No Helicopter Parenting


I pride myself on not being a Helicopter Parent – you know, those parents who have their hands in everything their kids do, who choreograph, plan, and manage their kids lives down to every hour, who allow their kids to do so little for themselves that their kids don’t really gain an understanding of independence and success and failure based on their own hard work and determination?  Yeah, that’s not me.  Maybe it’s not even a matter of pride on my part, it’s just not how I’m wired.  And I’m just a true believer in the value of the School of Hard Knocks.

Let’s take school, for instance.  I’ve never been one to sit down and babysit my kids as they do their homework.  It seems to me that if they can’t do it by themselves, then they’re not understanding the lessons at school.  And besides, I paid my dues – I put in my years and years of homework through my own studenthood; I don’t have any desire to be doing homework now.  I also think it’s important that they learn from the get-go that school and homework are their responsibilities, not mine or their dad’s.  I prefer to be available to my kids on a consultant basis: if they need some explanation or clarification, or if they need help coming up with ideas on how they can solve a problem, I’m there.  But I’m not going to hold their hands and walk them through every step of it.

That said, there are times when I find myself crossing that line and getting a little too involved.  A perfect example is this project Joey was recently given at school.  His class is learning about the town we live in, and as part of that study topic, the kids were each given a list of projects from which they had to choose one to complete.  On the list were all sorts of things, like: create a photo collage of historic locations in your town with descriptions of each photo; create a video a tour of your town;  or, interview someone who has lived in your town for over forty years.  But Joey had to choose what was probably the most difficult one on the list: build a model of a historical building in your town.  Joey chose to build a model of our local police station – a very pretty and historic building to be sure.  No amount of attempts on my part to convince him that this would be a very difficult and time-consuming project would discourage him.  So out we went yesterday to the craft store, unloading about $50 for supplies for this project.

It’s due at the end of this week.  As today rolled around, I realized that the bulk of this project was going to have to be completed today – what with regular homework and baseball during the week.  As the morning wore on, I found myself getting more and more stressed out about it.  It occurred to me that Joey doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to create a building – let alone a replica of our local police station! – so I resigned myself to constructing the building for him and then having him paint it and add all the details.  So I dragged out the balsa wood we bought, and the glue, and the photos of the police station that I printed for him, and got to work.

And then I found myself feeling decidedly pissed off.  Why was I doing the building for him?  Why was I getting all stressed out about it?  Why was I sacrificing my Sunday to this project he chose while he was outside playing baseball?

I came to my senses.  Okay, so he may not have any idea how to construct a building out of balsa wood . . . or maybe he does.  Maybe I’m not giving him enough credit – maybe he can figure it out.  One thing is for sure: if I do it for him, he’s not going to learn anything about his own abilities.  Maybe he’ll bomb on this project.  Maybe his police station will look nothing like our historical police station.  Maybe he’ll get a really bad grade on it.  But really, so what?  It’s third grade, for crying out loud.  This project is not going to determine the rest of his life, or even the rest of his educational journey.  If he doesn’t do well on it, he’ll have learned something about being realistic, about how far hard work and determination can get him.  If he does well, he’ll have the wonderful knowledge that he did it himself.

So I called him in from outside and handed all the materials over to him.  “It’s your project, Honey.  You can do it.  Good luck!”  I told him.  He had a momentary look of a deer in headlights.  I just smiled at him.  He’s been in his room ever since, working away.  True, he’s coming out about every seven minutes with a question, but he’s doing it himself.

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One Comment on “No Helicopter Parenting”

  1. Jeff Silvey
    March 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Well, good for you for not getting stressed in the end, and having him get the experience of doing it himself. It’s for the best in the end.

    I’m a “helicopter parent” by my own admission, but more in the way of just trying to keep my kid safe. As she’s only three now, I’m just a little too overprotective. When she’s in 3rd grade and doing school projects, that will be another matter. ;)

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