I crashed my helicopter and it felt good, giving up helicopter parenting

Last week marked a turning point for me in six and a half years of parenting my daughter; I gleefully and purposely crashed my helicopter. It was never my intent to become a helicopter parent, after all when the girl joined our family six and a half years ago, I already had 13 years of parenting experience under my belt, and should have known better but alas I didn’t. I have come to think that the 13 years that separate my kids actually played a huge part in how I became a helicopter parent since my kids were born at different stages of my life.

When I became pregnant with my son, I was an 18 year old newlywed who knew not a thing about babies or kids. This was before internet was a thing, back in the dark ages of 1991, yet despite barely being an adult myself, I read exactly one book while pregnant with my son, the dreaded What to Expect When You are Expecting that my parents gifted to me. When my son was born, I trusted my instincts and those of my village at the time, primarily my mom, grandmother and mother-in-law. Looking back at the first five or so years of his life, I had little angst in raising him, I just did it. Despite initially receiving advice to spank, after a few spankings, I decided they didn’t feel right and never spanked him again. I didn’t read a book, go on a discussion board, talk with friends or agonize; I trusted that it was the right thing to do despite having been spanked myself. Mind you while raising him in those early years, my hands were full, having split from his dad and the former Mr. BGIM when my son was 13 months old, I didn’t have oodles of time to ruminate on my parenting choices. I did the best I could and looking at what an awesome young man he is now at 20, I guess some of it must have been pretty okay.

Fast forward to the fall of 2004 when I discovered I was pregnant with the girl child, I immediately started researching and reading and joining online discussion groups and immersed myself in how to be a better parent. For some reason I think I thought by doing more this second time around, things could only get better. By the time the girl arrived earthside in summer 2005, I had read well over 20 books on childbirth and parenting, settled on a parenting style and pretty much planned everything out on how this child was going to be raised. Never mind the actual kid I received, damn it, I knew this was the better way. Of course by the time she arrived I was no longer a 19 year old high school dropout but a thirty-something year old college graduate with a professional career.

Over the next several years, I drove us all crazy adhering to a parenting style that frankly did not match the kid that I received. I have shared in this space in the past, my marriage almost collapsed under the weight of this high intensity parenting coupled with an intense child. Course corrections have been made and there is a lot more balance in our lives, but the truth is until recently, I still didn’t trust myself or more importantly my child, which is frankly a bad thing.

A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me about my first marriage and how her brother used to see his dad when we were separated by 1100 miles and I explained that he flew alone from Chicago to Maine. She asked me a simple question that really shook me…would I ever let her fly alone? I quickly said no and explained the times are different, she accepted that answer and moved on but it stuck with me.

See, my son was 5 when he went on his first solo flight. I took him to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I checked him in and when it was time to board the plane, I was allowed to walk him to his seat and when he landed in Maine his father was waiting at the gate for him escorted off by a flight attendant. My son did that journey many times, he recently told me how on his flights he often met the other kids who traveled from parent to parent. He liked his travels and was never scared, truthfully neither was I. I trusted that the plane would arrive and he would be safe, I trusted that he would know to ask for help if he needed it and never was there an issue. Not even the time a flight was delayed 6 hours and stopped in Indiana and I was a little nervous. The airlines made sure that my son and the other unaccompanied kids were served a meal and supervised and for him it was simply an adventure.

My daughter though at six and a half doesn’t even get to play with neighborhood kids unless one of us is outside with her. It hit me the other day, how is she going to learn the skills to navigate the world if I am always hovering?

