Somewhere along the way, my parenting style has shifted. In the last year or so, I’ve grown from being a fairly “Free Range” type of mom who gives consequences into more of a Helicopter Parent who does too much for her child. In the bargain, I’ve also gotten really wishy-washy when it comes to consequences. Just how did this happen?
I think the dial started creeping toward “Softie/Helicopter Mom” a few years ago, when my now 9-year-old son was bullied at school. This triggered a lot of anxiety in him, and subsequently in me — I was right back in school myself, feeling all of his feelings and going through the pain with him. My husband and I worked on helping Alex get some coping skills, but I have to admit, I felt like I was out of control, on shaky ground as a parent for the better part of a year. It amazes me how easily I crashed through those emotional boundaries and jumped right into his “box” with him, as Debbie Pincus, author of The Calm Parent, warns against. My son is finally finding his way, bit by bit — he’s able to stand up for himself and has even decided to become friends with a kid who used to tease him — but I’ve had a hard time letting go of my own anxiety.
As a result, I know I do too much for him, frequently, even though we’re not in crisis mode anymore. My thinking goes like this: “He’s watching his favorite show, I’ll just clean his room for him. He’s happy and why bother him? It will be faster, anyway.” (There’s another voice inside my head that says, “You know, he really should be doing this himself,” but I’ve become pretty good at tuning it out.) To borrow Debbie’s language again, you could say I’m over-functioning for my son — doing things for him that he can do for himself. And what’s worse, I’ve gradually fallen into the trap of letting him get away with a lot of inappropriate behavior. Afterward, I give him way too many “warnings” rather than simply stand firm with some real consequences.
So this year, I am going to try to stop over-functioning for my son so much, and start letting him make his own choices — and then allow him to deal with the consequences. (And here’s the tricky part: I then will have to follow through on said consequences.)
In the end, I have to let go and trust that yes, he needs to learn how to make his own choices about how to behave — but he’s the one who will have to live with the consequences in the end, whether they’re good or bad.
I guess in some ways, what I’m really talking about here is that I need to let him grow up and learn how to make his own choices.
What are your parenting resolutions this year? What needs to change — and what are you getting right?
About Elisabeth Wilkins
Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.