I’m not a huge believer in labels. I tend to think they lock you in a corner unnecessarily. Labels seem to be for people like sociologists and others with “-ist” at the end of their titles — you know, those who need to draw conclusions to meet quotas or prove their worth to the boss or boards, as well as people who have lots of time on their hands to analyze topics ad nauseum and then move on to the next one without changing a thing. They’re not really for me.
That being said, if I were join in on the fun and label my parenting style, I’d probably fall somewhere squarely between a laissez-faire, let-them-eat-dirt mom and an OCD micromanaging OMG-let-me-do-that-for-you mom. Or, in proper label terms: I’m a cross between a French mom and a helicopter mom.
Helicopter parents are labeled as such for the tendency to hover over their children and be deeply entrenched in their every academic, social and emotional move. Even though that might sound like helicopter parents just care that much, being labeled a helicopter parent isn’t seen as a good thing, however. It’s generally a pejorative term used by others to let you know that you never fully cut the umbilical cord and therefore your kid will probably grow up feeling entitled and needy — to the annoying detriment of their future spouses, co-workers and peers.
Kids aside, however, helicopter parents themselves must be onto something. New research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science concludes that “parents who prioritize their children’s well-being over their own are not only happier, but also derive more meaning in life from their child-rearing responsibilities . . . These findings stand in contrast to claims in the popular media that prioritizing children’s well-being undermines parents’ well-being.”
My dad has always said to me that parents are only as happy as their least-happy child, which wasn’t something I understood fully until having children of my own. Now I wonder if there’s a correlation between that and helicopter parenting. It would seem that if a parent effectively manages their child emotions et al. to ensure their child’s happiness, the parents would then find happiness by extension. Although to what end?
I can’t say I’m at my happiest when I’m hovering. Sure, there’s some amount of happiness I get when, say, my kids’ rooms are cleaned to my standards, even if I essentially cleaned it for them despite them “helping” me. But the truth is that I’m even happier when they learn that everything has a place and they’re able to put their toys and clothes away by themselves. The latter takes more practice and patience, albeit with less interim happiness. But the result is essentially I’ve taught them to fish for life instead of feeding them fish for a single meal.
I’m all for putting my kids needs above my own — like so many parents, I do it more often than I can quantify. Their happiness means the world to me and I don’t doubt that much of my happiness is tied to theirs. They are unquestionably my top priorities. But I do think it’s critical that they learn throughout their childhood to figure out how to find their own happiness. I struggle with finding a balance between doing and teaching, but I think what this study is telling me is that if I worry less about the helicopter label itself and more about the general message of being caring towards them and giving them attention, the more generally satisfied I’ll be, as will they.
“From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being—that is, the more child centric’ parents are—the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting,” the study’s authors wrote.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
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