Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Hovering” or Helping: Reflections on Helicopter Parenting

Yes, I know these aren't helicopters...but hovering.... (photo by PML)

The term “helicopter parent” is a relatively new concept that refers to the “hovering” of parents over children in an over-protective manner.

It is also the fad “blaming the parent” device for the current generation.

As a former student affairs professional, I have seen the “helicopter parents” at work.  I know there are kids who go to college who still have mommy and daddy hiring them lawyers to get out of their MIP’s and getting their doctor uncles to write them an illegal handicap pass for the Mustang that the parents bought them for graduation.  I know there are parents who call up professors to complain about their adult(?) child’s grades (never mind the child hasn’t been to class the whole semester; they are paying money they get the degree, right?).  I have seen these kids operate from a sense of entitlement, and also total dysfunction.  After all, they were the kids who did no wrong, whose parents were always there to pick up the pieces, who never learned the lessons from their mistakes and expect everyone to fall in line with their needs.  I can tell you, those were the kids that I found to be more challenging to discipline than the kids barfing in the hall at 4 am or sneaking the beer in down their trousers.

But it seems that “helicopter parenting” is also being misapplied in many instances to the potential detriment of well-meaning parents and kids who need parental involvement.

Kids need boundaries.  Kids need security.  Kids need consistent rules.  Kids need loving, firm support.  Kids need encouragement.  Kids need advocates. Kids need teachers.  Kids need to see appropriate behavior modeled by others.

Most people would agree that all of the above statements are true.  So where does the hovering leave off and the parenting begin?

I am the mother of a 22 month old toddler.  I know I have a tendency to over-protect.  I have had some life experiences that have exposed me to the worst in people, as well as the best.  I know who is out there in the world, and I want my daughter, V, to be both open and wary, both trusting and cautious.  I want her to have the resources to stand up for herself, and also to know she has our support.  I want her to know she is loved unconditionally.  I want her to have the strength she will naturally acquire from life experiences, from trying and failing, from picking herself up when she falls. I also expect to be a teacher and a role model in her life.

So, I try to be a thoughtful parent about how I engage with V.   We want to foster independence in V; some of her new favorite phrases include “V do” and “do self.”  At 22 months, she can put on her own shoes; I let her struggle but she finally gets them on.  In fact, she often brings me mine (along with my hat and phone) to prepare for an outing. I tell her which end of a knife to touch and which edge is sharp.  If she grabs one, I want her to have some experience so she knows that she can hurt herself with it.  I gingerly touch her hands to hot  (not scalding) food saying, “hot” then let her check to see when it is cool enough to eat. We recite a little rhyme my Grandma taught me about how to cross the street safely. I give her as many choices as I can.  I talk to her about no-nos and why they are no-nos.  I tell her which actions may result in boo-boos. But she does stumble and bump and cry.  She spills.  She has wrecked toys and ripped pages.  She has had privileges taken away and has sat through time-outs.  She has faced natural consequences but she also has guidance, instruction, and support when she needs them.  We have taught her how to ask for help but we don’t always make it easy or take away the struggles.

V will be faced with choices in moments where I am not attending.  Though I keep an ever-watchful eye on her, even toddlers have moments where they can get into mischief.  I can’t control her every move, but I can teach her which actions are likely to have consequences.  I don’t expect her to make good choices in a vacuum, without ever having been taught the potential fallout, and just expecting her to learn EVERYTHING through experience alone. I teach, and I comfort her when she gets a boo-boo, and I am trying really hard to let her build her own unsteady block towers without interfering. This is my way of parenting:  giving her a strong foundation from which she can make choices with some advance knowledge of the potential consequences.  There is a balance to parenting; despite the zeitgeist, it’s not a “hands off” job, though it is sometimes a “step back” job.

What we do as parents with the consequences relates to “helicopter parenting” as well.  There are some mistakes that will follow our kids forever if we do not intervene.  For example, I am not going to let my 22 month old climb the monkey bars at the park before she is physically ready.  I will let her take a few steps or hold her hands or put my hands underneath her belly to quickly catch her when she falls.  She is not yet ready to discern which situations put her in physical danger and which are safe.  I teach her verbally as much as possible to prepare her for potential situations, but I also don’t let her fall and crack her skull.  But last park trip she was ready to go down the big slides on her own.  We started her slide journey by going down with her.  Then we rode the slide next to her and held hands.  Then we let her climb and waited for her at the bottom of the small slides.  For a while, she was so tiny, that the speed of the big slides would result in her bopping her head and nearly flying off as she went down; so we had to help.  Now she has conquered every slide at the park.  We are learning when to help with the sliding and when to step back.  But we know we aren’t perfect at making every parenting decision.  For us, it is trial and error as well.

