Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fast Food, Failure and Fun

I promised myself I'd never be a "helicopter" mom who hovers over her kids. Or a "curling" mom, aggressively sweeping the floor in front of her precious brood, smoothing all bumps and obstacles to help them glide safely and easily through life. Before I even had kids, I took a vow never to check their homework unless they asked for help. I promised myself I'd make them get jobs after they got their drivers' licenses if they wanted to drive regularly (gas costs money, and money should be earned). I swore I wouldn't be overly involved in their extracurricular activities ("Why isn't he getting more playing time, coach?") or try to boost their grades for them ("What can she do to get extra credit, teach?"). And I promised I'd let them quit the sports and activities they really didn't like—or completely bombed. I'd let them fail. A little failure is crucial to becoming resilient and successful in the long run, right? I quit volleyball after just one season and Girl Scouts after two and turned out pretty well.

The problem is, all these promises I made to myself were for my school-aged children. Until recently, I didn't even realize you could be a "helicopter" mom of a baby, toddler or pre-schooler. But you can! Even when you're consciously trying not to. Here's how it happened to me:

I get daily emails from parenting sites with subject lines like Toddler Spanking: Don’t!, Is Your Child Getting Enough Protein?, Health and Safety Concerns, and Playtime Tips for Babies. (First of all, how'd these sites get my email address? Second of all, I feel guilty for not opening all the emails, like I'm not doing my best as a parent by ignoring the expert advice. But the subject lines themselves make me feel terrible! I've spanked my kids, I prefer meatless meals . . .) I once received a "child tracking device" as a baby shower gift. (Huh?) I also received plenty of big, loud, light-up toys that claimed to be educational—Enhances hand-eye coordination! Develops language skills! Encourages a love of music!—which sold me on the idea that I had to stimulate my babies with them or they'd fall behind. The toys, the emails, everything you're "supposed" to buy, use or do to keep your little ones safe—they turned me into a "helicopter" baby-mom and I didn't even realize it!

When I finally figured out what was happening to me, I blocked the emails and began ignoring the baby industry's ads for its latest "educational" toys and even baby-proofing gadgets. (If my kid slams his fingers in a drawer, maybe he'll learn a lesson about closing drawers more slowly or removing his fingers first. With a gizmo that stops the drawer from closing completely, he'll never learn anything. Am I crazy?)

Even worse than the expert emails, toys and new "safety" contraptions is the pressure from other parents to hover. This happened today:

There's a girl in Evie's tumbling class whose mom follows her around the entire time, helping her on the balance beam and coaching her through every obstacle course, while the rest of the parents sit on the bleachers and watch—or leave the gym and go for a walk, like I sometimes do. Today, before class started, this little girl and Evie were squabbling about something, and I didn't interfere right away. I normally keep quiet to see if the kids can solve the problems themselves. But this girl's mom shot me a look that made me feel obligated to step in—to hover! (I didn't. But I felt judged. This mom was in between the two of them before I even had time to stand up. Never mind that there were two coaches right there who are paid to keep the kids in line and could have handled the dispute themselves, if they had to. I guess they didn't feel the need to jump in right away, either.) How will kids of "helicopter" moms ever learn to overcome real-life obstacles if they don't learn to solve their own problems now?

Also, someone asked me why I let Evie eat McDonald's once. More judgment.

Speaking of fast food, I took Evie and Maddox to Burgerville for dinner tonight. Since taking a stand against "helicopter" parenting, I've also realized that not every bite my kids take needs to be of kale or quinoa. And that not everything I do, say or feed them will screw them up. A little fast food, a little failure, a little fun—maybe it's what we all need.

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