We all know those parents, the ones that hover around their children. They sit in their car and watch their kids walk into school. They constantly speak for their children, and pick up the pieces every time something goes wrong. They are the “helicopter” type. I can’t promise that I haven’t picked up the pieces a few times here and there, I think we all have, but there is a fine line between being helpful and hurtful.
This past Monday I put my “baby” on a plane for his class trip to Washington D.C. As the day approached for him to leave, I was feeling a little anxiety. I sent my older two on this exact same trip and it was an amazing experience for both of them, but in the past I wasn’t this nervous. So I started asking myself, why was this so different from the first two? Was it because he is the “baby?” Was it because he has some anxiety? Was it because I was worried about who he’d hang around with because he’s in a different group from his best buddy and he’s very quiet? I struggled to answer my own questions. When this happens I tend to sit down and put my thoughts on paper. Even though I have sent one to college, I still ask myself how do we let our kids go? How do we let them move on without checking on them and helping them every second? How do we let them become totally independent? For me, and I imagine for most, this is a struggle.
When our children are little we have to do so much for them, but we can already see them craving their independence. I remember my daughter as toddler wanting to do everything for herself. “I do it myself, Mommy!” was a constant statement from her. She never wanted to ride in a stroller, she HAD to walk. I remember my youngest son at the zoo running ahead, my husband close on his tail, letting him explore but keeping him safe. These are independence building moments, although sometimes they can be scary.
I have never wanted to be the type of parent that does so much for my kids that they can’t do anything on their own, and although I probably do more than I should, I think we’re doing alright. You see, something I have learned especially having one that struggles on occasion to find his voice, is that the more we do for them, the more it can really damage the person that they are destined to become.
The hardest part of this entire equation is that we have to watch them crash and burn, a lot! It is excruciating! We have to make them talk to teachers when they are confused in a subject, and we have to allow them to get a zero when they forget their homework at home. We have to allow them to get a tardy when they don’t get out of bed on time. We have to tell them to buy lunch at school when they forget their lunch box, and the list goes on. Watching them learn lessons can be a whole lot harder on us than it is on them. But bailing out our children is just about the worst thing that we can do. Instead of helping them, it actually makes them feel terrible about themselves. It teaches them that the only way they can solve a problem is by relying on someone other than themselves. It reinforces that they are not strong enough to handle issues that cause them stress. This is terrible for their self-esteem. When we constantly compensate for the problems that they encounter they do not develop problem-solving skills. Therefore, having to solve a problem causes them anxiety and feelings of failure.
When they become adults we will not be there to wake them up for work. We will not be there to bring them things they need for their job. We will not be there to stick up for them when someone is challenging them. The point is, they will not become the best version of themselves and it will be our fault as their parent. I am guilty of this on occasion, especially with my youngest, but I am a work in progress. Letting our children go, means letting them grow. It is the greatest gift that we can give them.
My oldest son got the opportunity to go to France with his class a few years ago and my daughter is going this summer. I was so nervous as I watched him head into the airport alone when I dropped him off. I may have even shed a little tear in the car as I drove away. But upon his return, he was different in some way. He described all of the things that he had done. His favorite part of the trip was when they rented bikes and rode through the gardens at Versailles. He described the entire experience in detail and I was amazed. He was totally immersed in the beauty and culture of another country and he soared. He gained confidence and independence in a way that I could not have provided. I’m not suggesting that everyone send their kids off to Europe, it is very costly and was a great financial sacrifice. But I’m so glad that we were fortunate enough to scrimp and save to do these things for our kids. This mama has never been to Europe, in fact I’ve not been too many places at all. But I’d rather give up some things for myself and give these experiences to my kids, I’m certain of that. I know I’ll get my chance sooner than later, but even if I don’t that’s OK.
Even if you aren’t sending your child off on a trip there are ways to help them gain responsibility and confidence. Challenge yourself to stop doing the little things that overcompensate. Stop taking them their homework. Stop taking them their band instrument. Allow them to set their own alarm. Make them do their own laundry. Give them daily tasks and checklists. This was particularly helpful with our youngest son in staying organized and making sure he doesn’t forget anything for school. Let them know that you believe in their ability to get the job done. If you believe, I promise that they will believe too!
I am thrilled to see my kids discovering that they are in charge of their lives. They are the masters of their future. We are the guides while they are with us, so guide don’t suffocate! In the end hovering in that helicopter will paralyze their ability to fly. So land that baby, and let them take the controls. You just may realize that they can do a whole lot more than you ever dreamed, and it’s one heck of a thing to see! Cheers to letting go and letting grow! That’s my dish!