Learning when to step back and let your child take the consequences seems to be one of the most difficult parenting challenges.  While knowing when a child is ready to go down a slide on her own is a fairly simple assessment, watching your child navigate a difficult romantic relationship, try and fail at an endeavor, have a legal encounter, make self-destructive choices, at what point do you stop intervening? It is so complicated trying to know when to step in and when to let experience be the teacher.  From a young parent’s perspective, but one who has been involved with kids of every age in some challenging situations, often it seems you can help when they’ll listen, and when they won’t listen, they have to face the music.  If they learn from their mistake, and need your help as they try to turn a situation around, each parent must wrestle with their own conscience to determine how best to proceed.  How much failure teaches a lesson vs. how much is scarring for life?  There is no magically researched formula for the experts to offer parents on this question and judgments will fly no matter what choices we make as parents. Ultimately, we have to live with the consequences of our parenting mistakes as well.

Perhaps those who want to reform “helicopter parents” should just let it be…after all, isn’t hovering over the hoverers a version of the same issue?  So many complex judgments are involved in parenting.  While it helps to have information and knowledge, we cannot control other individuals with that knowledge, we can only make that knowledge available and hope people (kids and adults alike) make good choices.  It’s up to parents to set the boundaries and to decide when to let go.

Linking up with Shell at Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out.


Falling Leaves: Amazing Autumn Reads

photo by PML

Already Finished:


God of the Hive by Laurie R. King:

For those of you who haven’t read Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, King spins off from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series.  In the series, Holmes has a young protégée (series spoiler alert) Mary Russell, who he eventually weds. Russell is no flimsy maiden; she is a match for Holmes’ razor sharp mind and unique character.  In this novel, we join Russell and Holmes who are separated as they each protect a valued family member from a known and an unknown factor.  Espionage and deception are involved and Holmes’ brother, Mycroft Holmes plays a significant role in the plot.  I find King’s characters to be quite likable and I always enjoy her stories for a light and gripping mystery read.

Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra by Paul D. Gilbert:

For fans of the Sherlock Holmes television series starring the late Jeremy Brett, Gilbert’s characterization of Holmes will be a familiar encounter with a beloved character.  The novel intertwines two separate cases faced by Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick John Watson and takes an unexpected and shocking twist at the end.  A ship arrives at the docks missing its crew, with the exception of one dead cabin boy.  A renowned archaeologist vanishes; the letters to his son the only obvious available clue.  How do these stories connect?  For Holmes fans seeking more, read and find out!

Serena  by Ron Rash:

I checked this novel out as I will be involved in the Appalachian Writer in Residence program at Shepherd University featuring Ron Rash.  I wanted to read some of his work prior to meeting him at the program events.  Rash’s Serena describes the life of a ruthless and captivating woman who seeks to dominate the lumber empire in the late 1920’s.  Rash creates a very real setting and characters that get under your skin.  I don’t want to spoil the book by going into too much detail, but Rash’s dynamic story lingered with me for days.  That is the mark of a well written novel!

Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher:

The author of bestselling Reviving Ophelia writes a memoir describing her experience with a mental breakdown following her breakthrough success as a writer.  I found Pipher to be a very gentle and genuine soul who uncovers and shares many kernels of wisdom through her chronicles of self-exploration.  The middle part of the book where she describes her childhood and life in great detail gets a teeny bit tedious but as you get to the next “ah-ha” moment, you feel it is worth every minute of the read.  Pipher’s journey reminds us of what is truly important in life, fame not being one of those important things.  I recommend this read for anyone who likes to go deeper; Pipher challenges us to do so in an ever so kind and compassionate way.  I plan to go back through to make some notes for my own reference….there are some good take-aways here!

 

Re-reading:

 

I Brake for Meltdowns by Michelle Nicholasen and Barbara O’Neal:

Yep, this is a book to help parents learn more about how to prevent and handle the challenging behavior that comes along with 2-5 year old kiddos.  As a mother of a nearly 2 year old who has intense and powerful emotions that sometimes unravel beyond her control, I’m hoping to help identify some of the triggers that might send my little gal into a tailspin so I can help her get a grip.  Also, this book helps parents identify what “normal” reactions children have in particular situations.  This is a helpful read for those who are struggling, although no technique or developmental knowledge will completely prevent some emotional flailing in children whose brains have not yet developed at this age to permit emotional control.  So read and glean some tips, but do not expect perfection to come from this single source,

Waiting on My Nightstand:


Pirate King by Laurie R. King (yes, I’m on a Sherlock Holmes kick and it’s a NEW one!)

