Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Helicopter Tendencies

First, let me apologize to my blog for being so neglectful. I really did intend on keeping up with it after summer was through. And here we are in December and my last post was in September. Oops. Well, moving on!

With the harried beginning of the school year that includes three birthdays, three kids in sports, Halloween, a fun map project, and Thanksgiving, I am tired. The dust has settled and now we are home most evenings and weekends, and I have been finding myself feeling a little annoyed at that hurried kind of lifestyle and searching nostalgically for some simplicity. The other day synchronicity took over, and I happened upon a fabulous article from Time Magazine, entitled Helicopter Parents: The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting. This article playfully, but poignantly, looks at the out of control trend of parents to overparent. Hiring tutors for a five year old, buying hypo-allergenic socks, and baby kneepads are a few of the outrageous sounding practices that are running rampant in today's society. The article put it best-- Parenting has become a form of product development. This caused me to think about my own helicopter tendencies...

We live at the end of our elementary school's walking zone-- about .3 miles. At the beginning of the year, I required Pacey to wait at the crosswalk for me to pick him up. It just wasn't safe, I insisted, to allow an almost 8 year old walk home by himself. I must have been thinking in line with many of the local parents because the area around the crosswalk is quite the happening spot with mini-vans and SUVs lined up, ready to pick up their cargo and drive safely home. After a week of his pleading, I gave in and allowed him to walk, but I would drive by everyday and ask him if he wanted a ride. I think he acquiesced twice. Once when it was raining and once when he was coming down with the flu. Otherwise, I got the half wave, half blow off as he exercised a small bit of autonomy that to an 8 year old is huge. Yet, I continued to drive by, thinking that I was doing a great thing by checking up on him and making sure he didn't feel forced to walk all that way home. Until last week that is, when I realized I was a helicopter parent, a mild one, but a helicopter parent nonetheless.

The great thing about the Internet is where it can take you. I know that may sound cheesy, friends, but really, think about it. When is the last time you started to read one article, saw a link to another, read that one, saw another link to a related video, watched that, saw a link to another article, (need I continue?)... It's just amazing! So while I was reading the Time article, I happened upon the blog of who I found was once labeled "the worst mom in America." All because she allowed her nine year old to ride the subway in New York City alone. She was on morning shows and took severe lashings from the American public (mostly helicopter parents, I would guess) for her reckless methods of raising her children. This prompted her to start the Free-Range Kids blog, which led to a book, which has really created a movement in getting back to the roots of parenting our children. Her premise is not reckless; she maintains that safety is always important, but she brings to light the craziness of our generation in trying to lock down our children's every movement. Yes, there are awful things that happen everyday, but to live in fear is to not live at all. And to instill that constant fear in our children is a great disservice.

I looked up from my computer, almost in tears. The thought of letting them play in the front yard alone without feeling like a total slacker was so liberating! The idea of not feeling required to script all of their activities and to actually allow them time to just be kids, be free was even more liberating. I almost felt like burning my bra-- but I figured that I should probably keep myself in control since I was reading at my desk at work.

I started to see all of the irony in the things that I have always felt I had to do to be a good parent. The "neighborhood" soccer league that required a 15-20 minute drive through bad traffic three times a week was hardly a neighborhood program, now was it? Does that mean I will take the fun of playing soccer away from Pacey? No, but I will be calling the people in charge and request a change of coach/team to a place that is at least close to our neighborhood. Will I not put Gage in swim lessons like he asked? Well, no, I won't, but I decided how much more fun it would be if we all just went swimming at the rec after school once a week? Everything doesn't have to be a structured, two-times-a-week-right-in-the-middle-of-dinner activity, now does it? No, I am seeing now that it doesn't, and that doesn't make it wrong, it doesn't make me a bad mom, and it doesn't mean my kids will be less successful for not having needed a Google calendar to manage their schedules and five activities each at the ages of 6 and 8.

I want to have the time to take them to the rec for fun, free swimming. I want to take them to the Farmers' Market to get fresh fruit. And I want them to be able to come home from school and play. With their toys, with each other, with me, with the neighborhood kids. Because that is what kids should be doing. And not just in the summer when we have time off. I stopped driving the long way around to the house, so I could make sure Pacey didn't need a ride. Instead, I meet him at home because those ten minutes of freedom and autonomy are teaching him to be responsible and independent.

So even though I don't usually make New Year's Resolutions, this year, I am making a New Lifestyle Resolution-- to live more simply, less fearfully, and more fully. The boys deserve an old-fashioned childhood that is full of freedom to explore and experience their lives-- not under the guise of schedules and continuously organized activities.