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The Helicopter Mom in the Mirror

There are certain ridiculous circumstances universal to modern parenthood, and this is one of them: realizing you’re still watching SpongeBob long after your children have left the room.

It’s the parenting equivalent of finding a toilet paper tail stuck to your shoe in a fancy restaurant, except that the humiliation, thankfully, is experienced in the privacy of your family room. We’ve all been there, in a daze after hours prodding kids to pick up their toys or eat their vegetables or to for the love of all things holy let us go to the bathroom in peace.

One recent evening I found myself lulled into a cartoon trance when this commercial snapped me out of it. In it, we meet a young mom named Paula Ebert who is eager to help her tweenage child. She speaks for him in science class (“Deoxyribonucleic acid! He knew that!”), takes to the court during basketball practice (“Mommy’s here,” she reassures her humiliated son), and even combs his hair in the busy hallway of his middle school.

It’s almost as if the makers of the juice that’s footing the bill have imagined our response: Poor, pathetic Paula. But here’s the genius of the ad— Paula’s like us.

She’s a Helicopter Mom.

We identify with Paula. She’s the mom who goes down the slide after her 3rd grader. She still cuts her 12 year old’s steak. You’ll see her collecting her 5 year old’s candy at the Easter Egg Hunt and nagging the high school teacher to grant (yet another) extension for her special little snowflake. Helicopter Moms are notorious thorns in the sides of college professors, too: calling in excuses, refuting grades, even in one high-profile case demanding that a child leave Skype on overnight to ensure she’s where she’s supposed to be.

We’ve been warned by parenting experts that helicopter parenting stunts children’s emotional growth, limits their experiences, and doesn’t allow them to learn life’s lessons by making mistakes.

In spite of our laughs at Paula’s expense, we know her mostly because she’s who our culture tells us we are. By now we’ve grown used to the collective disgust with parents who can’t cut the proverbial cord. Just last week a study of “parenting professionals” in Australia churned out more ridiculous examples of over parenting. And don’t get me started on how this whole things smacks of sexism (ever noticed how rarely we hear the term “Helicopter Dad?”).

While some have suggested that helicopter parenting may not actually be such a bad thing, moms like Paula Ebert remain the butt of our jokes.

And fine, I’ll admit it: I’ve rolled my eyes at the Paulas on my children’s playground. I’ve snickered when hearing stories of parents of adult children who continue to fight their battles. But that’s just it. When we see childhood as a series of battles to be fought, are parents really to blame for joining the ranks?

I’d like to think that no matter which parenting category we find ourselves in— Tiger or Attachment Parent, Hoverer or Laid-Back Mom— we all just want the best for our kids. We’re all just responding to the parenting culture the best way we know how. I do not deny the harmful effects of over parenting, but I do think there’s value in asking why we feel the need to do it in the first place.

Are we needy? Paranoid? Living our lives vicariously through our children?

The joke’s on poor, pathetic Paula, but it’s also on us.

More by Mary Lauren
Tips for a Good Night: 10 Bedtime Alternatives to TV for Kids
Navigating the Parent/Teacher Relationship: 10 Tips from Both Sides of the Classroom Door
7 Surprising Facts about Cold and Flu in Kids
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