This week, I saw yet another piece online about the evils of helicopter parenting. The gist was something along the lines of how if you know where your kids are at all times it’s a bad thing. Of course, I couldn’t resist a rant.
I think we’re missing the boat when we obsess about how much time we spend with our kids. Do I know where my kids are at all times? My daughter is at school most days, and my twin toddlers? Yes, I have a general sense of where they are at all times, because a) I can hear them yelling and knocking things around as little boys are apt to do, and b) because during those times I have left them to their own devices for too long I have had to call poison control, I have had to patch up a bloody head wound, and I have had to pick up various other disasters – some of which were very expensive disasters, I might add.
Do I hover around my kids’ every move? Of course not. How would I get anything done around the house? Do I know generally what they are doing and where they are? Of course I do. For example, right now I am upstairs typing this, and they are downstairs ramming trucks into the wall and each other. Am I a bad parent because I know where they are? No. Again, I think we are focusing too much on whether or not we let our kids be free-range kids. How about instead we focus on setting good examples for our kids and teaching them how to behave responsibly and act independently through our own words and deeds.
Do you know how many people I have heard spout off the latest research on parenting independent kids who then turn around and behave like a complete ass toward their own kid or other people? They can tell you how long you should leave your child alone to encourage self-sufficiency, and they can tell you how to foster academic genius. They can tell you how they are following all of these and other parenting rules. And then they will turn around and curse out another adult in front of their kids for taking their parking space. Or, they will berate the referee at their kids’ sporting event publicly and crudely. Or, they will berate their own child in a horrifyingly demeaning way in the grocery store or elsewhere.
Is it possible that we are missing the boat on what creates messed up kids? Is it possible that it’s not our over-involvement that is creating a generation of irresponsible, self-centered, and rude children, but that the example we are setting through our own behavior is far more instructive to our children than time by themselves could ever be?
I’m not saying you should be all up in your kids’ business every second. You absolutely shouldn’t. They need to learn how to self-entertain. They need to know how to think for themselves. They need to be able to act for themselves. And, they need to learn to do all of these things while also learning how to be a part of a larger community where they are not the center of the universe. As parents, it’s our job to teach them all of that. To do this, we can either embrace the latest parenting fads and mantras or we can throw the book out and take a good hard look at ourselves. Because every action we take and every reaction we have teaches our children a lesson.
So instead of counting how much time our children spend on their own as a way to teach them independence, how about we let them try and fail at things that challenge them – both with and without us? How about in those instances where they fail we teach them how to fail gracefully and to come up with a plan for moving forward? How about we teach them the value of money by teaching them about the importance of earning it and saving it? How about we teach them that the entire world doesn’t revolve around them by making sure that they share, by giving them responsibility, and by showing them what it’s like to be part of a larger community? How about we demonstrate – through our own words and deeds – the concept of respecting themselves and others? Because at the end of the day, you can embrace all of the parenting theories you want, but if you don’t model the behaviors and values you want your child to learn, none of the rest of it matters.
What about you – what do you think the most important lesson we can teach our children is? How do you teach your own children self-sufficiency and independence?
Shannon Hembree is a SAHM of a first grader and twin toddlers and the co-founder of Mamas Against Drama. She is pretty confident that if you saw her boys in this moment – one carrying a toy sword and sporting only underpants, and the other in shorts falling down so low it is inappropriate – you would not accuse her of being an aggressively involved parent. Her goal is to raise children who are self-sufficient enough to move out and support themselves the minute they finish college. You can follow her on Twitter @Shannon1Hembree.
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