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Why I went from being a "helicopter" parent to a more "free-range" parent

DH Vancouver Staff Jan 21, 2015 7:53 am

I’ve been a parent for close to 12 years, which means 12 years of numerous parenting responsibilities. My main parenting responsibilities include: providing my children with necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter, as well as nurturing and guiding them. In addition to these parenting responsibilities, teaching my children responsibility and independence, is an essential component of parenting. After all, I want my children to become responsible, independent adults someday.

However, teaching children responsibility is easier said than done. And often times, parents, like myself, are taking on too many responsibilities, that children are capable of taking on themselves. In turn, creating dependent children. This is otherwise known as “helicopter parenting.” If you are unfamiliar with this parenting term, a helicopter parent is defined by as a style of child rearing in which an overprotective mother or father discourages a child’s independence by being too involved in the child’s life.

Being 12 again

Do you remember being 12? You probably remember being pretty self-sufficient, responsible and  independent. I have a daughter who is almost 12 years old. She entered middle school this year, and has taken on many more responsibilities. She willingly joined band, and practices are at 7:45 a.m.,  twice per week. She walks to school in the morning, which means she has to leave a bit earlier. She has different blocks at school, which means different classes, and teachers. All of these new responsibilities that my daughter has, I have also taken on as my new responsibilities.

One morning, while I was driving to an appointment, I received a phone call from my tween daughter (if you’re wondering what a tween is, it’s a child who is in “between” a child and a teenager). Her voice sounded sweet and quiet as she proceeded to tell me that she…forgot her lunch. Naturally, my  first reaction was to nag at her, and tell her that I was on my way to an appointment, and that I was going to be late. My second reaction was to tend to her needs, because feeding my child is my responsibility, and heaven forbid I let my child starve! I turned my car around, drove home, grabbed her lunch and dropped it off to her. Consequently, I was late for the very thing that I was responsible for.

The following week, I got a phone call from her telling me that she “forgot” her agenda. Well… heaven forbid, my daughter gets a mark taken off for forgetting something. So what did I do? You guessed it… I drove to the school, and dropped off her agenda.

Early mornings

Another responsibility I have taken on, is waking my daughter up, and driving her to band practice. These early mornings aren’t always pleasant. I am constantly reminding her how many minutes she has left, in order to get to practice on time. In other words, I am being a nag.

One morning, after attempting to wake her up a few times, I decided to go downstairs and continue on with my morning. I called from downstairs a few more times, reminding her of the time. When she finally came down, dressed and ready, she was left with five minutes to get to band practice. Normally, I would throw my coat on and rush her to practice. This particular morning however, I decided that I wasn’t going to do that. It was evident that my tween daughter had become very reliant on me. I carried on with morning duties, such as getting my younger girls up and ready for school. My tween daughter stopped in front of me, looked at me, and said, “Aren’t you going to drive me?” I looked at her, and as hard as it was for me to say, I replied in a calm manner, “Not today.” And just like that, I felt like I was being shot in the heart in slow motion, with a bow and arrow as she replied  with a face full of anger, “You don’t love me!” Her words felt like an arrow hitting me directly in the  heart.

In that moment, my invisible, “supermom” cape fell to the kitchen floor and I was immersed in guilt. My thoughts that followed were, Was I being too harsh? I don’t want her to think that I don’t love her. I should just drive her to school. I firmly, yet gently replied with these words, “I love you, but how are you going to become a responsible, independent adult some day if you’re always relying on me to get you places on time?” She looked at me once more, and when she realized I was serious, she rolled her eyes, picked her backpack up off of the floor, grabbed her jacket and left.

Perhaps, I was being harsh. However, band practice was her choice, which means it is her responsibility to get there on time. My responsibility is providing her with a warm bed to sleep in, and putting her to bed at a decent hour. If she was an adult and lived on her own, and this band practice was her job, it would be her responsibility to get there on time. I won’t be able to fly over to her house with my supermom cape and wake her up for work. As a matter of fact, I won’t always be there to “save” the day.

The only thing I can do is let go of being the “helicopter” parent. I need to stop swooping in with my supermom cape and saving my children from making mistakes, feeling discomfort, and facing consequences. Although, I felt guilty for the remainder of the day because I didn’t drive her to school, I knew she was going to be just fine. I also reminded myself that when she is late, it isn’t a reflection of “bad parenting.” In fact, swooping in to save her all the time is actually inhibiting her from learning important life skills, such as time management, independence, commitment and responsibility.

Free-range parenting

When I began to take a step back from my “helicopter” child rearing. I began to mildly incorporate more “free-range” parenting. “Free-range” parenting is the decision to give your child freedom and responsibility, while preparing them for it. “Free-range” parenting has been scrutinized because of the assumption that this type of parenting lacks parental supervision and guidance.

And… most recently, I came across an article about a Maryland couple who practice this free-range parenting that are under investigation for child neglect, simply because they let their children ages six and 10 walk one mile home from a park unsupervised. This article got me thinking about my own parenting. I allow my daughter who is almost 12 walk to and from school which is less than a 1 km walk. There are also many children who walk to school in pairs in our residential neighborhood around the same age as the children in Maryland.

Are we being neglectful? Are we putting our children in great danger if we don’t drive them 1 km to school? Isn’t it more dangerous to put our children in a car? In fact, we hear about car accidents  more often than we do child abductions. From my personal experience with my tween daughter  becoming dependent, and irresponsible, I strongly agree that we need to to teach our children independence by giving them freedom in baby steps.

Perhaps, a five year old can play in their backyard with a sibling while we supervise from the kitchen window. Or perhaps we let go of our toddler’s hand on the playground and let them try to walk on the bridge alone. Perhaps, we even let our children walk to school with a friend. And in my case, perhaps we allow our children to face the consequence of being late.

I believe the danger lies in limiting our children from experiencing these things. The danger begins with our own fear. Fear of what might happen if we aren’t hovering. However, when we have the courage to give our children responsibilities like walking to school (at an appropriate age), we foster independence, responsibility and most importantly, confidence.

Fostering independence and responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be complete hands-off parents. However, rather than hover like helicopters, and swoop in to the save the day like super heroes, we can guide, facilitate and teach our children in baby steps, to do things on their own. I know some days it’s easier to do things for them (believe me), especially the mundane things like making their beds and picking up their toys. For this reason, I’m reminded of this quote:

Image: Pinterest

That being said, I hope all you supermoms and superdads out there, doing the best you can, remember that teaching our children responsibility and independence means slowly ripping the invisible velcro off of our necks that bind our super capes together. And instead, wrap the cape around your child’s neck and watch as your child soars.


Feature image: Child holding parent’s hand via Shutterstock

DH Vancouver Staff
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