Out of all the different parenting styles in the world, most will tell you that being a helicopter parent is one of the most hated. Non-helicopter parents tend to judge women who spend time at the playground with their kids instead of on the sidelines, and women who "hover" over their kids and engage in all aspects of their lives day in and day out are sometimes said to be causing them more harm than good. In an interview with Parents, Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders and author of the book Anxiety Disorders: The Go-To Guide, defined helicopter parenting as "a style of parents who are over focused on their children," adding that helicopter parents "typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures."
While my own personal parenting style tends to be "whatever gets us to bedtime without any bloodshed," I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the helicopter parent. My sons don't go to school or do activities where parents aren't involved, like swim class, but I still have my fair share of anxiety when it comes to leaving my kids. There are certain times, like when we're in a crowded play space, or when my kids are the youngest kids around, that I certainty find myself shadowing them around in an attempt to ward off danger and make sure they're having the best experience possible.
Any helicopter mom I've ever met seems happy in her role and her children never seem to have a bandage plastered across their forehead like mine so often do, so I thought I'd dedicate a week to being a full-blown helicopter parent to see if keeping constant watch over my 3 year olds would help to lessen my parenting anxieties and make my kids happier.
For one full week, I stuck to my kids like glue, both outside the home and in. With the exception of when I went into the kitchen to make meals and when they wanted to sleep in their own beds, they were within arm's reach of me at all times — yes, even when I went to the bathroom. This is what I learned in my week as a helicopter parent.
Being A Helicopter Parent Is Exhausting
Just by virtue of being outnumbered, I tend to keep a close eye on my kids when we're out in public. But within the comfort of our messy yet childproof home I usually let my guard down and give us all some space from each other. Sure, I'll read to them or get down the the floor to play blocks for a bit, but I'm usually checking work emails on the couch or making something in the kitchen while they play nearby.
During my week as a helicopter parent, all that changed. Instead of letting them have a minute alone while I went to the bathroom or got a cup of water, we were together every second they were awake and I was forced to come up with more games for kids to play than a certain giant purple dinosaur. I realized that as much as I like to think my house is safe for little kids, there's still plenty they can do to hurt themselves, and I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't realize they like to jump on the couch or use their toy box as a slide when I'm not paying attention.
Seeing the ways they risk their necks when I'm looking at my email made me paranoid and I spent the week on constant vigilance. Mad-Eye Moody would have been so proud.
As much as I thought helicopter parenting would be good for my kids, it felt like I was doing them a disservice by always being there to come to the rescue. Helicopter parenting left no room for them to work through things on their own.
The flip side of that, however, was frustrating. Because I spent ever waking minute looking after my boys, I felt so out of touch with work and fell behind on household chores. I didn't have time for anything else because I was entirely focused on the kids 24/7. I didn't do the 30-minute workouts I usually do with them underfoot, and I didn't have time to swipe on some lip gloss to make myself feel good before leaving the house. I thought being a helicopter mom would make me feel more "with it" as their mom, but any parental pride I felt was quickly overshadowed by the fact that I had a messy house and basically no time for myself. The fact that my kids were getting all the attention hit my self-confidence hard.
There's A Thin Line Between Helicopter Parenting & Babying
Because my kids are the same age and I only have two hands, I often try to motivate them to do simple tasks on their own. They're very good at feeding themselves, even attempting to cut their own soft foods. They're getting the hang of dressing themselves and know how to hang up their coats and put away their shoes when we come in from the car. I like to think I'm raising them to be pretty independent, but my week as a helicopter parent caused that to backslide a bit.
Since I was playing the part of a helicopter parent this week, I was always nearby and paying close attention. As a result, I was too quick to step in and help them put their shoes on the right foot or scrape the last spoonful of oatmeal from the bowl for them. It wasn't intentional; I was right there in front of them and saw them struggling so it was natural to want to step in and help. However, as the week went on, they started to try less and less and asked me to do things for them without a hint of effort.
As much as I thought helicopter parenting would be good for my kids, it felt like I was doing them a disservice by always being there to come to the rescue. Helicopter parenting left no room for them to work through things on their own. I realized just how easy it would be to fall into the habit of doing everything for them, and to be honest, I didn't like that.
I Was So Touched Out
I know one day they will be teenagers and I will be begging them for a hug, but that day is not today, and today I don't want anyone touching me, not even the cat.
