I should provide a disclaimer that I am dating a Baby Boomer; he has three sons, ages eighteen, twenty-two, and twenty-four. We have lots of parenting conversations as he is a serious helicopter parent and I am … well I am not. I am a Generation X mother of two sons, ages nine and thirteen. However, I think the idea of the helicopter parent has eeked its way into many Generation Xers lifestyles (think soccer moms).
I was surprised, and happy, and relieved to read this article in Time magazine. I have long just laughed off the glares of what a “bad”and “uncaring”parent I am. You know those conversations that suddenly cease when you walk into the room and all those gossiping women give you a 100-watt fake smile when you approach the group. Or how I have the ability to kill a conversation by simply saying, “My children walk to school.”Oh, the horrified looks I get. You would think I had said, “I force my sons to walk to school wearing pink tutus!”Yes, I am a powerful woman. I can change the mood in the room to immediate discomfort just by entering it.
“We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development. Parents demanded that nursery schools offer Mandarin, since it’s never too soon to prepare for the competition of a global economy. High school teachers received irate text messages from parents protesting an exam grade before class was even over; college deans described freshmen as “crispies,” who arrived at college already burned out, and “teacups, ”who seemed ready to break at the tiniest stress.”(Time)
Unlike the article, my parenting style did not evolve from the financial hardships of the Great Recession. No, I have always parented with intention that my children would become self-sufficient adults. I always parented with the knowledge that at any moment, I may not be here and my children would need to be able to succeed without me. I have always parented with the intent that I would continue to have my own life and in order for that to be possible my children would need to be responsible. I have always parented with the desire for my children to go happily off to college AND NOT RETURN! (Just kidding, sort of, a little bit … well maybe not. Unless they are bringing my grandchildren to visit.)
I owe my children the following; love and lots of it, education, food, shelter, clothing, warmth, humor, and most importantly boundaries in which to learn their own limitations. Other than that, I am NOT my children’s slave labor, I am NOT their short-order cook, I am NOT their laundress, I am NOT their chauffeur, I am NOT their memory. I AM their mother.
“From peace and prosperity, there arose fear and anxiety; crime went down, yet parents stopped letting kids out of their sight; the percentage of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41 percent in 1969 to 13 percent in 2001. Death by injury has dropped more than 50 percent since 1980, yet parents lobbied to take the jungle gyms out of playgrounds, and strollers suddenly needed the warning label “Remove Child Before Folding.” Among six-to-eight-year-olds, free playtime dropped 25 percent from 1981 to ‘97, and homework more than doubled. Bookstores offered Brain Foods for Kids: Over 100 Recipes to Boost Your Child’s Intelligence. The state of Georgia sent every newborn home with the CD Build Your Baby’s Brain Through the Power of Music, after researchers claimed to have discovered that listening to Mozart could temporarily help raise IQ scores by as many as nine points. By the time the frenzy had reached its peak, colleges were installing “Hi, Mom!” webcams in common areas, and employers like Ernst & Young were creating “parent packs” for recruits to give Mom and Dad, since they were involved in negotiating salary and benefits.”(Time)
I remember as early as my oldest son’s third grade, having disagreements with his father about Nate’s homework. While I made certain he did his homework, and I made certain it was correct and/or talked him through problems…once the homework was complete I would tell him to put it in his backpack. Many, many times he did not and I would see it lying where he last left it. I would tell him again to put it in his backpack…and many more times he would not … then off to school he would go, without his homework. His report cards were atrocious for a while. Okay, maybe not atrocious but certainly not reflective of the work he was doing, not even capable of doing, as he WAS doing the work, he was simply failing to turn it in.
Yes, I could have put it in his backpack for him. Yes, I could have run it to school for him. Yes, I could have done a lot to make sure he had his homework … but I did not feel it was my responsibility … it was Nate’s. His dad was threatening to take me to court, to try to gain primary custody … and I would argue with him, tell him that, “ I would rather Nate learned in grade school to become responsible for his homework, then enable him and have this argument in high school...when grades count towards college admissions.” Besides I was not worried about Nate’s academic capabilities, I saw his homework, I knew he did it and, more importantly, that he understood it. It took about five years of trial and error and finding a system that worked for Nate to make certain his homework was turned in … but now, he is in the eighth grade and not an assignment missing. At honors night, he was very, very proud of himself and he should be … he EARNED it.
No one wants to see their child hurt, or sad, or disappointed … but how does a child become functioning adults if parents protect them from the negative and provide only the positive? How do they know true happiness if they have not experienced sadness? How do they know the joy of being in love, if they have not experienced a broken heart? How do they know the overwhelming exuberance of winning if they have not experienced the heart wrenching defeat of losing? How do they know what it is to succeed if they have never been allowed fail? By protecting our children from all that is unpleasant, we deprive them of truly experiencing all that is wonderful about life. They will take for granted happiness and love, as they have not experienced the absence of it. Life is not about 100% guaranteed happiness and success. Life is about struggle and perseverance, highs and lows, love and loss, success and failures. Life it about living and that is what I am teaching my children.