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Confessions of a Helicopter Mom – or – From Here to Insanity (and back!)

My name is Kaye Wilson. I’m a recovering helicopter mom. Before the birth of my own children, I had very little interest in children at all, except to make lofty pronouncements about how “my children would never…” fill in the blank with whatever irritating behavior I observed in the children of others. With my first pregnancy, I began formulating pretty solid ideas about child-rearing. I was determined to make sure that my children were brought up “right.”

It seemed that the best way to accomplish this was to monitor everything they did, hovering over them like a helicopter over a crime scene. I figured that if I could prevent them from misbehaving, prevent anything bad from happening to them, and make sure they were treated fairly, we would avoid most if not all the pitfalls that so many children and families face. All I had to do was control and manage everything, and the best way would probably be to homeschool them. (I must insert here that this attitude is NOT the motive of all homeschoolers.)

Let me pause here for a moment to call to your attention the fact that I have not once so far made mention of my husband. That’s not because I was a single mom, but because I regarded him in many ways as a hindrance to the proper bringing up of “my” children. Yes. I had a very proprietary attitude toward them—it was MY responsibility to make sure they turned out right, after all. It was nice to have him around as a kind of “parenting assistant”, but he tended to complicate things by wanting to play with them at inopportune times, keeping them up later than was good for them, and not adequately supervising them when they were left in his care. (It’s so hard to get good help these days!)

As you can imagine, by the time all five of them were under my tutelage for everything from manners to music lessons, I was spent–mentally, emotionally and physically. After some quite difficult discussions with my husband (something about how I would be no good to my children or him dead, and how he wanted his wife back, etc.), I agreed to send the oldest to a private school. This lasted one year. The school was not up to my standards, so I pulled her out for another year at home.

The following year, after hitting bottom, unable to make decisions regarding things as simple as what kind of breakfast cereal to buy, and spiraling downward in depression, I agreed to enroll all five of them in a private school.

It was more difficult to hover, but I still tried, for awhile anyway. At issue was not only whether or not I trusted the teachers at the school, but whether I trusted my children to handle things in my absence, and ultimately whether or not I trusted God. Ever so gradually, I realized how wrong-headed it had been for me to think they could not grow up well without my constant supervision. I had made myself miserable, and I had nearly destroyed my marriage.

It is ironic to me that later, in my role as a headmaster, I was faced almost daily with well-meaning mothers intent on micromanaging their children’s lives: asking for exceptions to rules, demanding extensions for late work, and disrupting their children’s education by harassing the classroom teachers and constantly questioning their judgment.

These mothers felt very keenly their responsibility regarding the upbringing of their children. What they did not recognize, as I had not when in their position, that it is not ultimately in the best interest of children to have a mother who is constantly intervening in the education process, making sure that nothing bad happens to them, and running interference at the slightest hint of unfair treatment or problems with their peers.

You see, school is not about report card grades or test scores. It is part of the process of children becoming adults. Yes, students are learning facts and information, and are acquiring skills, and they get grades for these things. But part and parcel of the process is the learning about consequences for inattention, results of poor time management, how to work through interpersonal conflicts, dealing directly with those in authority, following directions, and a host of other things for which they do not receive grades.

How will they learn these things if Mom is always intervening? How will children ever learn to prioritize responsibilities if there is always someone hovering over them, asking if they’ve finished their homework, fretting over every report of difficulty in the classroom and confronting the teacher with every perceived slight?

I came to the conclusion that if a mother is so concerned about the school in which her child is enrolled that she must monitor everything that goes on, this is not the school for them—she should find a school she can have more confidence in.

Alternatively, she can recognize that she is harming her child more than helping her. She is robbing her of the opportunity to learn to deal with things on her own, accept responsibility, accept consequences for mistakes, deal with frustration, and yes, sometimes learn to deal with inequity and unfairness, lessons which can only be learned by going through them. Not only that, she is insuring that later in life her child will either be tied to her in an unhealthy co-dependence, or will do everything in her power to avoid her altogether. Micromanagement is not a recipe for healthy relationships.

I now no longer helicopter. My five children were all able to complete their education without my intervention! They've chosen excellent mates on their own, managed to get and keep gainful employment, and I have eight grandchildren who are being lovingly and thoughtfully brought up. I cherish the fact that they all still want to spend time with me.

Mothers, do yourselves a favor: stop living your child’s life, and live your own. Focus on your marriage more than on your children. Love them enough to allow them to face failure and frustration, and enjoy seeing the confidence and strength they possess as they emerge as healthy, productive adults.

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