Letting Go of “Helicopter Mom”

I’ve always been a total helicopter mom.  A “stage-five clinger,” if you will.

I don’t know why I’m so paranoid about Caroline hurting herself.  Maybe it’s just that I’m super uptight about everything, which I am, or the fact that she was gross motor-delayed and still kind of has two left feet, or maybe the whole NICU thing started me off with this parenting thing on the wrong foot, feeling like I could lose her.  Whatever.  The point is, I hover.  Always have.  While other kids are running freely around the playground, I’m fast-walking after my kid and trying to keep a non-crazy distance from her so that the other moms don’t judge me while still staying close enough to (hopefully) prevent her from cracking her head open.

I think about this a lot, actually.  I don’t want her to have issues from my overprotectiveness, but I don’t want her to get hurt, either.  It’s a fine line and I haven’t really figured out how to walk it.

This past Friday, I was at an amusement park for a dental implant conference (random, I know, but don’t ask) and once it was over, all of the residents had a free pass to the park for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  I had to leave to get Caroline from daycare.  I thought, hey, she’s too little for the rides, but why not bring her back and see how she likes the park? So I did.

I got her a hot dog for dinner.  (I am also extremely uptight about her diet, so we don’t do hot dogs in our house.)  She loved it.  Her GI tract did not explode and she did not develop any sort of mysterious hot dog-induced cancer.  (Yet.  As far as I know.)  Then I took her on the kiddie carousel.  I set her on a horse, buckled her in, and held onto her for dear life as the carousel started turning.

She loved it.  Like, loved it.  I relaxed.  We rode that thing over and over until she wanted a different ride.

Then we went to the kiddie swings.  I asked the guy who was running it nervously if she was big enough and he rolled his eyes and said “she’s tall enough but it’s your call, miss” without looking at me.  I buckled her in (with her stuffed Pooh Bear, who she refused to leave behind) and made myself go stand behind the gate.

Again… she was loving it.  The ride stopped and she cried “Mommy!!” so I ran behind the gate and knelt down beside her swing.  ”You want to get off?” I asked her, half-relieved.

“NO!!” she yelled.  ”AGAIN!!  A different color swing!”

She rode the swings again and again, laughing her head off and loving life.  I relaxed again.  I stood behind the gate and watched her.  And she did great.

We rode a few other kiddie rides together and had a blast.  After each ride she would say to me, “I not ready to go home yet, okay Mommy?  I not ready yet.”  You know… just in case I was getting any ideas about leaving.

Putting aside my anxiety about her hurting herself or getting lost or whatever I thought was going to happen was really freeing, and I had so much fun watching her experience all the amusement park stuff for the first time.  I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun at a place like that… not even when I was a kid myself.  And she had so much fun that she hasn’t stopped talking about it ever since.

So from now on, when I feel the urge to hover, I’m really going to try to keep it to a minimum.  She’ll get bumps and bruises, but as long as she’s safe, that’s okay.

And we’re definitely going back to the amusement park.

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  1. by Jen

    On August 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    I’m glad that you both had fun. It’s amazing how much fun we, as moms, have watching our kids have fun. I took Matt to the rides at the beach tonight. As he’s riding the airplane ride, I was waving like a lunatic, smiling from ear to hear and yelling “Go buddy! Look at you ride that plane! Yayyyyyy!!!”. I’m sure I looked like a doofus to nonparents, but I didn’t care one bit and enjoyed myself way too much!

    Good for you challening yourself to be “different” than you normally are. It’s hard to get out of our comfort zone! I’m glad Caroline liked it and that you will go back!

  2. by Richard

    On August 7, 2011 at 8:29 am

    Hi Julia, thanks for commenting on my Red-Hot Parenting piece — and for writing this one! This was so cool!! I especially loved how your daughter made sure you knew that it wasn’t time to go yet! You asked a great question in response to my post — at what age does a parent start to get a sense of how well their style meshes with their child’s personality? I think it’s in the toddler years, because toddlers are so equipped to express themselves behaviorally, socially, and verbally — and they want to exert their independence. So it’s a great developmental period to do what you are doing — mess around a little bit with your parenting style and see what your child does with it. And as you describe, you can find a real comfort zone for both of you!

  3. by KatieCJ

    On August 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

    Julia! She’s so adorable.
    I’m bringing Jake to county fair in a couple weeks and they have rides, I hope he likes them!

    I love how she said she wasn’t ready to leave. That’s so sweet.

  4. by Katie H

    On August 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    J- I am admitting here and now I am a hoverer too. It is turning B into quite the scaredy cat so I am trying to be more adventurous and less cautious. I am so glad Caro and you had a great afternoon at the amusement park!

  5. by Lynn H

    On August 8, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Everyone hovers in some way unless you’re an uncaring parent. It’s your job to worry and wonder and second guess. My husband thought I was a lunatic but when my boys were around 10-12 (they’re 18 mos apart) I finally let them ride their bikes about 2 miles to the park. 1 mile up our residential street and one mile down a 4 lane street that was pretty busy. I surreptitiously followed them in my friends car so they wouldn’t know I was watching them. They did fine. No one snatched them, no one ran them over but I would NEVER have been able to NOT follow them. They lived and are now happy and in their 30′s!

  6. by Lynn H

    On August 8, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Everyone hovers in some way unless you’re an uncaring parent. It’s your job to worry and wonder and second guess. My husband thought I was a lunatic but when my boys were around 10-12 (they’re 18 mos apart) I finally let them ride their bikes about 2 miles to the park. 1 mile up our residential street and one mile down a 4 lane street that was pretty busy. I surreptitiously followed them in my friends car so they wouldn’t know I was watching them. They did fine. No one snatched them, no one ran them over but I would NEVER have been able to NOT follow them. They lived and are in their 30′s!

  7. by Merks

    On August 8, 2011 at 8:30 am

    LOL Being with Stasa for that weekend must have given you nightmares. Nothing like a cut frenulum to make play time that much more fun. Lucky for us, our friendly dentist was nearby. ;)

  8. by Katie

    On August 9, 2011 at 9:58 am

    I really appreciated this post (and needed it). I am the same way and have started seeing that my son is picking up cues from my behavior. He’s scared at the pool. He thinks we always need to be right there with him. I want him to be safe but I also want him to be independent! And with the season for swimming and playing at the park, we really do need to push ourselves to let out a bit of extra rope and see how they do. (You know, rope from those imaginary harnesses by which we helicopter parents are connected to our kids!) Good for you… and a good reminder for me!

  9. by Mary

    On August 13, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I love your blog, feeling as if I am in the same position, I am in my last year of school with a 14 month old, loving every second of being with her but it is EXTREMELY hard!! Is there anyway to get your blog sent directly to my email?

  10. by Julia

    On August 16, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Hi Mary! I asked my editor about that for you so I’ll let you know if there is a way to do that. Good luck with school! :)

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  12. by Grady Pruitt

    On August 26, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    I’m glad to hear you had a lot of fun!

    It can be hard to watch, but giving them the chance to fail and to learn from that failure is one thing that can really help build their self esteem. A few months back, I was at the park with my toddler as he was learning to climb the rock wall. At first, I did hover, but as he got better, I started backing off. Now, he can climb it without any help.

    I still keep an eye on him and stay close if he needs help, but I always let him try to do things on his own. I’ll even try to encourage him to try different things. Sometimes, I have to do it with him once or twice, but later, he has fun doing it himself.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!