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Saturday, August 13, 2022

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ASK MOM: Helicopter Mom feels sick about it, doesn’t know how to stop

Drawing by Suzanne Johnson

THE PROBLEM: I’m looking for help with the anxiety I have about my children. I have two, ages 5 and 9, and when I recently read an article about being a ‘helicopter mom,’ I felt sick. I check all the boxes. I can’t stop telling my kids what to do so they can get an advantage (e.g., talk to your teachers after school so they like you), I’m constantly warning them to avoid anything that has risk involved, and I feel uncomfortable if I don’t know what their homework is every day. (I always check to make sure they do it, even if I have to push, prod, and—I’m ashamed to admit it—do some of it for them.) These are just examples, but my husband will tell you, it’s constant. The only time I don’t feel slightly on edge is when I hear good news about one of my kids. I know it’s unhealthy, but how do I get out of it?

MARY SAYS: While you may think your children are the root cause of your anxiety, they’re not. Most likely, you had these tendencies long before you had children, but throw in a couple of kids, running a household, holding down a job—to name just a few things—and your anxiety has gotten the best of you. I’m guessing your unease has gotten worse, hasn’t it, now that your children are older? You can no longer control them the way you did as toddlers, or babies in a crib, so your anxiety has run amuck, giving you nowhere to turn for relief.

The good news is, you’ve taken one giant step away from this unhealthy behavior by identifying it. No small thing, given that people often stay committed to a dysfunctional pattern for years, simply because they don’t know they’re doing it.

I’m going to ask you to take a moment here, Mom. Sit down with a cup of tea, go for a walk, or draw a bath. Take some quiet time to raise your understanding of what you’ve discovered about yourself and make a commitment to change, whatever it takes.

Because you must. You have two small humans who will one day become big ones, and they’ll need all their faculties to navigate adult responsibilities. When you continually tell them what to do—or worse, do it for them—you’re sending the message that you have no confidence in them, a belief they will quickly internalize because it comes from a reliable source—you.

By hovering so closely, you’re not allowing your children to grow, build skills, and become independent. Rather, your children will come to expect others to take care of their stuff for them and coddle them, long into adulthood.

We’ve all seen what that looks like, and it isn’t pretty.

Childhood is ripe with opportunities to master life skills through ‘doing.’ Miss a homework assignment? Your grade goes down. Miss the bus? Go in late without a note. Forget your lunch? Eat when you get home. There are natural consequences for everything, and the sooner your children understand this, the smarter they become at making choices.

Now here’s a question for you. What responsibilities have you tasked your children with at home? Are they making their beds? Doing laundry? Helping with dinner and clean-up?

When your children can reach the controls on the washing machine, they’re old enough to do a load. If not, they can help fold, however messy it turns out. Find age-appropriate tasks for your children—hard ones—and despite the grumbling, you will notice a degree of competence emerge that you might not have seen before.

Children don’t mind failing, unless it’s been modeled for them that failing is something to be afraid of—or anxious about. Most kids will rebuild a block tower that topples, keep trying to ride that two-wheeler despite many skinned knees, or practice pitching a ball until they can throw a strike. What children do mind is not feeling needed, engaged, and important, all of which are basic human desires. As a parent, it’s your job to create an environment where your children are contributing to your household, becoming increasingly independent, and can do for themselves all the things you feared they couldn’t.

ERIKA SAYS: I want to thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your concern with us. I feel confident you have come to the right place, and I hope we’re able to offer you some ideas to work with. I assure you, many moms struggle with this issue.

A good place to start is to ask yourself what fears are causing your anxiety, which in turn is causing you to ‘smother mother’ your children. Fear is the driving force behind helicopter parenting. Figuring out the root cause of your fears will help you become aware of your less-than-helpful parenting patterns.

I know this, because while I have been a laidback parent for most of my son’s life, there was a time when I found myself hovering over him.

When I became a single parent, I felt the need to protect my son from any unnecessary suffering. He had suddenly become a “statistic,” and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure he would thrive in a single parent home. To overcompensate for the absence of his father, I began to make excuses for his behavior. While some of his acting out was due to the changes in our home life, most of it was because of my unhealthy parenting patterns.

Prior to this, I took pride in knowing that my son was independent for his age. He’s good at using his words, setting boundaries, and sticking up for himself in social settings, a confident little boy who was not afraid to try new things. I was often praised for the maturity he displayed for his age. Reflecting on this reminded me that trying to control a false narrative driven by my fears was going to create issues for him down the road.

Honestly, it was creating issues for me. It’s exhausting trying to protect our kids from everything.

Moms do that, don’t they? We feel called to care for our children, keep them out of harm’s way, and shelter them from all the world’s evils. But part of parenting is stepping back so they can fall, get up, and try again. Allowing our children to stumble and learn from their mistakes is loving them deeply.

When we do step back, it quickly becomes apparent that relinquishing control gives children the opportunity and space to become confident and independent as they grow. Even as small children, they can learn cause and effect, right from wrong, and consequences due to poor choices.

Moms are like shepherds who tend to their flocks. There to guide them, lead them, help them, and teach them. Shepherds lead from behind and step in when necessary. When you take this approach, it gives you the opportunity to praise them when they win and teach them when they lose. They will cherish these moments when they become adults—even more so should they one day become parents themselves.

ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in! 

If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! askmomyourquestion@gmail.com

Read more ASK MOM advice.

Mary FollinMary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.

Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.

Suzanne Johnson, mom of five children and grandma of six, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of Realms of Edenocht.

 

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