Free-Range Helicopter Parents -- a Gen Xer's Parenting Blend
This morning when I slid into my seat at Cracker Barrel for a networking breakfast the topic already turned to back to school. The first week of August means opening day for education here in Mississippi. One of the folks ask how my kids’ drop off went. When I responded we were doing well until I realized we left my son’s trumpet at home, someone replied “and you didn’t go back to get it?”.
No, my friends I did not drive fifteen minutes home, retrieve my son’s instrument and drive it fifteen minutes back to the school and risk being late to a scheduled breakfast. Today was not my first foray out of the realm of helicopter parenting.
When my third grader arrived home without his coat one December afternoon I suggested he look in the school’s lost and found the next day. Going to school in 30 degree weather without a coat encouraged his quest and guess what he was wearing the next afternoon at pick up time? His coat.
Two years ago one of our children left their lunch at home. When my husband said he was going home for lunch, I told him to eat the sandwich in the lunch box so we didn’t have to throw it away. If I get up at 5:15 and go to the trouble of making a sandwich my kids can remember to grab their lunch box or they can eat the fish nuggets in the cafeteria while their dad enjoys it.
Some days in the summer my kids ride their bikes in the neighborhood or visit our neighbors and I’m not always exactly sure where they are and they do not have a cell phone.
Don’t call CPS on me yet, though.
As soon as I find out my kids teachers names at the beginning of the school year, you better believe I’m “researching” their social media pages faster than you can say Mark Zuckerberg. I text my daughter’s homeroom teacher the morning of every field trip to ensure she remembers to bring the Epi pen. I’m a pro at checking Active Parent and questioning my child about grades. And I will not hesitate to contact a teacher or even administrator if I believe my child is being bullied.
Gen X parents have been sold a trip on helicopter parenting that’s more work than trying to take a toddler to the beach. I stood in line for the tour that promised perfectly behaved children, well-rounded little lives, a high school diploma with honors, college scholarships and a returning college graduate laden with loans, few actual skills and no ability to get a job. I’ve requested a refund.
If only I had a perfect answer. Unfortunately in my weakest moments that stupid helicopter shows up with its ladder dangling promises to rescue us from the perils of normal parenting. I’ve accepted the extrication on more than one occasion. It usually ends with me feeding donuts to the whole second grade teacher staff or unloading boxes of paper the office supply store offered rebates on or ordering rulers for the whole class. I have no shame when it comes to bribing teachers.
What I and every other Gen X parent knows is we learned best the hard way. When we deliver our child’s forgotten lunch box/instrument/gym bag, we are teaching them to forget because we will always be right behind them picking up their crap and driving it halfway around the world to save their behinds. When we do not move heaven and earth to save them, they learn to get their stuff before they leave home. Leaving us more time for loaded hashbrowns at Cracker Barrel.
My first week of college my dad called to tell me campus security had called him to request that he move his car from in front of the dumpster before it was towed. He was ninety minutes away and it was my car parked in the tow away zone. I learned real quick my daddy could not always save me. Nor should he. Nor should we.
When my kids start their first jobs and move into their first apartments, I expect to take them to dinner to celebrate and then go on a cruise or European vacation or something alone with my husband. We will have accomplished our mission. But I can’t take that vacation if my kids expect me to bring them a forgotten stethoscope or legal brief.
Do not tell me we are teaching them they can rely on us. Unless you’re parenting a child with attachment issues, they should have learned that long before kindergarten. Once a child reaches those upper elementary years and moves into middle school, it’s time to teach them to rely on themselves and solve some problems on their own.
I like to call this a hybrid parenting model where we ensure our kids’ basic safety, coach them through problem solving and allow them to run a few laps for forgetting their gym bag but the truth is it’s just plain parenting, minus the view from the chopper.
Go ahead, strap on your parachute, wrap that life preserver around your neck and let somebody else manage the helicopter. You have my official permission, parent to parent. The view isn’t as great down here in the weeds and the briars of our kids failures sting, but adventuring with them through it instead of doing it for them gives them the survival skills they’ll need when we’re watching Wheel of Fortune at the up-scale nursing home with the good looking pool boy.