In defense of helicopter parents

It’s all the rage these days to vilify helicopter parents. They annoy colleges and high schools and elementary schools and coaches and principals and teachers and college admission officers. They handicap their children by hovering and preventing them from having freedom or responsibility or new experiences or failure. They make all the other parents irrationally defensive as we try explaining why we aren’t bad parents if we let our kids walk to the library  alone or have a fight with a friend without our intervening with suggested solutions or send in a college essay on a topic of their own choosing. We’ve all heard the outrageous helicopter parent stories. I read an article last week about how American parents are all overprotective. None of us let our children ride their bikes or go to the store or use a knife or pour their own drinks, while parents everywhere else do, and so our children are growing up to be infantile, helpless followers with low self-esteem. Or so this article claims. I let my children do those things, and I’m American, so the article can’t be completely right, but I get the point.

I agree that it’s unhealthy for parents to be overprotective or too intrusive into their children’s lives and that helicopter parents ARE overprotective and too intrusive. If ever a helicopter parent there was, my  mother-in-law is one because…Her youngest child is now 29, and as far as I know, my husband is the only one of the four who has actually bought his own car, and then, only because I told him to tell her to leave us alone. She calls to remind us to write thank-you notes. She sent me an article about frostbite when she thought my oldest son was underdressed for the cold, and she has lectured me on various health issues in complete disregard of the fact that I’m a DOCTOR!  She cannot be in my house without taking over the parenting of both my kids and my husband and me, and she cannot remember to knock before entering my house. For heaven’s sake, when my husband thought he might have a problem with grinding his teeth, she spoke to her dentist about it and then called us with potential appointment times for him the see her dentist. The important thing is that she means well. She isn’t trying to control. She isn’t trying to intrude. She just wants to help, and what makes her happy is working on behalf of her children. She has hovered over all four of them, and they have all turned out to be happy, healthy, productive people with healthy, supportive relationships, good jobs that they enjoy and find fulfilling, and nurtured and loved children. All her children have grown into the kind of adults that parents hope their children will be. She didn’t ruin them, contrary to all the dire predictions in the helicopter-parent hate literature. Is she too intrusive? Yes, except when they tell her to mind her own business. Does she do things for them that any normal adult should do for themselves? Yes, except when they tell her not to. She means well. She loves her children. She has to be reminded to give them space, but she does it when she’s reminded. There are worse things in a parent than caring too much. There are worse things than doing too much for your children, protecting them too much from pain and illness and cruel people. There are worse things than taking too much interest in their lives and their friends and their education. It’s all the rage to vilify helicopter parents. How about accepting their good intentions while trying to convince them to ease the iron grip on their children’s lives and vilifying the parents who just don’t care?

I hate the flu

 

I hate the flu. I doubt I’m unique. In the past week and a half, four of my six family members have had the flu, including lucky me. No mother wishes her children sick instead of herself. We would always bear any suffering if we could spare our children from it. But, the fact is that, when kids are sick, they can lie around and rest, and we can fret over them and give them their medicine and their drinks and take care of them as much as they need. When the parents are sick, the kids don’t suddenly feed themselves and dress themselves and drive themselves to school, and the parents don’t get to rest and recuperate to our hearts’ content. Especially when we have three sick children. My two youngest children spent three days last week in their pajamas. At bedtime each night, I changed them into clean pajamas, but I never bothered to actually dress them in the morning for those three days, because I knew we weren’t going anywhere and I felt like crap. Thank God, my husband was one of the two people spared the virus, and he carried quite a load all week, doing all the things we normally do together while carefully keeping himself and our four-year-old out of cough range. He missed work for three days to pick up my slack before I was finally functional enough for him to go back. I was still sick, but at least I wasn’t in bed under a down comforter shivering so hard he could hear my teeth chatter.

