Saturday, September 26, 2009

Helicopter Mamas

I've fought the urge to be a helicopter mama since my oldest was a baby. I remember the moment that I knew I could fall into that trap. I was meeting with my other baby group mamas and Elijah tumbled. My instinct was to reach out and immediately comfort him. One of the other mamas asked, "why don't you just see what he does?". He got up and was fine. Hmmm, the possibility that I could be reinforcing the idea that falling means hurting flipped me out a bit. Sure my son needed me and the love and affection we gave him, but he also needed parents that let him start to explore steps of independence.
It can be a tricky combination. Watching over and guiding without smothering. Letting him find his way without being indifferent. I didn't (and don't) want to err too much either way. I've been teaching for 11 years and I've seen parents that do both. I've seen kids with no structure and no one really watching out for what they are doing. I've seem more parents that do everything for their children. It's the ones that do everything that have been on my mind this week. Probably because I know that could be me and I've been working hard to avoid that about me.
This week my son started round two of swimming lessons. Me, when I take him, I bring a book and settle myself in a chair close by. I glance up to see what's going on, but I trust the swimming teacher to do what she does. I did have a little giggle at one mama who didn't take her eyes off her son and had a towel ready for him as soon as he got his face wet. The result? Her son didn't take his eyes off his mama, meaning he also didn't listen to the swimming teacher and join in to do what he was there to do. Now, I know that this mama had the best of intentions (as we all do), I just made a note for myself for future reference that I don't want to do this with my kids.
How can I make sure that I'm giving my sons the sense of independance the need while still nutruring them without smoothering? Tall order isn't it? Here's a few tricks I've picked up:
1. I have them carry their own things, school backpacks, their jackets when they get too hot (especially if I already have an armload of my own), library books...small stuff.
2. As soon as they show they are able to dress themselves, they do it themselves. My youngest currently does his own pants, but still needs help with his shirts. He tries his socks and is sometimes successful and sometimes needs mom's help (he's 2)
3. Set them out for success whether they are with you or not. Having taught kindergarten for a few years I know how much time it takes to get 20 little ones dressed and outside for recess. I know my son can get ready on his own and I make sure he has the tools to do it without me. He has velcro shoes because I know he can't tie laces yet, why would I send him with lace up shoes?
4. Let them know you are there and watching without hovering. Whether on the sidelines of the soccer field or the swimming pool, I know what's going on with my son and he know's I'm there. Sometimes he'll look over for approval and we'll exchange a 'thumbs up', but mostly I want him to be learning what it is he needs to know.
5. Encourage them to take a break when they are frustrated with something (a puzzle, a lego structure, printing...) but then encourage them to come back and finish it, guiding them along (not doing it for them).
6. Start early with household age-appropriate jobs around the house, making their own bed, setting the table, putting away their own laundry, making sure their laundry gets into the laundry basket, putting away their toys...
What sorts of things to you do to help guide your children to independance, without smothering them?


  1. What an excellent post! The best advice my MIL gave me was to just watch when he fell, monitor his reaction. It was liberating. Of course, when my second son was in the 7th grade (6ft. 2) and fell on the soccer field, I wasn't the mom who ran out to see how her baby was doing. NO! I stood on the sidelines, thinking he was faking it. No, he wasn't. It was a bona fide broken wrist (the fault of the guy who undercut him). However, it was my job to stay on the sidelines and watch. Independence with training wheels! IF you want to raise a boy to be a man-teach them responsibility, independence--even though you trying to peek without looking like you're looking!

    A+ message!

  2. I had a moment like this on Andrew's third day of kindergarten. Because we started before Labour Day it had been a week since he had been to school the first two times. I saw him walk in the school and freeze -- not sure wether he forgot what he was doing or was just overwhelmed. I really wanted to run in to the school and walk him through the routine one more time. Instead I just stood outside the doors. I waited a few minutes, and then peeked in the window to see him taking off his shoes, looking towards his classroom. He was fine.




We'd love to hear from you. Email us with your feedback, suggestions and general blog love at