Welcome back to the Around the World in Six Weeks Parenting Blog Carnival! Deb of Urban Moo Cow, Jessica of School of Smock, Lauren of Omnimom, Sarah of Left Brain Budda, and I have been writing about our reactions to Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting Without Borders, exploring parenting practices around the world. This week we are joined by the witty and insightful Carisa of Carisa Miller: Do You Read Me? For more information about the Parenting Blog Carnival, and future topics, click here.
Join us as we examine how culture shapes our parenting!
This week we are focusing on the chapter titled, Hoverparenting. The term “Helicopter Parenting” is now in every parent’s lexicon, and has a decidedly negative connotation, so I was excited to read about how other cultures approach the balance between protection and independence for children. I soaked up every word of this chapter, and found Gross-Loh’s observations to be fascinating. There were so many different ways I wanted to approach this post, so many important things I wanted to include.
- The tendency of parents to hover too closely over our children at the park and on outings.
- The importance of our children learning to work things out amongst their friends without our intervention.
- The attention-seeking trap we have created by teaching our children that they should be constantly aware of us and our proximity, comfort level, and approval.
- The alarming rate at which I utter the words, “Be careful!” when my children are playing.
I often fight back my urge to intervene in my daughter’s interactions with her friends. I wrote a post about all the things I’d like to tell them about friendship and how to treat one another, if I weren’t trying so hard to be mindful not to interfere. I agree with Gross-Loh that there is tremendous value in letting our kids work out their own squabbles. In our home, we often fall back on the Love and Logic mantras, “I know you two will work it out.” or “How do you think you’re going to solve this problem?”
But sometimes there are situations that feel a bit weightier than a disagreement with a neighborhood pal. What if the conflict has escalated? Or what if it involves bullying, a true injustice, or another adult?
My daughter, like me, is highly sensitive, and I am constantly walking the line between taking her anxieties and sensitivity seriously, and dismissing her protests in order for our family to live our lives. Earlier this year, Izzy was enrolled in an extracurricular program that, true to form, she complained about every time she had to go. I have gotten used to her lamentations and avoidance tactics when it comes to after-school activities, (which for the record, are considerably limited for us) however every once in awhile, she appeared truly distressed to go to her class. During our drive to class one day, Izzy began to cry that she was scared to go. She then proceeded to tell me that one of the teachers shouts at the kids and grabs their hands away when they are doing something she doesn’t want them to do.
I immediately knew that I needed to take this seriously. As parents, it is often very difficult to discern when we should be legitimately concerned and when we need to ease up, but every once in awhile there are moments when our instincts are unmistakeable. I knew that this was a problem, and knowing exactly which adult to whom she referred, I knew she was not making it up.
There wasn’t enough time for me to back out of the program for the week, and besides, what message did that send my daughter? Any time you don’t want to do something, just say you are scared and you won’t have to go. I needed to buy myself some time to think of what we would do to handle the situation, and in the meantime, I encouraged her to use her words and say, “*Connie, please don’t shout,” or, “I don’t like it when you do that.” Given the fact that this instructor was an assistant, I also told her she could address the lead teacher or even the director if she was upset. This particular program had an impeccable reputation of being a gentle, nurturing facility in which adults were very respectful to children; no matter what course of action we chose, the situation needed to be addressed.
Izzy was concerned that if she said something, she would get in trouble. I responded to her quickly and instinctively: “If you get in trouble, I will come right down and take care of it.” I felt instantly conflicted about my reply- wasn’t that the textbook definition of being a Helicopter Parent? But on the other hand– and particularly in light of Izzy’s sensitivity, which almost presents as a special need at times– isn’t it my job to advocate for her?
When it comes to fighting for your kids’ needs, at what point does advocating for their welfare turn into swooping in and rescuing them? Is there a way to empower our children and let them know that you will always make sure they are safe and cared for without becoming a dreaded Helicopter Parent?
My parents have often shared with me their experience of my brother being bullied by another boy at school; like Izzy and me, my brother is highly sensitive. My parents encouraged him to fight back, and one day, when he had finally had enough, my brother hit this kid and he never bothered him again. While this recommendation to “fight back” has been very controversial, my parents sent a clear message: If you retaliate and get in trouble, we will be at the principal’s office to advocate for you. Is this being a Helicopter Parent? Or is it sometimes appropriate to step in and bail our children out of trouble?
In the end, this is what we did: my daughter hand wrote a note that my husband and I signed along with her. It read: “Dear teachers, I feel uncomfortable when you shout and grab kids’ hands. It scares me and makes my heart pound.” We delivered it to the program instructor, and discussed with our daughter that if the situation didn’t improve, we would share our letter with the program director.
It empowered Izzy, and it let her know that we were involved, and that it is okay to speak up when you are upset or afraid. The program director got wind of the complaint and immediately sat down with Izzy to listen to her account. I was impressed with how the facility handled the situation, and I was told that Izzy conducted herself with great confidence and poise. The upsetting behavior improved, and our daughter was able to finish her lessons; I felt the incident and its resolution exemplified striking the right balance between empowering Izzy and supporting her.
I do think that American parents would benefit greatly from easing up a bit on the hovering. Giving our children some distance at the playground, encouraging them to work through their own challenges, and sending the message that we believe in their strength and capabilities would do much for our children and for ourselves as parents. Who among us doesn’t feel as though she is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders with every parenting decision she makes?
- Is she climbing too high?
- Is that child being mean to him?
- Is it okay for her to walk to her friend’s house alone?
- Has she read enough chapters this week to keep up with her class?
- Should I be insisting she practice piano more often?
It’s exhausting. But in my opinion, this reluctance to fully encourage our children’s independence stems from fear. Some of it may be misplaced and overreactive, but what about the justified worry that comes with being a parent in today’s world of abductions, bullying, and pedophiles? Should I be fostering my daughter’s desire to go to the bathroom alone when we are at a restaurant, knowing how proud it makes her feel, how grown-up, or should I be mindful of that .1% chance that there is a lunatic waiting in there to steal her? It makes me wonder if the battle cry of the overprotective American parent is really, “What if?”
What do you think is the right balance between protectiveness and empowerment? How much freedom do you give your children?
Stop by and read the other Around the World posts today:
School of Smock: Your Hovering Doesn’t Help: A Quiz and A Simple Step
Left Brain Buddha: The Tao of Parenting
Urban Moo Cow: I Would Rather He Break His Arm
Carisa Miller, Do You Read Me? Giving My Children More Space
*Name and details have been changed.