Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes

W flies home
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Recently, I saw a couple of articles lamenting the helicopter parents.  I am anything but a helicopter parent, though sometimes I wish I had been at times.  There are things I look back on now, like the beginnings of Geeky Boy’s struggle with homework.  Work for both Mr. Geeky and I was too overwhelming for us to intervene much, except to ask whether it was done or not.  Perhaps I should have insisted someone be home when he got home.  Instead we checked in via home, and came home as early as possible.  I didn’t call teachers, though I did touch base with a counselor at one point to try to help Geeky Boy with organization.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the habits we’re trying to break now were a result of our lack of intervening–either with Geeky Boy himself or with the school.

Some people have said to me, “just crack the whip, force him to buckle down.” Or some such severe discipline.  I sigh.  Been there. Doesn’t work.  Instead, we get a kid with an even bigger ball of stress to deal with.  And, frankly, he’s his own person.  There are some things that can’t be forced.  But we’re talking about it now.  I just wish we’d started sooner.

I don’t remember ever having to be told how to deal with school.  My parents were really laid back about everything to do with grades, etc.  When boys and alcohol caused my grades to plummet, they just assumed things were getting harder, especially math.  I lived the kind of life Samantha Bee writes about in the WSJ.  I came home, did my homework (which often only took about an hour), and then vegged in front of the tv.  Sometimes I read or wrote or called people on the phone (a landline even!).  But it was very leisurely.  And summer, aside from a two-week vacation, I spent most of it at the pool.  I did no academic camps or music camps or sports camps, though I did have a few friends who did.  I just wasted that good at sports, and music wasn’t my thing.  And yes, I was college bound and smart, but my parents didn’t try to groom me to be a NASA scientist.  I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, to finding something that I really like doing and that pays the bills to boot.  I keep that in mind when I see where Geeky Boy is.

Yes, some parents around here send their kids to academic camps at UPenn or Johns Hopkins or they’re in soccer camp or lacrosse camp or tennis camp.  Some kids are booked the whole summer.  We just don’t have the resources for that.  Yes, it’s been difficult keeping the kids busy.  We’ve gone to the pool.  I’ve encouraged reading and writing.  I’ve assigned chores.  But summer days are long, and there’s only so much structured activity anyone can do.  And while I may have my regrets, I’m not so sure my “cracking down” or scheduling more for the kids would have made them any better off.  I think all of us would have been a bit less happy (and certainly poorer).  And I think the payoff for some of those things is short term–it gets you into the. best. college.  Except when it doesn’t.  Only time will tell how things will turn out.  Which is kind of the sucky thing about parenting.  Feedback comes really slowly.

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9 Replies to “Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes”

  1. Some kids end up in summer camp after summer camp because both parents work and they have to go somewhere during the day. That can be complicated and expensive for parents. We don’t seem to have a good option for two-career families at the moment.

    My kids have spent a lot of time with family this summer – both sets of grandparents and me and my sister. It’s been fabulous in many ways. But I think we’ll all be glad to go back to school and back to a normal routine.

  2. I don’t think an over scheduled summer is good for anyone. People need some downtime. When I got into HS, I missed just being able to go to the pool and hang out, because I know had different summer practices.

    I have struggled with organization of physical space my whole life. It doesn’t click with my brain. I have come to realize that it is probably related to my mild ADHD, Dyslexia, and pretty severe dysgraphia. I’ve come up with a solution that works for me.

    I have have a friend that is great at organization but struggles with computers. So we trade off. She helps me organize my classroom, I set up her computer for the school year. A couple times a month I sit down and teach her something new on the computer. She comes in and helps me with trouble spots in my organization. When your fighting the wiring of your brain, you need ongoing support.

    I’ve have accepted that I will always struggle with organization. I know I have to tackle those type of problems in the mornings, do it in the afternoon and the “organization” will make no sense. I will always need some outside perspective to fix trouble spots and set up new areas.

  3. I think a lot of helicopter parenting is based on assigning way too much responsibility to parenting. Take the tiger mom, as an extreme example. She was able to tiger mom because she had a tiger kid, a highly motivated, capable child who wanted to be directed by someone else. I think this is true of lots of other interventions, too — parents reading to children, talking to children as early child hood examples. Children talk a lot to children who talk to them. They read to children if their children sit quietly and listen.

    I think we too often think of parental interventions as being something we deliver to the children when most of parenting is a collaboration.

    I’ve heard other parents worry along your lines — about not providing something when they truly couldn’t (a parent who worries about the time her child spent as an infant in day care, as an example). But kids are resilient; it’s unlikely that there are irreversible effects.

  4. “most of parenting is a collaboration”

    I like this statement, because it rings true for how things work in our house. We don’t function under a dictatorship. It’s not a democracy either, but we certainly collaborate in lots of ways, from deciding the rules to deciding what activities to participate in. Certainly as the kids have gotten older, parenting has gotten even more collaborative. When the kids were, say, 5 & 9, it’s easier to say, “this is how it is,” but when they’re teens, there are only a few things you have a complete say over. I can tell them to go to bed at 9:30 or 10, but whether they go to sleep or not–I have no control.

  5. We decided to reduce activities for next year, and our girls are pretty excited to have Saturdays free (so far)! I think it’s such a delicate balance to try and find, especially when you have the summer “off” like you and I do and spend so much of our work lives with high-achieving/high-pressure families (maybe that’s just me).

  6. Yep, Jackie–some of those high pressure parents get to me. But even in my neighborhood, there are a few of them. Whenever I’ve jumped into PTA or something, I immediately feel inadequate when parents start talking about the things they encourage their kids to do.

  7. I’m pro-summer activities. I’m pro-me-working during the summer (more pro- getting paid for not-working, but so far no takers), and I’d rather DC be doing something organized (even something enriching!) than, say, playing with the power tools in the shed, which would also be enriching but dangerous.

    My parents valued enrichment activities over stuff, so I took a lot of fun kids classes over the summer at the local community college. They probably kept my interest up in learning since most of my K-8 so-called education was mind-numbingly boring. I was usually the only girl and often one of the youngest in the math and science-related classes.

  8. Dear Geeky Mom, I struggle with my son. I was a single Dad and middle school was a struggle for him. I sat with him every night doing homework fighting every step of the way, until one day I got a call at work that he had not turned in his homework again. I could not believe it because I had been with him when he did it. When I got home I asked where it went, he said he did not know, so I opened the math book and there it was. Clearly my “forcing” of the issue was pointless and from that point on I asked about homework and only insisted on an honest answer. If he said no the homework was not done, I would just remind him that staying in middle school might not be fun. But that is a story for another day.

  9. FG, thanks for your comment. Yep, we just quit forcing and hope for the best. We keep letting both kids know that we think academics are important. And we always ask about homework, but we can no longer force anyone to do anything. We just try to create conditions that make it possible.

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