As fate would have it, last week we took the train into Boston and 40 minutes into the ride, the kiddo told me she was hungry and asked if we could get something from the snack car. Normally when we take the train to Boston, if we have to go to the snack car, we both go. To be honest walking through the cars to get to the snack car while holding her hand and later our snacks is a pain in the ass since the train is in constant motion. I momentarily thought of bringing her to the snack car but knowing I needed a cup of coffee plus the snacks and realized what a lousy idea. So I asked her if she wanted to go, she said no, she was happy to stay in our seats and play on the iPad. I told her to stay in the seat, and don’t get up until I returned, in the end it took about 15 minutes to get our snacks and when I returned she was just where I had left her, playing on the iPad and waiting for her orange juice. I won’t lie while waiting in the line, my mind was filled with what it’s…until I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. For starters this isn’t a city subway system; there were no stops between the time I left and time I got back to our seats, so where was she going to go? Heaven forbid, someone did try to snatch her up, we were seated around other families who probably would notice and more importantly my kid is loud as hell. In the end, I trusted her and myself.

It felt good to trust her, to see that look on her face that she knew I trusted her. The past few days have been filled with baby steps of me letting her find her footing in this world, so it’s official, I have crashed my helicopter and it can’t be put back together.

It’s not all about us

Once upon a time in a world not that long ago, people who chose to have children understood that the end goal was to raise the kids to be productive members of society. It was understood that well, the babies don’t stay babies and that while it’s bittersweet to think of our precious babes as grown ups… fact is it happens. Then my generation (that would be Gen X’ers) started having babies and well, many of us were unhappy with our upbringing and we swore we would do better than our parents. Damn our parents for working, divorcing or whatever crimes against us they committed. We would become Super-Parents! All the things we never got, by Golly Miss Molly our precious babes would get…and before you get snippy please know I am guilty of this. My folks had very little in terms of financial resources and I have struggled with being overly generous and never saying no to either of my kids as far as things and possessing things. It took getting a child who I swear was born with a materialistic streak to realize this never saying no is not a great idea.

In modern day parenting being a super parent often means always being with our child and never allowing them to quite grow up. I remember at 18, I was definitely an adult, shit I was married and with child. Now I definitely don’t think most 18 year olds should follow that path and I am quite thankful that elder child now known as college boy did not choose my path, on the other hand I think 18 year olds are most certainly capable of being the young adults that developmentally and legally most of them are.

The problem is super parenting creates a screen where we never quite see our kids in the correct developmental stage and well you have issues like this. For those not interested in clicking, the piece talks about how more and more colleges have to create diversions and tricks to get parents off the college campus when parents come to take their offspring to college. Many of us are so used to guiding the process for our kids that we are having a hard time letting go despite the fact its healthy for both parent and kids to let go.

However the way I see it this problem now starts early, in our eagerness to enjoy our kid’s youth many of us no longer feel the need to start the slow dance of growing up at the early stages. Home schooling which I have no beef with has surged in this country, and while there are plenty of places in the US where the schools are shitty, homeschooling is most certainly a better alternative to sending your kids to the shitty local schools. (There are also kids and situations too numerous for me to delve into where again homeschooling is a great choice) But in some cases people choose the homeschooling path because they simply cannot bear to be away from their progeny the 6-7 hours a day that kids spend in school. Hey, if that works for you and yours who am I to complain? But just remember generally speaking a day will come when the birdies will want to stretch their wings beyond your nest and you need to be prepared for that.

On the flip-side we have folks who send their kids to school yet cannot abide by the rules in matters such as dropping kids off and not walking the kids to the classroom. This is a big hot button issue for many, the kidlet starts kindergarten in two weeks and I have already be warned by my Mama friends who have kids at her school that even for the little’s, the expectation is that we the parents will drop them off with their teacher and classroom outside and the class enters the building together. I admit last year when I heard this I was emotional and weepy about it, now at 5 though and knowing that my girl is ready, this policy makes sense.

Maybe its because I did a brief stint as a teacher of kids before I taught adults some years ago but let me tell you, if 15-20 sets of parents bum rushed the classroom in the morning with their kiddos, let’s be honest…chaos! It’s already hard enough for a teacher to get the kids acclimated and adjusted to the classroom without a Mama Bear hanging in the wings. I know when the kidlet was in preschool, whenever I attempted to take her and stay a few minutes afterward, it was always a bad idea. My presence did not calm her instead she looked to me and often figured since I was present that listening to the teacher and following the instructions was optional since obviously Mama’s presence overrode the teacher. After a few weeks of sensing the teacher mentally sending me the “Mama Bear be gone” vibes, I kept my presence to a minimum and kidlet not only loved preschool but thrived and made deep connections to her classmates and teachers.