 

My dad is very vocal in his opinion that his secretary and just about everyone else he works with is lazy. Given the opportunity, he will go on for hours about how no one cares about their work anymore. We’re all lazy bums expecting everything to be handed to us. He works SO hard, and others apparently don’t, and his evidence is that his secretary calls in sick often and he never does. Certainly, there are lazy people with an overblown sense of entitlement who will call in sick for no good reason. But while I was sick last week, I couldn’t think straight. I tried making a grocery list for my husband, but I couldn’t concentrate. I spent hours lying in bed with a book and magazine beside me, neither of which I ever opened because I felt too bad, my hands were shaking too hard, and I was thinking through such a haze that I couldn’t have made sense of anything I’d read. I couldn’t possibly have gone to work (if I, you know, had a job), and if I worked and a coworker came in as sick as I was, I’d be furious at the blatant disregard of everyone else’s health.  My husband missed three days of work not because he was sick but because he was needed at home, and he really WAS needed. It wasn’t laziness or entitlement that made him stay home. One of my neighbors recently praised his father on his retirement for never calling in sick. Apparently, that’s a common feature in our parents’ generation. It’s admirable never to have called in sick falsely, but there are plenty of hard-working, conscientious people in the world who have the misfortune to get the flu on occasion. Or to be related to someone who did. Or to have a child with a fever or pinkeye that keeps him out of school. Life happens, and we aren’t missing work on a whim.  There’s more to being a good person than going to work every day.

 

An Accomplished Woman

My kids are better than I am. I don’t mean they’re better looking, cuter, smarter, more fun, funnier, nicer, or just generally better, though they are all those things. They’re more efficient. Here’s my proof.

What I’ve accomplished in the past few days- aside from the essentials like grocery shopping, meal prep, cleanup, and driving to and from school.

  1. Place scholastic book club order
  2. Write this post (though, I should note, I don’t have time to finish it today, so it won’t be published until days after I’m writing it- does it still count as an accomplishment?)
  3. Waste obscenely large amounts of time trying to do worthwhile things and failing

I would list taking my kids to the park as a success except

  1. it’s really one of the essentials I’ve excluded from the list. Taking them outside to play on a playground should be a given, not an accomplishment.
  2. it ended with a broken arm.

What I have NOT accomplished

  1. Two failed attempts to place said scholastic book club order online before calling customer service for help. Silly me, I was using the wrong browser.
  2. One read-aloud e-book purchase for my six-year-old, only to discover that this e-book doesn’t have the read-aloud feature, which was the ONLY reason I was buying it instead of borrowing the book from the library
  3. Failed search for a deleted e-mail from my oldest son’s teacher. My e-mail program is set on an overly enthusiastic empty-trash schedule, so all the previous deleted messages, including the one I needed, are gone. This wouldn’t be a problem if the school sent their messages to the e-mail address I TOLD them to use–once on paper and twice by phone–instead of the one I have told them not to use, but I’m afraid to correct them again, lest I have to add that attempt to my list of failures.
  4. Fail to download songs for my toddler to a toy that’s supposed to support these downloads but doesn’t
  5. Failed search all over the house for the toy money that goes with the toy cash register
  6. Failed search for one kindle
  7. Make a lot of ready-to-do activities and projects for my two youngest children. Okay, I did accomplish that–I actually made the games and activities–but they don’t want to do them, so it counts as a fail.

By contrast, here’s what my kids have accomplished

  1. Break two bones
  2. Erase my dry-erase calendar for this month
  3. Make several picture books which they sold to my husband (pushover) for $1 each
  4. Glue advertisements for their books and their bookstore to my kitchen cabinets. Glue, not tape. They used tape to make the books and glue to hang the posters. Why?
  5. Spoil one batch of rice by opening the rice cooker before it was done
  6. Tear twenty pages out of one book
  7. Distribute one rock collection throughout one room
  8. Lose one kindle
  9. Extract one box from the garbage three times, each time scolding me not to throw it away
  10.  Empty all the clothes out of one closet and two dressers three times
  11. Steal an iPad and watch cartoons on Netflix behind my back three time for a total of two hours

See how much more effective my children are than I am? Where was I while they were doing all this stuff? I’m not sure. I was probably putting clothes back in the closet, or trying to salvage dinner, or on the phone with customer support.

