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It Takes Guts Not to Be a Helicopter Parent

image source: thinkstock
image source: thinkstock

My son just got into his first choice of colleges. We’re thrilled, relieved, and excited about this new chapter in his life. He wasn’t a shoe-in at the school he applied to; his grades and GPA are not perfect. However, he’s worked hard and, at age 17, he deserves credit for this accomplishment. Of course, I like to think I had a little something to do with his academic success.

Many people assume that when your kid finally starts school, you get to start making standing appointments at spas and gyms. Not so. Getting your kids through school can be almost as time-consuming as getting a part-time job (that pays terribly). Now that I’m at the tail end of my first son’s high school years, I can look back and see that it was all worth it.

All those years of me volunteering at his school taught him that I valued education.

My attendance at every single one of his seemingly infinite parent-teacher conferences modeled a way for him to interact with his teachers.

And all the money I spent on school supplies, field trips, and class donations demonstrated that I was willing to sacrifice financially for his education.

But I was never one of those parents who writes their kid’s book reports or does their science project for them. First of all, I ain’t got time for that and I already graduated from college, thank you very much. But mostly, it’s important to me that my kids do their own work at school, even if it isn’t perfect or award-winning. Sure, I could write a book report that would earn them an A (at least, I hope I could make As in grade school!), but that won’t serve my kids well. So I step back and let my kids do their own work.

I’m not a helicopter parent. It take guts not to be one. You have to let go of appearances, swallow your pride, and have faith in your kid. Oh — and you have to be willing to live with it if they get a C on their book report.

I think kids need to take ownership of their choices and be accountable. They can be responsible for small things like keeping their room clean or taking care of a pet to show that they’re capable of being responsible for bigger things like driving a car or having a job. For the most part, I think parents do well to stand back and let their kids step to the forefront.

In other words, we have to curb the hovering. Our job as parents is ultimately to make ourselves obsolete — to raise children who can tie their own shoes, feed themselves, and survive in the world without us. Inserting ourselves into every facet of our children’s lives and fostering more and more dependence on us does not serve them well in the long run.

In fact, failure-to-launch syndrome can be linked to the rise in helicopter parenting. Parents’ tendencies to give their kids excessive attention is making them self-absorbed. And constantly intervening on their kids’ behalf with teachers and coaches robs children of opportunities to grow and learn important coping skills.

Knowing all of this, I put the ball firmly in my son’s court when it came to school. He had to learn to deal with teachers on his own. He chose classes for himself that he was interested in. In fact, he planned all of his first-semester classes on his own as a high school freshman and filled up on almost every elective he needed for the rest of high school. (**I should probably have helicoptered a bit more on that one.)

I don’t take an entirely hands-off approach to school, either. He is my son, lives under my roof, and needs guidance. Short of doing his work for him, which would be helicoptering, most of what I do is nag. I get emails from the school whenever he starts to fail a class and I nag him to get caught up. I encourage him to do homework, remind him to study, arrange for tutors when he needs them, try to create an environment conducive to studying, nag him about getting enough sleep, make sure he has school supplies, and then I nag, nag, nag some more. It’s a lot less glamorous than doing an award-winning science fair project for him and it strains our relationship and makes me seem like, well, a nag. But that’s the crux of it. You nag and help where you can. Then you step back and let the chips fall where they may. It’s a risk. You lose control. But essentially we don’t control other people. And our kids, sometimes to our dismay, are other people.

So their failures are their failures, which also means their successes are their successes. As parents we have a huge stake in it all, too. There’s a sense in which backing off on helicopter parenting is a harder way to parent. You hand the reins over to your kid and they don’t always do what you want them to do. Sometimes they fail Chemistry, even. It’s the worst. But they can study and scrape points together and salvage a passing grade and if they do it on their own, it will mean more to them than any last-minute save you could orchestrate on their behalf. And let’s be honest, if I tried to do my son’s Chemistry homework for him, he would have zero chance at passing.

I’ve got three more kids to help get through school and into college. I can’t do it for them, but I can help. And really, I think they’ll appreciate it more when they earn it on their own.

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