I've been a self-proclaimed "helicopter" mom as long as I've been a parent. But over the years by "style" has morphed and I've evolved as a woman and mother. I've noticed how differently I do things lately that fall more in line with being a "lighthouse" parent, which is a cross between helicopter and free-range. It strikes a balance I was previously lacking. And because I'm a professional at this whole mom thing now, there are things every lighthouse parent wants you to know about what it means to be the "beacon" of light in our children's lives.
For a long time, I held a tight grip on my children's whereabouts, sense of wellbeing, and overall autonomy (i.e. the foundation of being a helicopter parent). I didn't do it out of spite or malice, but because I honestly believed in always hovering near my children so I could keep them safe or help them avoid making irreparable mistakes. Over time, though, I noticed that my children were turning into people who couldn't figure out their place in the world without me. I didn't want that to be the case, so I learned how to back off and found myself in new parenthood territory as a lighthouse mom.
My first baby, my daughter, never wanted or needed me hovering over her. She has always valued her independence and rebelled anytime I accidentally smothered her. I think having her is one of the biggest reasons I decided to change my parenting ways. Through her I realized that my kids could do things without me constantly buzzing nearby. Still, that lesson was difficult to learn after enduring two miscarriages and a traumatic delivery in order to have my son. Suddenly I was a new mom again, terrified something would happen to the baby I had worked so hard to have. In other words, I'm still learning how to give my children space so they can grow into the people they're supposed to be.
I'm excited to embrace this new chapter of my parenting. A part of my story where my "style" doesn't involve me putting in so much time and effort and stress in order to help my children grow. Now I get to be more flexible and have more faith, while still providing my children with boundaries that keep them safe. That's the epitome of a lighthouse parent, and here's what us lighthouse parents want the rest of you to know:
We Know Failure Is Part Of The Process
It's taken me years to accept the fact that I have to let my kids fail (while watching from a safe distance), if they're ever going to know true success. While I'd never allow them to be in a dangerous situation, it's OK if I don't swoop in to make sure they're always winning. If anything, I'm the one who was hindering them from truly experiencing the joy of reaching a goal. According to the book Raising Kids to Thrive, by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a lighthouse parent allows room for growth by letting kids fail, and that room for failure teaches resilience.
We'd Rather Have A Relationship With Our Kids Instead Of Being "Right" All The Time
There have been many times through my journey as a parent where I'd much rather be "right" than try to understand where my child (usually my oldest) was coming from. Just today it was about homework. The old, helicopter version of me would've hovered over her while she procrastinated and whined about completing her take-home assignments.
A lighthouse parent, however, focuses on how to nurture their relationship with their child via understanding and conversation, even if that means they're not "right" or have to say sorry for making an assumption that turned out to be false. Kids need empathy, and that's exactly what a lighthouse parent provides.
We Love Unconditionally
Sometimes it's hard to separate what my daughter has done from the person I know her to be. But lighthouse parents love unconditionally by setting high standards for behavior. That means when my daughter lies about eating candy before dinner, I can dislike the behavior and still love her (even if I'm hella mad about it).
We Focus On Character & Morals
By setting a high standard for the people I want to shape and helping them make good choices for themselves, and not just because I'm forcing them to, I'm allowing them to shape their own views while I sit back and watch from a safe distance.
We Encourage Independence While Offering Guidance
When I finally took a big step back from all the helicopter parenting, I saw something amazing happen: my kids enjoyed their freedom and still made good choices. Believe it or not, letting go doesn't mean all is lost.
We Aim For Balance
Now that I'm more flexible, I see how extreme I'd been before and as a helicopter parent. And honestly, I slip back into my old ways every now and then because, well, old habits die hard. It's difficult to force myself to take a back seat and give my kids the room to grow on their own, but I still put in the effort because I know that, in the end, it's worth it.
We Don't Have It Easier
I don't think there's any style of parenting that's easy, there's only the ones that work and ones that don't. Every family dynamic is different, to be sure, but I see how much happier my kids now that I've allowed them to the space to make their own decisions, fail, pick themselves up, and succeed on their own.
Plus, no matter what my babies know I will always, always, be there.
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