11/14/08

In Defense of Helicopter Mom

In the November 17th issue of the New Yorker, Joan Acocello reviews the recent spate of books decrying helicopter parents.  You know, those over-parenting parents that simultaneously coddle and over-schedule their children.  The books all agree that helicopter parents are bad.  They are blamed for creating a generation of over-programmed and over-dependent children that are somehow pathalogically incapable of caring for themselves.  

For the moment, let's ignore the sexist underpinnings of this critique.  (We all know that helicopter parents really means helicopter moms.)  Let's ignore the historical context in which mothers are always put on trial when Americans think kids are growing up soft and dependent.  (In the 1950s, clinging moms were blamed for homosexuality and juvenile delinquency.)  Let's ignore the fact that women can't win.  If they work too much they are accused of absentee parenting and if they are too present in their children lives they are accused of helicopter parenting.  

Yes.  Let's ignore all of these things and ask a more basic question: Is there really an overparenting crisis?  And, if so, who is too blame?

Is there a crisis?  Hmmm...  Do I know parents who overschedule their children?  Yes.  Do I know parents who hover?  That would be me.  But are we really hurting our children?  Get real.  With a twenty-five percent high school drop out rate and a fifty percent college drop out rate, you're telling me that my embrace of Neosporin and family dinners is unraveling the fabric of Western Civilization?  Go find some real social problems to get hysterical over.   

And if there is such a crisis, what horrible fiend has forced this cancer upon us?  Well, it sure as hell is not moms.  As usual, we are too busy cleaning up other people's messes to come up with such a nefarious plot.  But I can tell you this, I would certainly back off from my helicoptering ways if my children had homework that was developmentally appropriate.  (See my last post.)  I wouldn't be driving my daughter to choir practice if schools had the same meaningful arts programs that they had when I was a child.  I would not be worrying about my ten-year-old's college options if a multi-billion dollar testing industry had not upped the ante by making test preparation a make or break college application requirement.  Who wins when I am forced to overparent?  It sure isn't me.  I'm exhausted all ready.  Think big.  As the saying goes, follow the money.  

 In the meantime, back off.  Every mom I know is doing the best she can.  Does she sometimes do too much?  Maybe.  Does she sometimes strive too hard?  It wouldn't surprise me.  But since we're women and we can't win no matter what we do, we might as well keep out rotating our blades.  Otherwise, we'll crash and burn and then where will everyone looking for a Bandaid or a hug be? 

7 comments:

altadenahiker said...

Screw 'em. You're a good mom. And my word verification is "brainnes," so I should know.

Kathy said...

Amen! You summed that up nicely!!

barbra said...

You hit the nail on the head! If we don't parent our children, our consumer-driven society will.

Look what a mess that has already created.

Susan C said...

Margaret, I think you are a vigilant parent, and there is a big difference between a vigilant parent and a helicopter one.

The helicopter not only hovers, but is ready to swoop in and rescue the child. There are times, of course, for intervention, but helicopter parents have no boundaries or discretion. They swoop and rescue indiscriminately.

But then, that's what makes parenting so challenging. When do we stand back and let our children make their own mistakes or when do we step in; when do we control and when do let go.

I'm still trying to figure it out.

altadenahiker said...

Just as an aside, is Hela so special she gets to be goddess of the week for three weeks runnin? (Knife article was fascinating. Who knew?)

pasadenaadjacent.com said...

Hi Margaret,
Guess I've at times been the enemy. I dubbed it the "bubble wrap generation" didn't catch on. Childless and wordless in the center of private school debates dodging big white SUVs with baby on board stickers. Looking for the knives.
It was nice meeting you and I'm enjoying your blog.

Margaret said...

Altadena Hiker: You're right. The goddesses have been neglected, and that will not do.

Susan C and Pasadenaadjacent: I agree that some parents probably go overboard, but I'm guessing that most are simply doing the best they can. I love the idea of the bubblewrap generation. That's a term that needs to catch on. While I don't put a lot of stock in the idea of helicopter parents, I do believe there's is sort of a parenting arms race. Where the USA and USSR once stock piled more and more missiles in their race to keep up with each other, I think a lot of parents feel compelled to keep up with what other parents are doing. If everybody in town has their kid signed up for soccer, well you better sign yours up too. And if not soccer, at least basketball or swimming. One time a mom with a high-achieving daughter asked me what sport my daughter played. When I said she liked to swim, the other mom immediately asked what swim team she was on. I felt almost embarrassed to say, "No. She's not on a swim team. She just likes to kick around at the Y from time to time."