Wander over to the parenting section of a bookstore, and you’ll find shelves crammed with various child-rearing philosophies: Attachment Parenting, Slow Parenting, Tiger Parenting. Everyone has advice to give and they often seem to contradict each other. You’re not alone if you find this to be overwhelming. Occasionally I’ll find a gem of a book or a website and commit to doing things differently. For the most part, I’ve learned to avoid that section of the book store all together. I find that the best advice comes from my friends who are in the trenches with me.
The parenting style that has been getting the most negative press these days is Helicopter Parenting. You’ve heard about it, the tendency of modern day moms and dads to hover over their children continually, preventing them from taking risks and making their own choices or failing. The critics argue that our generation is raising kids who lack independence and initiative. Little robotic clones who only move with direction and never learn their own limits. I see evidence of these claims in my therapy practice. I often work with young people who struggle to apply for jobs, cope with stress, or make major life decisions on their own.
The push-back to the hovering helicopter is another buzz-worthy term, Free-Range Parenting. Just like chickens, the free-range proponents encourage parents to unleash their children and let them wander and explore independently. Kids are allowed to stumble and often get hurt, in hopes of teaching them self-regulation and natural boundaries. But here’s the deal: although this form of hipster parenting has plenty of positive attributes, I have also seen some negative after-effects in my practice. Many of my clients who were raised in the “kids are meant to play outside all day” 20th century, have been victims of various forms of sexual abuse or neglect and are still trying to heal from the trauma. I often wonder aloud how their parents missed the red-flags indicating that their kids were in trouble. I also wonder if helicopter parenting was born in response to the neglect that many X-Generation parents experienced.
Ask my husband about my parenting style and he would say that I do a constant dance between helicopter and free-range. Sometimes I’m a nervous wreck about the amount of candy or screen time my kids have ingested in one day. Other times, I’m THAT mom, who allows my kids to skateboard down our steep-as-a-ski-slope driveway or explore our large neighborhood (sewer drains included) on their own. Most of the time, I attempt to land somewhere in the middle. Kind of like a free-range helicopter who soars calmly overhead, keeping a watchful eye on the activities below, swooping in only when I see signs of serious danger or distress.
Parenting is not an exact science. We waste a lot of emotional energy when we try to be perfect child-rearing specimens who follow all of the latest trends and research. My advice is to allow yourself to flex back and forth as a parent, learning and growing as your child grows. Read the books and web articles, take the advice of your friends but in the end, observe your kids. They will let you know whether you are hovering too closely or needing to build more fences around their virtual chicken coop. Free-Range Helicopter or Slow Tiger, in the end what matters most is that you remain conscious and loving… the rest will usually float (or flutter) into place.
Here’s to Sanity and Chickens,
Want to read more? Here are two great essays on the subject from other blogging mamas: