The first time I heard the term “Helicopter Parent,” I remember scoffing with pride that I certainly wasn’t one of them, these parents who are all over their children and their children’s teachers. Don’t get me wrong; I have a few propellers whizzing around over my child but I have seen obsessive and aggressive parents, and I know I am not like them.
And then I saw an article on my Twitter feed about the “Lawn Mower Parent” – a parent who attemps to “mow down any obstacle in their children’s path.” (courtesy of Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, “Spare the Spanking, Spoil the Report Card?,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2010). This time the term struck a nerve.
In fact, I remember beginning my parenting journey with this goal (one of many): to spare my son the trauma, the unpleasantness, and the hurts that I had endured as a child. Don’t we all have that as a parenting goal? What parent says, “I want my child to get bullied. I want my child to get his feelings hurt. I hope my child has an uphill battle to fight in school.” ? Our parental instinct is to ensure our children’s happiness.
I’m sometimes amazed at how vastly different Fred’s childhood is from mine. Due to particular circumstances in my family then, I had lived in a lot of fear, and tension was the norm rather than the exception. Everything except academics had felt like an uphill struggle. Very little had felt smooth back then, and my parents were too busy or did not know enough to help. So I stumbled along myself. I figured out how to get into one of the top high schools in our state. I wrestled with friendships and relationships. I figured out my own career path, found a good man to marry, became a mother. I’ve struggled with a lot of mistakes over my life time, as well as wasted years, depression, and self-doubt. But now, at 40+, I am confident in my ability to rely on myself and to take care of others.
Do I want that for Fred? Would I want him to go through even a third of what I had gone through? No doubt those early struggles on my own helped me develop some of the strengths that I have now. But I see my strengths in a small tub mixed in with a great deal of anxiety and insecurities that would not have been there had an adult played a bigger role helping me get through those obstacles.
I do get the whole argument about the Lawn Mower Parent. Like all these short-cut parenting labels, they’re meant to generalize and stereotype the most extreme parent. The Lawn Mower Parent is the one who doesn’t want his child to ever not get what he wants. She’s the one who doesn’t ever want her child to cry. While I want to protect my child from trauma (if I possibly can), I do know that kids have to experience frustration, struggle, hurt, fear, injustice, and disappointment in order to develop maturity, confidence and coping skills. And believe me, I have more than once wondered, Is Fred’s life too easy? Is he too happy? Has he not had enough bad things happen to him? And then I see the absurdity in this line of thinking, in the kind of self-questioning that these parenting labels induce.
The truth is, try as I might, life has its own way of throwing potholes in my son’s life path, and I am guessing that much of the time there will be little that I can do to shield him from suffering from them. I want so much for Fred to live a happy and pain free life, but already he knows what it’s like to be falsely accused by a teacher and principal, to be cheated by friends, to lose, to doubt his abilities to perform, to fear the anger of people he loves. To think that I have the ability to smooth or clear all of this for him is to overestimate my power as a human being.
Screw all the parenting labels. I’m going to love my son the only way I know how, and be confident that he is going to turn out a responsible, good, and happy human being.