I recently finished reading Christine Gross-Loh’s Parenting without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents around the World Can Teach Us. The book is chock-a-block full of all sorts of parenting issues. This book looks at the American style of parenting from the outside, and contrasts it with how people in other parts of the world parent. From infant sleep to “picky” toddler eating habits; from teenage boundary testing to raising resilient kids, this book takes it all on.
It’s been a few weeks now since I finished the book, but one thing has stayed on my mind: the “helicopter parent” who hovers over his or her child at all times. If you’ve got children, you know the type (or perhaps you are the type). You follow your child around the park, assisting at each and every turn; you intervene in each of his toddler social misunderstandings to make sure nothing “bad” happens. And fights? Forget it. You do not allow your child to get into a single fight with another child, because We Don’t Hit in our family.
Gross-Loh has a fascinating discussion of how American parents tend to be (surprise, surprise!) helicopter parents, while Japanese, European, and Scandinavian parents tend to believe that scrapes, bruises, and yes, even fights, are necessary parts of childhood.
With older children, helicopter parents get involved in the completion of each and every homework assignment, making sure it’s completed to a high standard. Helicopter parents think nothing of complaining to their child’s teacher or coach about how unfairly said child has been graded or accommodated.
The point is: many parents nowadays see their children as precious vessels that need cosseting and protection. The current cultural belief is that this constitutes “good parenting.” To not watch your child like a hawk means that you’re a Bad Parent.
For example, if a child falls while playing at the park, and you’re not there to stop it, you get the Look. The if-you-were-doing-your-job-your-child-woudln’t-have-fallen-in-the-first-place look.
But really: What’s so bad about falling? What’s so bad about not getting enough play time on a team sport? What’s so bad about getting a ‘C’ on a spelling test?
Of course, falling can break bones. You can end up on crutches and with a leg in a cast during summer vacation for cryin’ out loud. And yeah, while that would suck, that experience would probably turn you into one hell of a cartoonist, or reader, avid listener-of-music, and watcher-of-movies. Maybe you’d even get a sense of humor. Or empathy. In other words, you’d find other things about yourself to nurture.
If somebody’s always there to make sure you don’t fall, don’t fail, and don’t get the short end of the stick, then what does that do to your sense of self? Your resilience? It not only doesn’t do anything, but it actually damages it, because you end up thinking that life’s a cakewalk.
How unrealistic is that? How unprepared for “actual reality” would that make your child? Very.
I admit that I’ve done my share of helicopter parenting, and I worry about my kids constantly. But starting now, I’m going to try looking at those “unsavory” experiences of childhood as necessary stages for growth and development.
When my child gets into a misunderstanding with kids at the park, sure he’ll come home and cry about it, but over time, he’ll understand better how to get along with others, than if I stand there watching him every time. We’ve got to trust in our children, and that they can figure things out for themselves.
So please, if you see me at the park, and my child falls, please don’t give me that look. I really am trying to be a good parent; I just want my children to know that if they fall, they can get up and get right back on that jungle gym.