I think I should start counting those bare essentials–feeding everyone, keeping them all reasonably safe (broken bones aside), taking them to the park, driving to and from school, reading to them, playing with them, cleaning up after them, arguing with them to get them to clean up after themselves, intervening in fights, watching tricks, listening to stories, answering questions, hugging and kissing and cuddling and bathing and dressing and generally adoring them. When I think of it that way, I don’t feel like such a failure. Maybe that’s a lesson we parents must learn.

In the wild

You can’t see the flock of white pelicans and black swans in the water.

Yesterday, I took my two youngest boys to the zoo, and it was great. It was one of the beautiful days that make me especially glad that I stay home with my kids, because who would want to spend such a day in an office and their kids to waste it in a daycare building? Or, horrors, their kids go to the zoo and enjoy the day but with someone else! So the zoo trip was a piece of cake, except for the hour-long struggle with a toddler who didn’t want to walk but refused to let me carry him. He wanted his stroller, which was conveniently in our garage, and which he has never wanted before yesterday.

As we were walking up a hill towards the big cats, there were four waves of zookeepers, some in groups of three or four, some alone, who came running down the hill, carrying large nets. One of them, as she ran past me, said into her radio, “We’re on our way.” Then a golf cart zoomed up to her, waited for her to jump in, and then whipped a U-turn and took off the other way. I really REALLY want to know what was going on. The curiosity is killing me. I wonder, When does curiosity cross into nosiness?

Maybe ten minutes later, we saw most of the zookeepers, but not all, walk back up the hill, carrying their nets (which were still dry- is that a clue?), looking perfectly calm. I assume that means no one died, animals included. I also make that assumption based on the lack of mention of a zoo accident in the news. I thought about asking what happened, but I would have had to run to catch up with them before they walked into an employees-only area. And while I am DYING of curiosity, I wasn’t willing to make a spectacle of myself. There you see my priorities dignity/not-being-a-spectacle trumps curiosity/voyeurism/nosiness.

I console myself that what I imagine might have happened is almost certainly more interesting than what actually did. Anyone want to guess what was going on? Tell me a story!

Life is a circus

I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck. Or one cast at least a glancing blow. Why, you ask (or maybe you don’t).

Circus: vuurspuger (1)

Circus: vuurspuger (1) (Photo credit: doenietzomoeilijk)

Yesterday, I made dinner! Most of the family even ate it, except my six-year-old, who never eats anyway. I watched my children do their new tricks! Look, they can jump off the top of the slide! Look, they can jump off the top of the fence! I kept my four-year-old from falling off a teetering three-legged patio table he was using as a stepping stool to climb over the fence into the neighbor’s yard! (FYI, tables really need four legs.) I explained meanings of words I wrote to my hovering nine-year-old while trying to convince him to stop standing over my shoulder. I woke up in the night to find my husband replaced by that same six-year-old, whom I like to call “the kicker.” Want to guess why?

I forced myself to run this morning, and when I returned, the children swarmed me, needing tape, needing someone to sign their homework, needing chocolate milk, needing a diaper change, needing a sketch book for school by tomorrow. You would think their father was invisible, given how many needs they stored up for me. My four-year-old has already has his first crying jag of the day, because I wouldn’t buy him a new toy car at CVS, where I had stopped to buy the urgently-needed sketch pad because I was too lazy to drive all the way to Target. He insisted that he doesn’t like “anything in the universe,” because I wouldn’t buy a $6 toy police car. Now, I plan to spend a luxurious few minutes letting the two children who are still at home now wreak havoc while I have some more coffee. Maybe I’ll even try to write a little. I can barely think in complete sentences. It’s lucky for me that complete sentences are optional.

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