacle out of the way is not only healthy for my child, but it is necessary for the life of the other child. We can talk with our children about what they are experiencing and if they want to take part in sharing the information with appropriate adults, but we can be clear this is a burden for adults and professionals.
Like the picture in the first blog suggests, helicopter parents hover above their children, ready to swoop down and rescue at any moment. As our children mature, a simultaneously maturing helicopter parent should take a higher flight path and keep the binoculars or telescope in the cabinet. If we don't struggle, we don't learn. We should let our kids wrestle with non-life-threatening problems for a while. It is through this process that they learn to solve their own problems, or at least learn how to ask for help, and they uncover their own identity. When I have problems stepping back as a parent, I immediately ask myself the question, "Why do I feel the need to take care of this for her?" Most often, the answer has more to do with me than them. It's healthy for parents to wrestle with how to parent well through each stage of the parenting process.
I coined this term as the type of parenting style to which I fleetingly, yet ultimately, aspire. My children are in high school and college. As a "right-fighter" and someone who likes to have control over most everything, being chill is difficult. Yet at this point in our family's stage of life, my husband and I need to be parents who listen 75% of the time, ask questions 15% of the time, and offer help 10% of the time. I practice taking information in, while maintaining a poker face and keeping cool. When I'm not successful, I pray my husband will don the role. Oftentimes, when we remove the heated emotions and facade of what we think we're arguing about, we are left with the truth. Here's my Frog Jumper analogy: When I was a child, my mother sewed an adorable corduroy frog jumper for me. Young mom, young child--we both locked our brains on opposing goals. While pinned against the lazy Susan with my mom crying for me to "Just try it on!" (she'd worked really hard on it), I remember thinking that I'd like to try it on but I'd put up too much of a fight to give in now. I've taken that memory into my parenting years and tried to remain calm in situations that appear to be escalating, in the hopes my children will wrestle with a situation and return to the battlefield with a white flag. Naturally, I will bring my white flag as well.