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Grounding That Helicopter

Over the past few years, much has been written about the different types of parenting styles. The main 3 out there seem to be:

  • Helicopter Parent – A style of parents who are over focused on their children; child rearing in which an overprotective parent discourages a child’s independence by being too involved in the child’s life.  
  • Tiger Parent – Overly strict with child in order to foster an academically competitive spirit, which is intended to direct a child towards financially successful careers.  There is a potential risk of leaving them feeling emotionally unfulfilled and/or socially inept.
  • Free Range Parent – A style of child rearing in which parents allow their children to move about without constant adult supervision, aimed at instilling independence and self-reliance. This is said to lead to happier adults.

Each “type” of parenting style has its pros and cons.  The reality is that most parents don’t fit perfectly into any of the above.  There’s probably a time and place that each and every one of us has had to take on these different “parent” roles depending on the circumstances, age of child, birth order, culture, and other factors.

For me, I’m far from a tiger and I like to think that I have some (a few? a couple?) free range tendencies.  In general, of the 3, I probably lean more towards helicopter, but by no means am I a full on helicopter.  I don’t have the energy for that!  It seems to depend on the actual child too – with my daughter, I can be a little more “free range” than I can with my son due to ADHD issues.

Today it dawned on me that some of my helicopter-ness may stem from the fact that I work from home. I have a full time job, but I do work from my home office.  I started this role right before my son began 1st grade.  It seemed like a perfect set up for our family’s current needs. It’s been awesome as I can take my children to from/school; volunteer in their school; take them to/from any events, doctors appointments, etc.  For the most part I am home in the morning when they leave and home when they get out of school.  I’m always present if need be, but now, I wonder if I did my kids a little disservice.   I’ve always prided myself on being available at the drop of a hat (and if not me, my husband or my parents would be available), but a little more freedom and the ability to think on their feet would have been a good thing.  Is it possible that this has led to helicopterish tendencies?  For instance, I’ve been less apt to plan for  play dates because I know I’ll be home.  But play dates can be beneficial as it helps children socially and developmentally; and can increase decision making skills and independence. Food for thought.

So for better or worse, this is how it’s been.  Over the summer I had a situation where I needed to ground that helicopter.  I had a meeting in NYC and had no coverage for my children after camp, as the traveling salesman husband was off doing his thing and my parents went away on a cruise.  It was easy enough to get my 8 year old daughter into the extended care at her camp for the day. But what about my son (11 at the time)?  I could arrange for him to go home with a friend, but I decided that he’d hang out at the town pool (where his camp bus lets off) until I was able to get there. No worries, he can swim!   As this was the local pool, he would know other kids and adults if he really needed something – but he was out and under no one’s charge, other than his own, for the very first time.  At 11 years old, this probably shouldn’t have been as “new” for us as it was, but we can’t change the past, right?  Everything worked out perfectly –  I didn’t rush home from my work meeting in NYC and my son hung out at the pool for the extra hour and a half.  It was a test for both of us – and we both passed!  My helicopter was grounded out of necessity and it was time for it to do so.

I want to be more of the free range parent.  In fact, there was a time when I thought I was laid back. Cause one of those Facebook quizzes told me so.  (Hey you…yes, you! I heard that. Stop laughing!)  If I’m honest, those times when I thought I was doing a bit of the free range thing – it was more likely that I was actually being lazy.  Nice, right?   As an example, by the time the 4th marking period rolled around this past school year, I grew tired of reviewing the kid’s grades on the parent portal.  I could have thought of it as giving the kids the freedom to manage their school work independently. Yes – free range?  Nope – just slacking….

Now, if I must assign a label, I’d like to think of myself more as a Puddle-Jumper Parent. A relative of the helicopter. Here’s why – A Puddle-Jumper is a small light airplane that is fast, highly maneuverable and used for short trips.  It has limited range and may make many stops.  But during certain situations, I fly low so I can “in” quickly if need be.  I’m truly not overly involved in everything, but I’m there in a heartbeat if I think my kids need me.  I can be flexible and maneuverable as I pick my battles.

Life, of course, is much more subjective and it’s challenging to be placed into categories.  In fact, the labeling system is unfair and quite silly  – and most likely do more harm than good.

That said, these categories may give us the opportunity to think about our parenting approaches.  Do we take our lead from the circumstances at hand or is it engrained in our personality? And are we “choosing” a style that’s appropriate for the situation?

  • Are we a helicopter for the right reasons?  Are we unnecessarily overprotective? Or do we involve ourselves  because we really need to?  Are we compensating for some feelings of neglect from our own childhood?
  • Why do we have tiger tendencies? Because we were unable to accomplish something ourselves and are deploying it onto our children?
  • Are we free range because we truly believe in it?  Or are we trying to counteract the “tiger” that our own parents may have been?   Are all children created equal?  Are we giving freedom to children before they are ready?

I found a quote that I fell in love with by Dr. Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of AskDoctorG.com “As parents, we have a very difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now–their stressors, strengths, emotions–and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise.”  To me, this seems to support that there’s a time and place for the different styles of parenting.  We need to continue to explore a balance.  As long as we don’t take it to extremes, there is no true right or wrong answer to “what type of parent are you?” Let’s just be cognizant of who our children are, the situation surrounding us and the possible consequences of our decisions.

As for me, who knows? As my children get older, maybe I’ll even retire my Puddle-Jumper and trade it in for something more free feeling, like a hand-glider or surfboard…off on my travels, but will always return if needed.

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