Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Confessions of a Reformed Helicopter Parent

During my previous life when I worked at a couple of colleges, I often found myself in a position of parenting students that were not that much younger than I was.  I was a young professional without children who had grown up with parents that encouraged self-sufficiency, strong work ethic and the development of common sense, where possible in my case.

I did not understand why these young adults were not capable of calling my office to make their own appointments when they were 100 yards away.  How was it easier for Mom to call from another state?  Or why did Dad feel it necessary to request during orientation that I "keep an eye on her" and communicate with him by email if I thought he needed to know anything?  The stories go on and on.

Society calls these parents helicopter parents because of their constant, often noisy, hovering that actually keeps those on the ground (the teachers, coaches, etc.) from getting anything done for fear of the rotors cutting off their heads!

In typical, emphatic, young adult fashion, I swore I would not hover around my kids.

Then my little darlings were born.  Robert was old enough to speak the first time he busted his knee on the pavement.  I know this because he promptly told his babysitter that I did it.  I put great time and energy into mentally recording the diaper issues (pun intended) of another child and still find myself driving them all crazy with my second-guessing.  "Do you want grapes or applesauce with that toast?  Or would you rather have eggs?  You could switch the grapes for peaches and we could do oatmeal?"  Do you hear the sound of the rotors overhead?

I seek reform!  You see, I love them all and in my old age, I want them to live next door to me but in their own home, not mine or even on land that I might own.  When my youngest is my age I will be 77 years old if I am blessed with long-life but the odds are, maybe not.  I can't imagine not having my parents but I HOPE that if we aren't here for our children, they won't need us anyway.

I want my children to know how to work and play and grow their own faith without it being fed to them on a baby spoon.  I want my kids to be able to fight for what they believe in and fight for weaker people and fight for their own health by getting off the couch even if it hurts.  I want them to have strong soul-muscles from being on weak knees and I want them to use those muscles when things get hard because they WILL get hard, maybe harder than I know.

And how can these three miracles (that's another story for another time) that so delight and exhaust me learn to do anything if I don't let them try?  How can they learn where to put the dial on the toaster if they don't burn the toast? How can they learn how yucky it feels to have shampoo in your hair when you get out of the tub if I wash their hair for them?  When they use a crayon on the neighbors siding, how can they learn that is NEVER okay if I run over there and clean it off with an erasing sponge myself?

I say, let them cry, sweep, clean, fold, and do anything that they can, while they are at home and it is about erasing sponges, spills, hurt feelings and burned toast.  Let them learn before it is about bosses and mortgages or jail.

Let them learn these lessons while I can still catch them IF they need it or HELP them if their muscles, physical or otherwise, are not strong enough.  Instead of "Let me do that FOR you..." how about, "Let's do this together..." or even better, "Call me if you need help."

Lots of little things that I learned while still with my parents gave me great personal confidence in my abilities to manage life.  I am not talking about personal pride here but just the repetition of successful endeavors, no matter how small, that made me willing to try other things, even trusting the development of my faith.  Things like knowing how to care for a home, cooking the meals that I like, seeking and finding a job during the summer, making my own schedule in high school and managing a certain amount of food, gas and fun money.

So, I try not to hover and I recently moved the first aid box to the kids bathroom from a high cabinet in the kitchen.  I mean, if you are going to get out there and ride, you better know how to put a band aid on, right?

Just don't tell them that I am watching from behind my sunglasses and just because I am wearing the iPod doesn't mean the volume is turned up...