What Makes a Helicopter Parent?

What makes a Helicopter Parent

We All Have Moments of Helicopter Parenting.

The dictionary defines a helicopter parent as someone “who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.”

The urban dictionary says it’s, “A parent who is overly involved in the life of their child. They tend to hover over their every movement and decision. Often they take control and do tasks on their behalf. They also enjoy broadcasting the details and events of their child’s life to anyone who will listen. Helicopter parents do not ease up with age. As the child grows up, the tighter their grasp becomes.”

We all know helicopter parents, and maybe you are one. But we all have our helicopter moments probably more than we’d like to admit. 

But hey, no shame. Parenting is stressful.

Over-parenting or hyper-parenting is locked in as a modern times parenting style and considered quite normal among many high-achieving parents. To these parents, letting your child fail, struggle or suffer on any level, is synonymous with child abuse and neglect.

Helicopter parents believe:

  • “My child’s failure is my failure.”
  • “My job as a parent is to do whatever it takes to ensure my child’s success.”  

I’ve known a few doozy helicopter moms. One who made her daughter take naps in the afternoon while on a ski vacation when she was 12. Another mom who moved her son into a hotel when he got sick in college. She brought soups from home and stayed in the room next door so she could take care of him. Another who screamed at the baseball coach when her son was 10 because he hadn’t been in the game and they were 17 points ahead. That one would be me.

We all have our helicopter moments.

What is a helicopter parent? 

Let’s define what a helicopter parent is before we discuss why people end up helicoptering in the first place.

When you are helicopter parenting, you are overly involved with your child, to their detriment. You can’t stop yourself. You feel if you step back, it’s going to hurt your child’s chances for success. You don’t believe your child can do it without you. You think your role as the parent is to sacrifice your needs and wants for your child’s needs and wants. You see every obstacle in their way, and you’re lightning quick to remove them, without thinking twice about the repercussions. You don’t care what people think of you. All you care about is your child.

A helicopter parent is someone who:

  • Does their child’s homework
  • Writes their college essays
  • Pays them to get good grades
  • Emails teachers and coaches when their child is struggling
  • Stops everything when their child calls
  • Talks constantly about their child’s successes to everyone
  • Answers questions posed to their child
  • Makes decisions for the child

In short, a helicopter parent is controlling every aspect of their child’s life.

Why?

Here’s where we need compassion. When my 10-year-old son wasn’t put in the game, I marched up to the coach and yelled, “What the f@&! is your problem? This is B-ball, and we’re 17 points ahead. Why isn’t my son playing?”

Not my shining moment.

I was the angry mother protecting my son. Or was I? I was suffering because I thought my son was hurting, and I needed to stop the suffering in him to end the suffering in me.

Getting my son in the game would make ME feel better. I couldn’t stand how it made me feel that he was sidelined. I didn’t take into consideration how yelling at the coach would embarrass him. My reactivity was doing all the feeling, thinking and doing. Only later when I calmed down, did I get some perspective.

See where I’m going with this?

A helicopter parent doesn’t want their child to suffer because their child’s suffering is triggering suffering in them.

Why do some parents feel compelled to manage, control, infiltrate every aspect of their child’s life?

The answer is unique to each parent’s internal story, but helicopter parenting is a reactive parenting style. It’s how some parents protect themselves from emotional discomfort. Over-involvement or hyper-parenting comes from feelings of fear and anxiety the parent is not addressing. So managing the source of the pain (your child), seems the easiest way to solve inner-discomfort. Most parents don’t realize their discomfort has nothing to do with their child, and has everything to do with their inner child. 

We manage our child to manage our inner world.

Managing your child makes perfect sense. If the helicopter parent makes sure their child is well fed and dressed, has friends, gets good grades, then the parent feels successful. Safe. 

But when things aren’t going well, the parent feels uncomfortable, sometimes intolerable feelings, so the pattern of managing the child is repeated over until it’s the parent’s go-to stress reliever strategy, never realizing their stress has nothing to do with their child. 

So we helicopter parent to manage and control the potential of suffering in the parent.

A helicopter parent keeps their attention on how their child makes them feel. 

  • “When my child suffers, I suffer.”
  • “When my child is successful, I am successful.”

If this rings true to you, I recommend that you practice allowing yourself to feel the feeling your child triggers in you BEFORE you parent.

The Practice

Gently Notice when you are triggered. 

  • What does it feel like in your body when you want to over-parent?
  • What thoughts do you think?
  • What do you want to do?

Try something new. Do it differently when this feeling comes is triggered in you.

Once the feeling calms down, then go back to your child and ask questions. Be curious. Don’t have the answers. Notice what it feels like to not control the situation. Ask your child:

  • What do you want to do?
  • How do you want to handle this?
  • What do you think?
  • How do you feel?
  • Is there anything I can do to help you?

Then listen to what they have to say.

And listen to what it feels like to not intervene. 

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