Why My Son Needs Me to Be a Helicopter Parent

When I first embarked on this bizarre trip called motherhood, I swore up and down that I’d never turn into a helicopter parent.

Helicopter parents hover and buzz around their children, fussing and mothering them to smithereens. They do things like check and double-check to make sure Johnny studied for his spelling test, quiz him over a perfectly-balanced and obsessively-prepared breakfast, and then send multiple follow up e-mails to the teacher. Helicopter parents track their child’s every move via all the apps. Their whole world revolves around their children, because their children are their life — or so I thought.

I am not a fan of this parenting style. Not only do I feel it hinders normal development and personal growth, but mostly, ain’t nobody got time for that. While I am definitely a Type A, results-driven person, I have tried extremely hard to hold back and allow my children to learn from their mistakes. I believe that natural consequences are the best way to learn. I also have too many kids to be able to properly helicopter anyone.

However, one thing I’ve learned about parenthood is that if you dare utter the words “I would never …” then eventually, somehow, YOU WILL — which is why at this exact moment I’m eating my words. I apologize to fellow helicopter parents everywhere for my judgmental view of their parenting, because suddenly I’ve found myself in a situation where it’s necessary.

My oldest child is bright; the school he attends labeled him a “gifted learner.” He never struggled to make good grades, and so, even though I was given the login information to check his grades online three years ago when he started elementary school, I never logged on to look at them. Not once, in all this time.

“Only helicopter parents check their kid’s grades online,” I made the mistake of saying out loud. “I can find out his grades when he brings his report card home.” FAMOUS LAST WORDS.

I prided myself on my hands-off approach, and I thought I was doing what was best for my child. He struggles at home to stay focused and on task, and I already felt like I was micromanaging him through daily activities like tooth brushing. I felt no need to get involved with his schooling; that was the one area that I didn’t have to worry about, I thought, and I avoided doing so with relief.

We’ve long suspected that he struggles with an attention disorder; his father was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) as a child, and these things tend to be genetic. As long as his grades remained unaffected, and everyone stayed generally safe and happy, I was content to continue parenting as usual. But then, my comeuppance for all those years of wrinkling my nose at helicopter parents came in the form of a parent-teacher conference, and I found myself suddenly realizing that sometimes, kids need to be helicoptered to get to the next stage (or grade level).

In my avoidance of getting involved in his schoolwork, I’d somehow missed the fact that my child was failing third grade.

I am a good mom. A great mom, even. And I gotta say, finding out that I needed to step up my game was a truly humbling experience. When his teacher asked me, “Have you checked his grades online lately?” and I responded with “I’ve never checked his grades online,” her eyes widened. My eyes widened back.

Oh, shit.

Where is the line between teaching your child autonomy and helicoptering? My answer is that it doesn’t exist. It’s a gray area, a feeling in your gut, an ever-changing, invisible thing. Which is why, from now on, I won’t be judging other parents for how they choose to parent. Today, I am a proud helicopter parent. Tomorrow, or maybe next month, or next year, maybe I won’t have to be anymore. The thing about motherhood is that it’s always changing, and we have to change with it.

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