Chemistry and Other Short Stories by Ron Rash

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman (at my husband’s recommend)

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Nourishing Traditions:  The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.  (lent by a friend; I’ve skimmed and found some really interesting information that breaks down many “healthy” nutrition myths.  Worth a read.)


Changing Tides: Opening up to Change and Possibilities

V's baby footprint in the sand in January. Everything grows and changes, and washes away with a new tide.

There are times in my life when I have felt currents of change rippling through my life like a shifting tide that is pulling me in a direction.  I have learned that if I put myself in the right place at the right time, and open myself up to experiences and people, that in an almost mystical fashion, things begin to happen.  These periods of change often come after periods of great internal struggle, or some suffering, or a change I was resisting.  Sometimes, they come after I accept a truth about myself that I had refused to previously acknowledge.  When I am moved by the current, despite the tumult of change, I feel almost at peace when I submit to the gifts of the universe in my life.

Recently, I have experienced some major life changes.  I became a mother.  I left the working world after 15 years and two degrees to be a stay at home mom.  I moved across country with my husband and daughter and left all of my family and friends.  With these changes have come some doubts, some “grass is greener” thinking, some personal revelations, and a good deal of loneliness.  What I have learned through previous experiences with “clumps” of change is that often these feelings are temporary.  Continued momentum through the change often brings me to a place where I can again rest and feel stable and secure within myself.

With every new job, I have experienced trepidation, self-doubt, feelings of inadequacy, but these feelings drive me to learn, to listen and observe, to utilize my intuition, and to quickly grasp hold of my position and find my bearings.  It should have been no surprise that I often felt these feelings as a new mother, but I fumbled through an adjustment period, all the same.  It has taken me a little while to feel comfortable in my new mommy skin, but I feel like I have regained the confidence and trust in my abilities and instincts that I initially lacked.  My wobbly legs have strengthened, and though I do not always know the answer, I now have experience behind me to help me trust that I can face the next situation and do the best I can.  Throughout this journey, moments of indescribable joy have enriched my life. Being a mother is the best and most rewarding experience of my life and while I’ve sometimes doubted myself, I am always thankful and humbled by the gift of my daughter in my life.

Recently, I have struggled with some severe loneliness.  I’ve made a few good friends in my new home, but I have gone way out of my comfort zone trying to connect in this new environment.  I have little trouble public speaking; I have often found myself in leadership roles;  despite all of this, I am a relatively introverted person dealing with some measure of social anxiety, who would much rather spend time with a few beloved old friends then put myself out there to be potentially rejected or judged by a new acquaintance.  But as Yoda says:  “Do or do not.  There is no “try.”  So I continue to put myself out there, as uncomfortable as it makes me, in the hopes that I will find my niche out here.

This past week, after a summer of near solitude, I’ve met four mothers who have initiated fledgling friendship.  Despite some frustration, I kept taking my daughter to places where we’d be able to meet other moms and kids, and finally, I think the effort is paying off.  We also had a nice play date at the park with two dads and their respective sons this week, as well.  Some breakthroughs are being made.  I am hopeful.

Keeping an open heart and persevering in the face of obstacles and change is always a challenge.  Admittedly, I am not always successful at keeping my inner optimist afloat. Yet I find that when I put forth the effort, I yield so much more out of life.  In this past two years of change, I have found my writer self again.  I have had published two news articles, one letter to the editor, and several poems, including one in a recent anthology.  Writing opportunities keep opening up for me, and though so far, they are unpaid, each success is helping build my confidence and experience as a writer.  A new path has opened.

With every ripple of change, every pull of the tide, the natural urge is to wrestle, to fight the current.  I find if I open myself up to the possibility that I might end up somewhere good, and keep treading water, I will be moving.  I will move on, like everything and everyone does.  Everything changes, even loneliness, doubt, fear, if we can keep our hearts open and maintain momentum.  This year, I’m thankful for the possibilities that change has brought to my life and the lessons I am learning about myself along the way.

 

Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for Pour Your Heart Out.


Navigating the Minefield of Playground Etiquette

 

V running excitedly at her favorite "playplace!"

I’m the mother of a toddler, and as such, I am embarking upon the world of playgrounds, mall play places, open gyms, and library story hours.  All are places where my child interacts with a myriad of kids, some older, some younger, some timid, some aggressive, some with attentive parents, some with parents who use these settings as a time to take a breather.  As my daughter, V moves into the social world, I find myself struggling with how to best help her navigate this new landscape, and agonize as I analyze how to best address the different social situations we encounter.