I wonder if because I was so young when my firstborn entered school that  many of the issues that are stressing my parental peers out make no damn sense to me. (I was weepy when the boy started school but it also seemed amazing that we had hit a milestone) Hell, in many ways going to school is a milestone, yes its an emotional thing but to actually say well fuck we are not going to follow the rules, well that is wrong. See I moderate a parenting discussion board and many Mamas have stated that rules be damned but they will be walking their kids in the classroom and staying to make sure little Dakota & Tiger are okay in the classroom.

Alrighty now…but let me ask you as parents we model the behaviors that eventually our kids will come to see as acceptable and maybe I am confused but blatant disrespect for the rules in an institution you have agreed to be a part of seems wrong. Yeah, if a rule is unjust definitely fight it, but even in choosing to fight unjust rules there is a way to go about it and do it in a manner that is still respectful.

Our kids are watching us and yet when they grow up and seem too focused on self if what they have observed us doing is thwarting rules and focusing on our needs well how can we be mad? Guess what? It’s not all about us…we live in a world with many and need to be mindful of others.

Yeah, he is too old

I remember when my son whom I generally call elder child was a young boy, I got him potty trained at 2.75. No, that is not an exaggeration, remember though he is almost 18 so back then kids got potty trained earlier than they do know. There was also the fact that I landed a stable job and had to put him in a daycare that required he be potty trained, so my Granny and I got him trained in a week with some help from others.

So despite being potty trained before 3, of course elder child went with me to the restroom when he was a wee lad. That was until he turned about 4 and my father, mentioned that he was getting rather big to be coming with me to the ladies room, so I started letting him go into the men’s room by himself. I stayed right next to the door, made him yell out when he got to his stall. I admit it was nerve wracking but at that point I was a single Mama and I leaned on my own parents for guidance. Obviously, the boy survived going to the bathroom alone at age 4 which is good since at age 5.5 he flew alone for the first time to his Dad’s…

The reason I shared this little tale is because somehow in this world of hyper parenting, I have run across Mamas who still are taking 8, 9, and 10 year old boys to the ladies room with them. They do this because they don’t feel comfortable with their sons in a public restroom, they are concerned about predators, pedophiles, and other undesirables that may be hiding in the men’s room.

I gotta be honest and say this is some crazy shit….look, unless a 9 year old boy has special needs he should be able to go to the bathroom, take a piss and get the fuck out. I realize we want to keep out babies childlike and innocent for as long as possible but look we are raising kids. That means we must allow them the chance to grow up. A 9 year old still having to pee in the ladies room is only 7 years away from getting a drivers license and 9 years away from being considered a legal adult. I don’t know but when I look at it that way it makes me think maybe one should start the small stuff first, like letting the kid pee on his own.

Look, the world is a scary place. The first time my kid flew alone was on a court order that if I disobeyed, my ass was going to jail. I was scared shit-less imagining all the scenarios of what could go wrong and you know what? Nothing went wrong. One time we had a flight he was on that had to land someplace else other than the airport I was waiting for him at and as nerve racking as it was he was fine, the flight attendants watched him, fed him and no one harmed him. He was about 7-8 when that happened and merely looked at it as an adventure.

Yes, we want to hold our kids tight but when we hold on too tight that can create problems. By all means be cautious but lets not be crazy. In days not that long ago, an 8-9 year old kid could walk to school alone a mere 6-7 blocks….I know because that kid was me and guess what aside from the occasional stray dog I had to avoid, I turned out fine. Then again I was riding Chicago city buses alone by 10 and that to was fine.

Have a happy Friday!