Over the last several months, as working parents have had to take on roles usually performed by teachers, coaches and school nurses—all while working full-time—we have become overextended and overwhelmed. Even those of us who never considered ourselves helicopter or lawnmower parents have found ourselves hovering over every aspect of our children’s lives. Even most of us who have always been hoverers would like nothing more than to have our co-pilots back.
During this pandemic, I’ve been continually inspired by parents who have taken the opportunity of increased time together to bake family bread and plant family gardens. It made me think that, as our parenting culture seems to be evolving, we might also take this opportunity to change the flight plan on our helicopter habits.
When our children are around us 24/7, it can feel impossible to manage every moment of their lives. This is a good thing! Once our children are safe and well cared for, we need to be able to get our own work done and enjoy some alone time.
With the following tips, course correcting your parenting style doesn’t have to be painful. And it might be just the thing that helps you achieve the balance you’ve been seeking.
Let it go.
Allow your kids to learn to self-monitor by letting go of strict rules around screen use, bedtime, eating and diet. This means you can stop being the Screen time-Homework- Bedtime-Food Warden.
So, in the case of screen time, ask your child how much screen time per day they think is appropriate and how they plan to monitor it. Whatever their response is, say: “Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.”
This new navigation is a process. You’ll have to back off of peppering them with “How long have you been on your tablet?” and “Only one more hour!” types of questions and comments. If their own monitoring doesn’t work out, you can suggest they enable “Screen Time” if they have an Apple device, or hear their own ideas on how to make their system work better.
You are teaching your child a skill, and like any skill development, it’s going to take some time. But once they learn to keep themselves in check without you constantly on top of them, they’ll be able to apply that valuable skill to a host of other situations, making life a whole lot more manageable for you and them.
Give kids more responsibility.
Sometimes it can feel easier to just do things yourself, but we’re not doing kids any favors by denying them the opportunity to take on responsibilities. Giving your kids a “longer leash” allows them to feel less controlled, more capable and more respected. So what does that look like?
If you’re like most moms, you hear “Mom, can you make me a snack?” countless times in a day. New course: this helicopter does not need a flight attendant. Children are perfectly capable of managing when, how much and what they eat. Older kids can learn to prepare their own meals, but even young children can open up the fridge and grab a snack. The key is to leave them some options (little baggies or containers work great for this). That way, they still have some choice and control over what and when they eat.
Have family meetings.
Especially as you make changes, it’s important to talk with your children about them. Discuss with them what more lenient rules might look like (e.g., Mom won’t enforce a bedtime, but kids will be responsible for setting an alarm and being ready for school on time). Establish expectations and boundaries together to create buy-in. It’s important that all family members feel included in the process.
Then, learn what works best for all of you through trial and error. Ask your kids for their feedback (“How is this working for you?”) and continue to involve all family members as you adjust your flight plan to fit the needs of your family.
Stop second-guessing every parenting move.
If you’ve ever lain awake at night convincing yourself you’re a terrible mother, you’re not alone. At one time or another, most of us have been harder on ourselves than is warranted. It’s OK to make mistakes. In fact, it’s important for your children to see the adults around them acknowledge their errors and see how they go about correcting them. By remaining fluid with rules, you know that if you’re veering off course, you can quickly re-right yourself.
When you second-guess every parenting decision you make, you’re robbing yourself of the joy of parenting.
Backing off from helicopter parenting helps kids to develop important skills like self-reliance and problem-solving. And, as the parent, you’ll get to watch from a distance and take pride in their growth and accomplishments. Maybe a new flight plan will help you in grounding the helicopter altogether.
As the mother of two young adults, Susan G. Groner knows how stressful and overwhelming parenting can be at times. She founded The Parenting Mentor to provide an ally for parents in their quest to raise confident and resilient children. Sue is also the author of the forthcoming book Parenting with Sanity and Joy: 101 Simple Strategies (The Collective Book Studio; On-Sale: October 2020) and creator of the CLEARR™ method of parenting, developed through years of trial (and her fair share of errors!) with her own family. CLEARR™ adheres to the belief that parenting strategies should be grounded in six important pillars: Communication, Love, Empathy, Awareness, Rules and Respect. This has become the cornerstone of her practice as The Parenting Mentor. Sue is available for individual sessions, groups and workshops for corporations and can be found online at theparentingmentor.com.