Is The Helicopter Parent Finally Landing?

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Will economic storm clouds force the helicopter parent to finally land? Photo courtesy of sxc.hu.

It's difficult to hover over your children when your bank account is in the red and the mortgage needs to be paid. And really, how much time can you spend worrying about pushing your kid to get into Harvard when you can't even afford the tuition for their private school anymore?

In other words, is the recession is forcing the helicopter parent to land? Lisa Belkin says perhaps, in a recent essay in "The New York Times Magazine," where she points out that the era of over-parenting might just be coming to an end. While the demise of the uber-parent could simply be the latest parenting craze, it could also signal a sea change in our attitudes toward the job of raising kids.

Belkin writes: "When you can't afford those violin lessons or a baby sitter to accompany your 10-year-old to the park, you can turn guilt on its head and call it a parenting philosophy. But is it fundamental change? Or is the apparent decline of over-parenting (and its corollaries: feelings of competition and inadequacy) actually the same obsession donning a new disguise?"

Belkin aargues that after nearly a decade of smothering our kids, more and more mothers are confessing to being "bad mommies," as well as talking and writing openly about the darker side of parenting -- you know, like using (gasp!) disposable diapers. Throw in a declining economy, and you have the perfect environment for a new era of parenting -- as Belkin says, now the archetypal "bad parent" is the one who worries too much.

Liz Gumbinner, a Brooklyn, N.Y. mom of two, doesn't believe the helicopter parent -- or as she calls them, The Uber Moms -- are malicious. Instead, she says, they are so obsessed with giving their children the best of everything that they over-do it. "They don't mean badly, they're just out of control," she explains.

Gumbinner, author of the popular parenting blog Mom 101 and co-founder of Cool Mom Picks, agrees that the helicopter parent is in for rough weather, especially if the turbulent economic climate continues. "We're all spending more time looking inward than looking outward right now, making sure our kids are happy and healthy and eating the occasional organic vegetable," Gumbinner says. "Whether they're taking the best Mandarin Chinese lesson in town is really not that important when some families are struggling just to make their mortgage."

Giving kids everything their hearts desire, as well as spending heavily to promote their academic success, is part and parcel of helicopter parenting. Now, Gumbinner adds, that isn't always possible. "Conspicuous consumption is out in every way," she says.

And so is worrying about your kid's every move, according to Lenore Skenazy, whose new book, "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children The Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry," urges parents to let go of their fears and let their kids be, well, kids. Let them play outside after dark and walk home alone from school -- in other words, all the stuff we did as children, and survived to tell the tale.

Being on your kids like white on rice isn't totally over, Skenazy says, but "once you're a parent really watching your pennies, things change."

"For instance, spending 10-cents a pop for a single, saline-impregnated 'Boogie Wipe' -- yes, special grape-scented wipes for children's noses, for real -- starts to look a little less necessary," she says. "And as that looks less necessary, so does the idea that one has to make life super-cushy, princely-perfect for our kids. One of the things that really lead to helicopter parenting was what I call the Kiddie Safety Industrial Complex: All these companies selling us parents things we never needed before -- from baby knee pads to baby wipe warmers – by convincing us that our children need them. That they'd be traumatized or even endangered without them."

And all that coddling? Skenazy says that it never leads to the self-sufficiency and success that all parents want for their kids: "The ironic thing is that helicoptering, well-meaning though it was, did not deliver the goods. In fact, it may have delivered just the opposite, because when a parent does everything for a kid, the kid ends up thinking he couldn't possibly do it himself. Like, drive your kid to the bus stop and the bus stop starts seeming too far too walk – and too scary to walk, too, without mom or dad."

Skenazy says that helicopter parenting has to eventually come to a full stop. "This is something that will change," she asserts. "Who has the time and energy to watch their kids every second, and to be at every soccer game to cheer every time their kid gets near the goal?"

I confess: I agree with Skenazy. I have two kids, and there are nearly four years between them. We have preschool, tumbling class and soccer camp, and a 10-month-old whose favorite pastime is dividing the world into two categories: "fits in my mouth" and "doesn't fit in my mouth." I do not have time to mirco-manage these children.

Working as a freelance writer also helps keep me grounded. I must be flexible enough to take assignments when they come, no matter when that might be. This kind of work prevents me from hovering too much. Of course I monitor their comfort and safety, and play with them often, but I don't dictate their entire day. Why would I want to? Do I really want to get calls from my 30-year-old son asking me how to organize his time at work? No, no, I do not.

Gumbinner says that working moms might have less inclination to monitor their kids' every move, and the recession may push some moms back into the workforce. "When you get home, you just want to hug your kids and eat dinner and watch bad TV and go to sleep," she says.

Amen to that, sister.

Do you think the recession will ground the helicopter parent once and for all? Has the economy affected your parenting style at all?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.