Have you ever heard the term “helicopter parent?” It’s a slang term for overparenting. It was given that nickname because kids would refer to their parent’s sometimes overbearing presence as “hovering.” Get it? Hovering like a helicopter?
Overparenting is a real issue that many of us avoid talking about for any number of reasons, but several psychologists see families each year because of dilemmas thought to be associated with parenting styles and children’s responses to them. I’d say the topic is worth discussing. My children are still pretty young, so some of you will have much more to add to the conversation than I will. But every parent will have something to contribute.
Overparenting has several layers, but it is most notably (if not broadly) defined as a parent’s desire to be excessively involved in the life of their child, to shield them from painful experiences and to aid in their path to success. On the surface, none of that sounds all that bad, right? I mean, who doesn’t want to be an active participant in their child’s life? None of us want to see our kids hurt or struggling to get ahead, so this all seems and sounds reasonable enough. The last few sentences you just read are the exact reasons some parents use to justify their helicopter parenting style. This way of child raising doesn’t always yield the greatest results, though.
The first step is often to get right to the root of your own beliefs and where they originated. I took a look at my own parents’ child-rearing style and assessed the effect it had on me as I was growing up. My mom and dad varied greatly in their parenting styles. Dad was much more laid back, while Mom definitely over-parented. Some of my memories elicit a chuckle from me, while others make me cringe with 12-year-old embarrassment all over again. I remember being a kid and wanting to walk to school along with all my friends, and having that request rejected time and time again. Mom never felt it was a safe enough option for me despite most kids my age doing it every day! She monitored my friendships to make sure she approved and liked who I was hanging out with. I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies until after the age of 13. Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s what the rating means, Breegan. I get that, but I would attend slumber parties with girls my age and have to leave early because I was the only one who couldn’t watch the scheduled movie that evening. Other times, the room would groan in disappointment at the announcement that we would have to change the movie to something no one wanted to watch because of my mother’s rules.
At year 13, I was a freshman in highschool, and the impact of my parents’ overparenting began to show up in my behavior. I felt a bit like the character Baby in Dirty Dancing. I found myself in a friend group with the misfits. We’d get caught up in not-so-great situations, and I see now that I was so naive. Looking back, I really wish I’d had more trust and respect from my parents, but I can also look at the situation from the perspective of a parent myself now. I think she parented me that way because of how she was parented. I was so much of her world that maybe it was even a little unhealthy. As a parent, you develop this instinctual need to protect your kids, and some of it is indeed out of fear. It isn’t hard to understand how that could lead to overparenting.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the way I want to parent, and it might surprise you. Even before the boys were born I wanted to decide for myself how they would be raised. As with everything else, I researched it all. As I talked about in this blog, a few studies I read found that the more bonded and loved a child feels at a young age, the more independent he would grow up to be. Because of the future I wanted for my children, I made the very conscious decision to co-sleep and to wear my babies everywhere when they were young. I decided to reject the idea of any one of the modern conventional parenting styles, and instead to go back to the drawing board.
So, what does that mean, exactly? It means remembering that my children need healthy independence, but also balancing that with boundaries. It’s a learning experience for both them and me. Both of my children love the water, so we spend an enormous amount of time at the pool. Kensi has discovered a love for leaping from the edge towards me, often without warning. Of course, this gets met with my gentle admonishment, but he’s a toddler. When he last decided to test mommy’s limits and dove head first into the pool, I was right there, but I intentionally let his head go completely underwater for three seconds before I caught him and pulled him up. Does that sound extreme? Maybe it is, but he needs to learn that if mommy isn’t there to catch him, unfortunate things could happen. He has to learn what his own fears are. That’s one of the ways kids establish their own boundaries and limits. We can’t shield them from everything and then expect them to know how to conquer the real world without us.
Overparenting for many is an impulse that is difficult to block. We want our kids to be safe and to flourish. While I’m not a proponent of neglectful and uninvolved parenting styles, I do believe in granting children just enough room to learn and grow. A great parent seeks to find the balance between the two and tailor it to their children in a way that specifically benefits them. Above all, remember that you’ll both be learning throughout the entire process, you and your child. As I’ve been told, that overparenting temptation never quite wears off, so take it easy on yourselves, moms!
What’s your parenting style? Is it similar to how you were raised?