Listen closely in playgrounds across the world and you’ll hear the whirring motors of “helicopter parents” hovering near their children. These mothers and fathers run on anxiety: worry that their children will get hurt, not succeed in life, or grow up with low self-esteem. Fearful, most of all, that they are not doing enough to protect and help their kids, or that their children will pass through the same traumatic experiences on their way to adulthood that they themselves suffered.
There are good reasons why this style of parenting, also known as hyper-parenting, is popular.
Scientific studies on how young brains develop have parents hoping to provide their kids the best diet, environment, and care. These studies help us, sure, but they also create worries that we’re not parenting properly. For instance, you’ve probably heard that you should be talking with your infants and toddlers, but a recent report finds that it’s not simply the amount of words you use, it’s the type of words — quality matters more than quantity. Surely there will be articles and books forthcoming that will have us scrambling to talk to our kids in the “best” or “right” manner!
Economics play a role as well. In a recent study, economists found that in today’s economy parents fear that the stakes for success are so high, their kids won’t be able to achieve on their own. This hasn’t always been the case. In the 1970’s and 60’s, parents were more permissive and less involved, but also less concerned about their children’s economic future because inequality was not quite so high. In the boom times of the 1990’s, the income gap began to get huge, which is when hyper-parenting began to grow in popularity. It’s only gotten more popular since. Compared to the mid-1970s, college-educated mothers in the early-2000s spent on average eight hours more per week with their kids.
Does this mean we should all be hovering over our children, ready to intervene the moment they experience the slightest hardship? Some say yes, but I say not so fast. An essay in The New York Times by Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé, advises we look to the French for inspiration on how to turn our parenting engines down a notch. A few of her pieces of advice stood out:
Understand that, as a parent, it’s impossible to do a perfect job.
You will mess your kids up in some way, likely in a way that you can’t predict. That’s human nature. Parents are the pad from which children launch. Your kids will push against you in order to propel themselves into the world — they’ll reject you, and disagree with you, and make mistakes. That’s how it goes. Try not to worry too much!
Teach your kids about emotions, both the negative ones and the positive.
Not everyone will like your child, or find their jokes funny, or want to see them succeed. Help them build solid self-esteem, so that they aren’t crushed when they encounter this kind of resistance. After a tumble — and I mean that both figuratively, and literally, like after they skinned a knee — give them a hug, then have them brush themselves off and get back in the game. Don’t coddle them.
Show them the importance of living a joyful life.
Have high hopes, but don’t fret to the point that you can’t enjoy the present moment. Set a good example by getting out for dates with your partner, making time for friends, and taking care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Eat healthily and sensually. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes. And don’t beat yourself up for not having the perfect work-life balance — who does?
Expect more from your kids.
Many times, kids are capable of more than we think. Don’t automatically step in to help them. Instead, stand back and watch more, because they’re pretty cool people, these kids of ours.
It’s natural for us to worry about them, and in this day and age, to worry more than our parents worried about us. But don’t let those fears drive your parenting. The kids are going to be alright! Enjoy your role as a parent as much as possible. You want your kids to see you as a happy, relaxed parent, not a nail-biting, stressed-out, hyper-involved hovering one.
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