For example:

Two approximately, four year old boys running amok on a playground while their supervising adults gab at a picnic table across the way, yelling “Ew, you’re a girl, you can’t play with us.” at my then 18 month old daughter.  And then making additional rude, gender discriminating comments.  I, stupefied, and waiting for said adults to say something along the lines of “No, that’s not nice, we treat girls with respect not mean words,” say nothing.  Leave feeling like I’ve taught nothing to my daughter or to the kids.  Feel like the worst feminist ever.  Then feel like a dolt for expecting anything else from 4 year olds.  But expect more from the adults…

or

Witnessed:  a dad sitting mutely, as his much larger kid, picks up and shakes two children, strangers to them, repeatedly, at the mall play place.  Finally, the father of the kids snaps, saying “Why are you picking up my kid!”  to the child.  The father of the aggressor finally stands up, saying “No, (insert child’s name) come here.”  Eventually, after failed attempts to control his child without the dad moving a muscle, they leave.

or

We just put V on a teeter-totter.  She is so excited. Two girls about 5 years old approach having seen her just get on.  “Can she get off of here?”  “No”, I reply, “she just got on and it’s her turn.”  I feel like a jerk.

or

After frustration mounts as over 7+ year olds nearly stampede my 22 month old during so-called toddler (under 7 years) time during the open gym program at the local rec center, patience is waning. Older child (probably over 7) comes up and grabs climbing rope from my daughter V’s hand.  No adult in sight.  I say, “That was very rude.  She was playing with that.  You can have a turn in just a minute.”  Feel I’ve overstepped some boundary.  Child smiles, lets V have a turn, and chats away with me.  Hmm.

or

Friend’s child visits on a playdate.  He swats at V over a toy. Mother is too far away to reach him in time to stop hitting. I gently catch his hand before impact, saying “No, no, we don’t hit.”  Wonder if mother hates me, although I’d want her to do the same if V was going to hit.

or

V is on biting frenzy.  It happens when her little friends take toys from her.  Wanting to prevent biting issues, I intervene more than I’d like in sharing struggles.  Feel like other parents must label me as “helicopter parent.”  This alternates with giving a darn, after all, I’m protecting their kid from the biting.  Argh.

Lately, it seems like there is nothing like the interaction between my kid and another to make me feel off kilter.  I have my bearings as her parent, but am still learning my role as an adult around other people’s kids when they are interacting with my daughter.  I am constantly deciding between:

 

letting V work out her social struggles

vs.

modeling the appropriate behavior so she has some resources and tips to use

 

leaving discipline to the other kid’s parent

vs.

protecting the physical well-being of my child and sticking up for her when she doesn’t yet have the skills to do so herself

 

I know there are many factors that contribute to difficult social situations involving any two kids.  I have been the mom who intervenes and the mom who is distracted at the crucial moment.  I know some children’s behavioral challenges come along with clinical issues and that it is sometimes difficult to discern when those are coming into play.  I also want to teach my daughter how to stand up for herself by modeling behavior and for standing up for her when she cannot.  I know with time, she will develop additional skills and resources and I will have to let her flail from time to time in order for her to learn and grow.  I know I will always intervene when physical aggression is coming into play; that’s just something I cannot accept.  I know parents teach their kids in different ways, coming from different value systems, and that I cannot expect everyone to see every potential disciplinary situation with the same lens. But it still is hard being a parent on a playground.  You never know where the mines are located, which buttons will make another parent explode when pushed.  So I try to tread carefully, and I hope others will forgive me as I occasionally stumble.  I’m working to give them the benefit of the doubt, myself.

 

 


Our Fair Lady at the Maryland Renaissance Faire

M & V purchased tickets at the gate, where we saw Trekkies in line waiting (Big Bang Theory joke anyone?!)

 

My husband, M, studied Medieval and Renaissance history as part of his graduate program; that fact, combined with the fact that we love dressing in costume and the romance (however historically inaccurate) of the era, has resulted in a late summer/fall tradition in our family:  frequenting Renaissance Faires!  So this past Labor Day weekend, my husband, M, and I were excited to share our family tradition with our daughter, V as we journeyed to the Maryland Renaissance Faire for our third Faire experience as a family.  Today, in a joint post featured on both of our sites, (TheRippleEffect2009 and Glitnir76) we’d like to share our experiences taking our 22 month old gal to a living history event.

 

Kissing Mama near the Portcullis (which V now knows how to say!)

