How I Learned to Relax and Stop Being a Helicopter Parent

child on skateboard

My parenting journey began 17 years ago. As diligently as I researched where to live or what appliances to purchase, I researched my new role as a parent. In addition to reading, I carefully watched other parents, remembering what my father once said to me: “It’s sometimes better to know what NOT to do, than what to do.” So I created a list of parenting “nevers”:

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As I trailed behind some minivan, with its screen down and kids watching TV, I declared, “That will never fly in my car.”

When my sister complained about her kids and school, I told myself, “I will start my kids off with the right academic habits.”

And when I saw kids flying down the street on skateboards, I told myself, “That’s dangerous. We will avoid all dangerous activities.”

So after leaving the corporate world, I addressed my role as a “stay-at-home” parent with the same intensity and determination as I did with my former career. I began every morning with a list. I scheduled feedings, reading time, classical music time, and “free-play” time, designed to teach my infant to roll over, sit up, stand up, and, eventually, walk. I proudly ran a tight ship, even after my second child arrived.

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I fed my children well-balanced meals, baby-proofed my house, and made my kids wear helmets, kneepads, elbow pads, and wrist guards as they played with any toy that had wheels. I read to them constantly, talked to them like an adult, and taught them to always say please and thank you. I kept my vow of “nevers” -- until my youngest hit his toddler years and my ship sprung a leak.

Each passing day, my boys pushed for more and more independence. They’d push my hand away to walk alone, insist on washing their own hair, dress themselves, or beg to ride their bikes around the block. One day my youngest, Zach, dressed himself. He proudly tromped down the stairs as I waited at the bottom to make sure he came down safely. Yet, as he got closer, I realized his shirt was on backwards.

“Zach, honey, your shirt is on backwards,” I said softly, fighting my instinct to immediately fix it.

He smiled at me, as if to say, you poor, tortured woman, then answered calmly, “Mom, it’s okay. It’s white on both sides.”

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When I could no longer jam all our stuff into the trunk of my sedan, I bought the SUV I said I would never drive. When the salesman demonstrated the TV feature, I proudly declared it would be wasted on us. Yet, on our next trip to Vermont, with both kids talking to me nonstop for the first three hours -- two more to go -- I dropped the screen and popped in an Elmo disc. I declared, “Just this one time,” which eventually turned into, “During any trip over an hour.”

From the moment my kids started school, I was determined to be on top of it. Then one day, my eldest child’s kindergarten teacher called. She calmly stated that Alex was having trouble, explaining how she gave him a sheet to write the upper case alphabet, to be followed by another, for the lower case. Alex never completed the first one. How could that be? He knew his numbers and letters!

So, when Alex got home, I interrogated him: “Buddy, you know your letters. Why didn’t you fill out those sheets?”

He stopped and looked at me with those big, brown, marble eyes. “Mom,” he said, “if I finished the first sheet for her, she was just going to give me a second one.”

From then on, I monitored their grades and incurred sleepless nights over my boys’ relaxed approach to academics. My daily monitoring of grades led to tense dinners and loss of quality time with my boys. One day I declared in frustration, “Watching your grades is making me crazy!”

My boys turned to each other, then to me. “Us too!” they said.

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When Zach, at age 13, asked for a skateboard for Christmas -- about five hundred times -- I caved with the stipulation he wear safety gear. So upon entering the sporting goods store, I asked out loud, “Where do you think they keep all the pads for skateboarders?”

Zach, walking just ahead of me, turned and said, “They’re in the overprotective-parent section.”

Over the years, I have all but abandoned my list of “nevers” because each year drove home another example of focusing on what’s most important: raising kids with good hearts and strong minds. I am not the same mother I was 17 years ago. I still pull rank when needed, but I’m calmer. I put time with my children over any schedule or any ridiculous pursuit of perfection. I think before I speak, and I listen -- my boys taught me that -- along with never saying “never” again.

 

Celeste Chin left the corporate world to raise her children and eventually pursue a career in writing. Also a substitute teacher, she lives in New Jersey with her two teenage boys. Celeste recently completed writing her first children’s novel, for children 9 to 12 years old. Her favorite hobbies surround spending time with her sons, either on the golf course, skiing, hiking, or kayaking, just to name a few.


Image via iStock.com/yuran-78

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