Thursday, July 26, 2012

Helicopter Parenting

Sorry, no pictures today - just me ranting.  The kids and I just got back from the Customs House museum in Clarksville where I witnessed the most horrific example of helicopter parenting that I have ever seen.  Granted, the museum seems to be a place where these people congregate but this woman blew everyone out of the water.

The children's area in the museum is a medium sized room in the basement of the building - it's really isolated from the rest of the exhibits and there's only one area where people can enter/exit from.  My point is that it's really safe for kids to run around and if you sit by the door then no one can escape unnoticed.  The activity centers are geared mostly towards kids 6 and under so Aidan is always a little bored but he goes along with it since I don't bug him and he has free reign to be the big kid with all the little ones around.  We have been there enough times that my kids know the drill - they can play however they like as long as they aren't disturbing other people and if they fight or complain then we go home.  There's no use being there if they're not having fun.

So I'm sitting so I can see the kids and the exit.  The girls are playing together nicely - they've dragged play food out into the center of the room and are having a picnic and Aidan is playing with the golf ball physics experiments.  They are all entertaining themselves and I am relaxing - good deal for all as far as I'm concerned.

A woman and her two sons enter.  The kids seem a little old for the play area - probably 8 and 10 or so but whatever.  It takes me a little while to realize what is going on because, frankly, I'm enjoying that my kids aren't acting up and I can veg out for a little while.  As this other mom walks by me she shoots me a dirty look but I dismiss it - the preggo belly with 3 kids gets odd reactions from people.  I've been asked if I know how this keeps happening, advised to get a TV in the bedroom or asked when my husband is going to get fixed.  You never know what's going on in people's brains.  I believe that I misjudged her.  In hindsight, the dirty look was probably because I was sitting down watching my children enjoy themselves instead of directing every aspect of their play.

She says to her boys as she leads them into the grocery shopping area, "OK now, each of you get a shopping cart and we are all going to chose a whole grain product, a vegetable and if you do that you can chose a dessert."  Mind you - this is PLAY FOOD - no one is going to be eating anything!  I roll my eyes to myself but then she starts to INSPECT the (play) food that they have chosen off of the shelves - is she really serious??

I lose track of them for a few minutes as I enjoy some of the tasty treats that the girls have brought me from their "picnic" but then there they are again, right next to me.  Mom has found a big sheet of metal screwed to the wall for playing with magnetic letters, dinosaurs and gears.  She instructs the boys to tell her what their goal for this board would be.  They both mumble an answer that I can't hear and go about setting up the gears in a configuraation to get them to all turn at once.  She tells the older boy to go on the other side of her and let the younger one work it out on his own.  He turns to her and says, "NO, I want to HELP him set them up!"  She is NOT pleased that there is dissent in the ranks.  After this tiff blows over, she tells her sons where to place each gear and says, "This is really pleasing."  What that means, I'm not sure - nor have I ever heard anyone use that phrase in my entire life.  She continues to control every single aspect of this "play" session.  The younger boy decides he wants to move on to something else and she nastily says to him, "You have to learn to have FUN, not race from thing to thing!"  Fun?  Has she lost her mind?  She has taken the fun out of everything! 

I understand that we all want the best for our children and we all want to prevent them from feeling sad or getting hurt - emotionally and physically.  She is a prime example of a parent who clears a path for their children without understanding that they are, perhaps, achieving the exact OPPOSITE of what they intend to do.  Instead of developing confident, capable, resilient children who are able to feel good about the decisions that they make, my guess would be that these children feel extreme stress when placed in a situation where they have to make an unaided decision.  I believe that these children and those like them also have low levels of confidence and think that they are incompetent. 

Normally I ignore the helicopter parents and the evil eyes they send me for letting my children run around unassisted.  I didn't say anything to this woman today - because, really what difference would it make to her?  I did pay a lot of attention to what she was doing and saying - I even pulled a pen and paper out of my purse to take notes because I was in shock and didn't want to forget the way she spoke or the exact words she used.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I have it all figured out or that my children are perfect angels.  They are, in fact, quite the opposite.  They make many mistakes daily in the way that they act and decisions that they make but guess what?  They aren't life and death decisions.  No one is making the decision whether or not to get in a car with someone who has been drinking or the choice to stand up for a kid who is being picked on.  Every time someone chooses an option that leads to a less than positive outcome they have a chance to fix it and realize WHY this happened.  How on earth can we expect anyone to make the difficult but correct decision when it really counts if they've never had the opportunity to practice?  So instead of being a helicopter parent and hovering around providing aerial support whenever something goes wrong, let's be resilient parents.  Let's let our kids know that we will be there for them when they need us but that we believe they are strong, smart, empathetic individuals who we trust to make good decisions or fix it when they make a mistake.  No one is perfect - not even parents - but we can fix our mistakes, clean up our messes and learn to make better decisions in the future.  The sooner they learn this the better.


Anonymous said...

Excellent account Becky...I think you are an excellent parent and can't wait to see what exciting things your children accomplish in life with such a great example! I appreciated your "vent"!

Anonymous said...

Bravo Becky, I really appreciated your vent session. I believe you to be a parent that makes me curious and excited to see what your children will become because they are surrounded by love, guidance and freedom to make both mistakes and triumphs!

Mary Quinlan said...

AMEN! I agree, I agree, I agree. I teach teenagers and when I come across a kid who can't make decisions or who break down when they fail something - then I meet their parents and I think to myself "OOOOOhhhhhhhhh. Right." I think parenting is like being the teacher all the time. But I know from work that no one learns anything if I answer all the questions or tell them how to do a project step by step, with no independent thought allowed. The best is when you ask a "What do you think..." or "Why do you think..." question for homework and they come in the next day and say "I couldn't find the answer in the book." GOD HELP ME. And P.S. I can believe people are so rude to make comments to you about having another baby. What is the MATTER with people?? Why do they think they are so funny????? Thanks for the blog, Becky. That woman sounds like a nut.

Sue said...

Ah Becky, you are such a wise and wonderful person! Keep up the good parenting :-)