Are You a Helicopter Mom or a Free-range Parent?

Posted February 22, 2011 by

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Do you fall into the “helicopter” mom or “free-range” parent category? While I consider myself more of free-range parent, the current debate between the two camps over issues of safety, creativity and independence are worth talking about.

I’ll give you a real example from my life. Today I noticed my 26 month-old daughter disrobing and removing her own diaper. I had to stop her just short of wiping and changing herself.

My first thought was: If she’s willing to clean and diaper herself, what the heck is she still doing in these things anyway?

My second thought was: Is she ahead of the “curve” in terms of self-sufficiency? Is this normal?

Honestly, I don’t keep tabs on what is “age-appropriate” as far as dexterity, gross and fine motor skills, speech development or much else goes. I just assume they’ll catch up to wherever they’re supposed to be whenever they’re ready. This seems to work for us; our kids have the freedom to evolve naturally without Mama drilling, practicing or pressuring. (I digress, let me make this clear: when it comes to studying and other responsibilities, that’s a whole other topic and not what I’m addressing here.)

Fostering independence and encouraging self-reliance no doubt helps children’s self-esteem tremendously, which is essentially the foundation for an emotionally healthy attitude toward self and others. For example, I notice when all my kids turn the “magical” two, everything has to be done by their own hands or at the very least, their way. If I try to intervene and do for them — out of my lack of patience to wait another 37 minutes for a single sock to be pulled on properly — they get frustrated and belligerent. When I allow them to do for themselves, they inflate with pride and self-confidence and Mama’s additional praise almost seems redundant.

Reflecting upon the type of parent I am, perhaps my “laissez-faire style” is inadvertently helping them develop into independent creatures and thus preparing them for the world-at-large. Instead of being a “helicopter parent,” I tend to be more hands-off, guiding and coaching from the sidelines. I’m frugal in offering praise and dote only when something is outright stupendous. My affection has no limits and oftentimes I smother them with hugs and kisses yet, ask me for help putting on a shoe, belt, or to fetch a cup from the cupboard — things they can figure out to do solo – and I adamantly refuse to assist.

Thus, out of necessity, each one must hone skills geared for achieving tasks that are just beyond their physical grasp and maturity level. And, with so many of them running around, I notice increased levels of mutual cooperation and exchanges of favors when Mama stays out of it. My older daughter helped put her brother to sleep the other night once they had realized I was unavailable and busy with the littlest one. These are small miracles that surely would never happen if I were to butt into every interaction.

My question:  Is it possible to foster too much independence and self-reliance? Is there such a thing?

If a child receives adequate love, physical and emotional support from their caretakers, are there any hazards to not (overly) coddling or pampering a child beyond infancy?

Is it cold-hearted on my part, wise parenting or just plain laziness?

Whatever you label it, I firmly believe my kids are stronger and better off for being taught to be independent!


Darah Zeledon aka The Warrior Mom is a wife, mom of 5, writer, fitness buff and thinker. Her unique voice reveals an experiential and academic knowledge of the social sciences—particularly psychology and sociology. Her empowering messages are born from an appreciation and passion for life and a nonstop quest for truth, reflecting a wisdom and resiliency earned by an array of challenging life experiences. Despite it all, Darah’s personal favorites are the quirky anecdotes exposing the chaotic tug-of-war between motherhood and personal passions. She’s currently working on her memoir—a tragic, yet inspiring story of the last five years of her life entitled: A Lucky Girl. You can read more of her musings at:

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  1. madmothermusings Report

    I agree that this is wise parenting. I’ve always taught my kids to be independent. I’ve always felt they should be as independent as possible. One day I won’t be there to pick up the slack. I want my children to gradually, as maturity dictates, grow into each new phase of childhood. I don’t let my 4 year old cut onions or cook soup alone, but she butters her own bread, and gets her own snacks out of the pantry. It is not inappropriate to allow a child to work within their maturity level. Great post!

  2. Darah Zeledon Report

    Thank you for your comments. It’s comforting to find camaraderie in other parents that are also on the same wave-length. From what I’ve read, you are all doing a stellar job, despite the hurdles, in cultivating self confidence and independence in your children. Bravo! DZ

  3. FamilyIgloo Report

    It is a very delicate balance to achieve. Too much laissez-faire approach can get the things out of control at older age.

  4. qjello Report

    I’m so happy to read this blog! I’m a mother of three…22,20 and 13. I tried to foster an independent approach with my two girls. I was always happy with their decisions, even tho others didn’t agree I should allow them to make their decisions. After high school, both of them chose to work before going on to college. The eldest just kind of roamed a bit, did this and that…but after her second year, she was “ready” and is doing well in a university. The younger daughter decided to move to the other side of the country and volunteered for an organization for two years. Basically life lessons were thrown at her left and right, but there wasn’t much I could do, but read her e mails of frustrations, and triumphs. Now she is on the same side of the country as us, and attending a University. Both daughters are happy and working hard towards their iife dreams. Now, my 3rd child, a son, is different. He WANTS to be independent…but doesn’t make good decisions…it’s hard not to be a laid back mom with him. That is my struggle for now. Thanks for reminding me that fostering independence is indeed a good thing.

  5. noelgiger Report

    I agree wholeheartedly! I think this is wise parenting. I always try to remember that we are raising adults, men and women, not children! The end goal is always in mind!

  6. PattiK Report

    I want my kids (adopted siblings from Russia) to be as independent as possible. I do sometimes feel like I’m being lazy, and sometimes I am! I love it when my I want my kids (adopted siblings from Russia) to be as independent as possible. I do sometimes feel like I’m being lazy, and sometimes I am! I love it when my son makes me something to eat! My son is 12 and he can make salads, scrambled eggs, clean the kitchen (the first pass anyway :); primarily he unloads the dishes and sometimes loads them. My 9 y/o daughter can make 3 loaves of bread from scratch, make a great chocolate cake with frosting from scratch (with minimal supervision) and decorate it with her cake decorating tools and she makes pancakes from scratch. My littlest 8 y/o daughter (who is about 6-7 emotionally, developmentally can set the table and wash dishes, picks weeds, puts wastebasket trash into big trash can, wash the table off and not get crumbs on the floor, vacuum with a little vacuum, help fold clothes [sic]…I want to foster their curiosity and promote responsibility. Sometimes it feels laid back, but mostly it is a lot harder to teach them than to do it for them. Doing it for them is irresponsible in my opinion. It is really hard to have them rewash the floor 5 times because they just want to say they did it, but don’t really do it well. It is surprising how good they feel (after the anger about redoing it) when they finally do it right. They have a smile from ear to ear. I am sitting right with them or doing with them. Nothing like washing the dishes and having them dry and put away as a family. They complain, but they are learning and having close time with me at the same time.

    Well, that’s my 2 cents!

  7. pianomom9 Report

    Warrior Mom,

    I admire your courage to go against the grain of mainstream society by having a large family, and believing in the basic good nature which all humans (even children) inherently possess. I too have a large family and have adopted (by necessity) a “laissez-faire” approach–I too share in the joy of seeing how the older children will pitch in and help when the need arises. Again, it goes against every [false] ideal our society and our media teach us. It seems parents are expected to helicopter, to micromanage, and to be EVERYTHING that our children could possibly need, and that a parent is inadequate if those horrendous demands are not met…again, TOTALLY FALSE!!! Thank you for your courage and your open and honest account of your parenting style. Keep it up!!!



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