Before you tune out, just relax. This isn’t going to be a post yelling at conscientious, dedicated mothers. There are never too many of those. I do want to make some observations, though, based on some things I see fairly often in my practice. If it doesn’t describe you, you’re good to go. If the shoe fits. . . .well, at least please think about it 🙂
First, I want to say that I think the term helicopter mom is snarky and unkind. What I know beyond a doubt is that the intentions of an overprotective mother are for nothing but the good of her child. She has invested in her child heart and soul, and what seems overbearing to her child and, perhaps, to observers, is simply her ongoing desire to see that child succeed.
Nothing wrong with that, right?
Here’s the thing: Any good thing, taken too far, becomes a negative instead of a positive. Think in terms of sugar, chocolate, alcohol, financial success, exercise and diet, and so on. All pleasant and good until they are taken too far and become obsessions.
A mother who is obsessed with her child and his welfare has gone too far.
As a teacher, years ago, I dreaded certain moms. In their minds, the entire educational system was responsible not only for her child’s education, but also for his physical, emotional, and social welfare. If the child came home unhappy, the mom was sure to come to school the next day with her cannon loaded, looking for the culprit who caused her child’s misery.
She maybe could have aimed those cannons at herself, because the one thing she isn’t doing in her devotion to her child is teaching him to stand on his own two feet and be responsible for his own behavior. She is not allowing any difficult consequences to go unchallenged. The child will grow up to always expect someone else to bail him out. He will have a hard time understanding that when you choose the behavior, you choose the consequence.
There are a couple of identifying sentences that overprotective moms (dads,too, by the way) use whenever their efforts are frustrated: “I was just trying to help! It was just a suggestion!”
They do not–will not–see that their constant hovering over the child has become interference. They don’t realize that the child needs to have the freedom to mess up, make mistakes, get knocked down a time or two and learn to get back up and try again.
Some kids learn early to cope with these ubermoms. They learn to let the constant stream of warnings, instructions, reminders and questions slide off their shoulders. Others become angry and rebellious, demanding their space and their independence of the smothering concern of someone who is ALWAYS “just trying to help.”
One of my major concerns about these well-meaning but overly aggressive parents is how their obsession with their children affects their marriages. There are some women who, the minute they know they are pregnant, feel that their immortal destiny is fulfilled in bearing and rearing THE PERFECT CHILD. This will be a child to whom no harm will come; who will know that Mom always has his back, no matter what horrendous behavior he has committed; a child that the world will recognize as being something special in human history.
And while this incredible child is incubating, the father learns that he has just lost his position as first place in his wife’s life. After the child is born, he will experience a slowly but clearly widening gap in their relationship as more and more of her energy is poured into her child or children. She just has nothing left for him. The least little whimper or gasp from the baby’s room has her flying to the rescue, and if she finds that Baby is sound asleep, she may pick him up and rock him anyway just because she loves to do it.
A little bit of that kind of thing is fine. Take it too far, you’re going to reap the whirlwind.
The child should never be the center of a parent’s existence. Eventually, in spite of all efforts to keep him safe at home, that child is going to spread his little wings and fly, and then Helicopter Mom or Dad will have nothing to do with their time–except, of course, to send a prodigious number of texts, emails, voicemails and requests to be called. Sometimes I think the electronic age has done more damage than we will ever know.
If you see yourself in this short little article, take a step back. Give your child room to breathe. You’re a well-meaning, dedicated parent, and we would be a better world if there were more like you. Just don’t take it too far.
Don’t clip the rotor blades on your child’s helicopter. He needs to learn to fly alone.