I love my kids, I really, really do, and getting a kiss or a snuggle from them is one of the best feelings in the world, but after a week of helicopter parenting I wanted to lock myself in a cage for at least a month to let my skin recover from all this touching. Sitting on the floor or couch with the kids all day meant they were on me like Velcro, but with zero regard for my comfort. Elbows in the boobs, stepping on the flesh of my thighs, accidentally snapping their heads backward and catching me in the nose — I know people say parenting hurts, but I didn't realize they meant physically.
I never understood before how much I need those little physical breaks I get from my sons when I go to the bathroom or hop on my laptop. And I know one day they will be teenagers and I will be begging them for a hug, but that day is not today, and today I don't want anyone touching me, not even the cat.
I was pretty surprised that my helicopter parenting took a toll on my relationship with my partner. After the kids went to bed, and after a full day of hands-on parenting, even getting my partner a glass of water felt like too much to ask. And there was no way I was letting him touch me, even if it was only to cuddle. Trying my hand at being a helicopter parent made me see how much I value my space both mentally and physically.
Even Helicopter Parents Use Band-Aids
Even though my pediatrician always tells me my boys have the bumps and bruises that are typical for kids their age, I can't help but blame myself whenever they get hurt. I hate seeing them in pain and after the boo-boo is properly kissed and bandaged I berate myself for not paying closer attention. So one of the reasons I was looking forward to trying helicopter parenting was because I thought it would mean my kids wouldn't get hurt.
And then three days into the experiment, Lolo took a header off his booster seat and onto the hardwood floor while I was less than five feet away. I warned him to be careful and I tried to grab him as he went down, but there was nothing I could do to stop him or the fall. As awful as it felt to see him get a big bump on his forehead, in a weird way him falling off the booster while I was acting like a helicopter parent was a good thing. A few months ago, Remy slipped in the tub and had to get six stitches in his chin. I've always thought that accident could have been prevented if I had been paying closer attention. But Lolo's fall made me realize that as much as I'd like to, I can't protect them from everything, and that kids are going to get hurt no matter how closely you watch them.
Being a helicopter parent may have given me the illusion of control, but at the end of the day, my sons have their own free will, and sometimes that might lead to them getting hurt. I can't always blame myself for everything that goes wrong in their lives.
My boys flowered under my attention. They were better at sharing with each other and less jealous of one another because I gave them more of my time. They were just kinder, nicer kids than they are when I have one eye on them and the other on my inbox.
We Spent A Lot More Time Together
As tired as I was at the end of the day, and despite the fact my house looked like dust bunnies had started to form a colony, I have to admit being a helicopter parent forced me to spend a lot of quality time with my kids. Being so active in their play and the fact that it was too cold to go outside meant I had to get creative when it came things to do with them. We busted out some craft supplies, had a few dance parties, and made up games with their blocks and stuffed animals. Having so much time spent solely focused on them was great, and I'm amazed at how smart and funny they're growing up to be.
I noticed that my boys flowered under my attention. They were better at sharing with each other and less jealous of one another because I gave them more of my time. They were just kinder, nicer kids than they are when I have one eye on them and the other on my inbox.
Sometimes, when the boys have a day with lots of fighting, I chalk it up to the "terrible threes" or just a "bratty" day, but I realize now that many of those trying days are the same days I'm trying to get a lot done around the house or for work. Perhaps the problem isn't with their behavior, it's that they're acting out as a way to get my attention, and maybe I need to look at not being a helicopter parent so much as I need to work on adjusting my work schedule to give them more of my focused attention.
Am I A Helicopter Mom?
I was surprised to find that being a helicopter parent for a week didn't make me any less stressed, it just shifted my stress from kid-related issues to house, work, and relationship issues. My kids were happy and cared for, but everything else fell by the wayside in order to give my boys all the attention and care helicopter parenting requires. There were definite perks to being completely focused on my kids — they were better behaved when I gave them all my attention and I felt very loved by them — but hovering over my sons didn't prevent them from getting hurt, and it definitely seemed to put a dent in their progress towards eventual independence. And giving them my all meant having very little time or energy left over for myself at the end of the day.
While I totally understand the appeal of trying to be there for your kids in all ways and at all times, I don't think helicopter parenting is particularly healthy or realistic for me. I'm going to try and carve out some daily time when I'm fully present for my kids, but I want them to live their own lives without me hovering over them.