Wikipedia defines "Helicopter Parent" as a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's experiences and problems, named so because they hover, in need of control.
I pride myself in not being a helicopter parent. For example, I am completely comfortable allowing my youngest to wear his t-shirt backwards and mismatched socks. I hardly ever criticize when my middle uses too much hair gel or consumes three cheese sticks even though he really shouldn't. And I almost never comment on the content of my oldest's text messages or her mascara application techniques. They have to learn, right?
But something changed the night before my daughter and husband left for a fabulous, 9-day ecological tour in Costa Rica. The weeks leading up to the trip were full of excitement and shopping for travel-size everything. All the while, I was repressing, purposely ignoring the feeling of panic at the thought of my 13 year old daughter being almost a whole continent away. (Did you know that Central America is actually considered to be part of North America?)
"She'll be with her dad. He's really responsible. There will be tour guides and drivers and lots of other people. She'll be FINE!" Those are the statements I replayed over and over until the night before. Until it didn't matter. Until I panicked!
"What if the zip line fails? What if the horse she gets for their ride doesn't like blondes? What if a crocodile bites her hand off during the crocodile tour? What if she gets (insert tropical name here) fever?" Those are the questions that raced through my mind the night before. It was a dark and scary moment.
So I had two choices: I could give my daughter some gentle safety reminders about the zip line, the horses, the crocodiles and the bugs, certain to scare her, and I could voice my concerns to my husband who knows fully well how to parent and protect her, certain to insult him, OR I could identify the root of my irrational fears...that the trip would be full of experiences over which I had no control. Would being a hovering (even-from-a-distance), worrying mom give me any more control over the situation? Or would it just make me a fun-vampire?
Being a helicopter parent usually has more to do with the parent's need for control than the child's need for support. A few weeks ago, as I teetered on the verge of hypocritically hovering, that distinction became very clear.
So from now on, when you hear the helicopter blades start spinning, ask yourself who benefits. If the answer is you more than them, think again. Our job is to teach our children how to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, safe from risky, it's to foster their self-confidence, and demonstrate how to care for the people we love without controlling them.
(On a side note, they made it home safely, all limbs intact, with no strange illnesses and they had an amazing time.)