 

Getting her into her costume was a bit difficult, and she wanted no part of her long (and hot) princess/gown outfit.  Luckily, we brought a lighter pirate outfit consisting of shorts, a shirt, and a hat.  So imagine our luck when we encountered the pirate ship at the kiddies’ playscape!  Though V has braved many such contraptions before (indoor and out), I don’t think she had encountered quite so many other kiddos as were clambering all over the thing.  But, dad braved the plank and walked her up to the poop deck where she explored a bit, and was especially fascinated with looking down on the brig.  Fortune was on dad’s side as she didn’t have much interest in going down there…

 

On a quest with Dada to find the "playplace"

On the "pirate" ship with M & V!

 

One of the things we like to do at Ren Faires is to take in as many shows as possible (after all, they’re included in your ticket price). But with a young child, you never know what will hold their attention for the 15-30 minute show.  Imagine our delight when V was enthralled with Hamlet, Act I!  I mean, what kind of awesome do you need to be to dig Shakespeare at 22 months?  And she probably understood about as much of it as I (her dad) did…

 

Watching Hamlet, Act 1

 

As V is a bit obsessed with knights and jousting (since her first Ren Faire and reading “Knight: A Noble Guide for Young Squires” with her dad), we were thrilled to be able to take her to see the jousting tournaments taking place on “The King’s Field.”  At home, V runs through the house with a long wooden “jousting lance.”  She does battle with her golden dragon and fierce elephant with her foam swords, battleaxe, and flail.

 

Our brave knight (or in these days...dame) doing battle against the fearsome beasts!

 

She watches jousting matches from “A Knight’s Tale,” frequently requesting, “Knights, jous?”  So it was no surprise that V LOVED seeing real life jousting! We were able to fit two of the three jousts into our plans for the day and I think they were the highlight of V’s experience.  She learned to cheer “Huzzah!” for the Scottish champion supported by our section.  She bossily ordered the knights forward on the field yelling “JOUS!” at them.  She clapped at the clanging of the lances as they shattered against the full armor worn by the participating knights.  For a moment, she was transported into her beloved fantasy world.

One of the best jousts we've seen at a Ren Faire

Watching as her beloved knights approach...

 

Having learned to slay the Dastardly Dragon and Evil Elephant at home, I wasn’t sure how she’d react to seeing the real thing (the latter mind you) at the Faire.  Would she summon her “charge” rage and go rampaging off to slay the beast? Would she cower at the sight of such a huge animal (a big step up from her stuffed opponent)?  Nah, she pretty calmly evaluated her opponent from the safety of the fence and her parents’ arms which was just fine with us.

 

 

Fortunately, there was something smaller she could attempt to ride: the ponies!  She didn’t seem to want to go with mom, so dad picked her up, explained that it was a noble steed for a knight like herself, and she bravely tried it out.  Of course, after the first time, that’s all she wanted to do!  There’s a 2 ride-a-day limit, so she was a bit disappointed that she couldn’t also ride the “white one,” but she did a great job and even managed to wave to the crowd in true royal fashion.


On her noble steed...

 

As the Faire came to a close for the day, we managed to fit one, last, but important experience into our schedule. 10 years ago this August, M and I began our journey together as a family as we celebrated our wedding.  At our reception, M and I changed into (roughly) medieval garb.  So it is fitting that we celebrated our 10 year vow renewal (we did a version of this in our kitchen as I had the flu on the actual day) at a Renaissance Faire chapel.  As is our fortune, we forgot a copy of our actual vows, so we spoke from the heart and had V serve as official ring bearer as we exchanged our rings again.

 

Goin' to the Chapel...(was actually playing on the way to our wedding)!

 

Although we loved our experience, there are some challenges with taking a toddler to a Renaissance Faire.  First, the terrain is NOT stroller friendly, but if you want to carry around all of the necessities for a successful day trip with a little one, it is a must.  So be prepared for some tussles with the wheels.  Second, as is true with “real world” shopping, browsing for wares at the local merchant’s shop can prove a challenge with an on-the-go kiddo.  Thirdly, unless, like us, you have a kiddy porta-potty, potty-training efforts will likely take some damage points for the day, as the porta-johns aren’t exactly toddler friendly.  Finally, Ren Faire fare does not include the healthiest options for little ones.  Chicken dippers and fries were the only menu items that V would touch, so it behooves the parents of toddlers to bring a cooler with many toddler friendly munchies.  Despite these challenges, we’ll keep taking V back to Renaissance Faires, because being able to touch, smell, see, and experience the past will give her a new perspective and a foundation for future learning.  And because we’re just the kind of family to quest for adventure, together!


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