You may have read “Helicopter Parenting: The Temptation is Real, Part I” and were enlightened of some areas in which you may ever-so-slightly be hovering. After you gently soothed your bruised ego, you began consciously, working towards becoming a lighthouse parent; a parent who is communicating, connected, and a source of wisdom and guidance. Remember, there is no shame here. I give total grace to the Helicopter Parent for I, too, used to be one. I continue to feel and struggle to resist the temptation today. Helicopter parents are well – meaning parents who deeply love their kids. However, I believe helicopter parents are also frustrated parents. They are often wondering why their constant reminders, threats, and/or punishments are not producing more responsible behavior.
There are times when you are your child’s only advocate. Before moving on, I must stress the importance of the fact that you oversee making sure your child is healthy and functioning developmentally on target. As a mother, when our instincts tell us something is wrong, we must follow that instinct and have our child evaluated by a doctor or other professional. When your child has a learning or developmental disability, you will need to take an active role in getting support measures in place at school and home, as well as, the treatment your child needs to function at his or her best.
As a parent, you may be wondering about specific situations you are struggling with. How does a parent know when to take action and interfere or when to give guidance and let go? In general, once a child reaches high school, we are there for them as a resource, give guidance and support, but, they learn to make their own decisions and experience the full consequences. The rules are fully communicated, and everyone is clear on the expectation. The parent discusses those rules once broken and, a logical consequence is given. But, because so many situations are unique, I have made a list of questions that may help guide you in knowing when to get involved and take action.
If you answer “yes” to the first two questions, you will need to take a more involved role as a parent. The subsequent questions, #3-11, should alert you to the possible root of your temptation to hover and help you resist the urge.
- Is my child’s life in danger?
- Does my child have a disability or diagnosis that is requiring more parental or educational support? (If so, take action and seek a professional’s help.)
- Is this about my own potential embarrassment or image? The parenting ego is often the fuel for helicopter parents. We must not look at our children for validation or as indicators of our own performance.
- Is this about my son realizing MY dreams for him or his own dreams and goals? Some of us have goals or destinations for our child that have never even been discussed or verbalized by the child himself. Then, we wonder “Why aren’t they more motivated?” Famous psychiatrist, Carl Jung, said, “The greatest harm to a child is the unlived life of the parent.”
- Is this about me wanting things done my way, the right way, or the easier-for-me way? In the South, we say, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Their own path can be the path to learning. The obstacles and the “That sure didn’t go like I planned!” is what made you develop your way in the first place. Allow them to do the same.
- If I take care of this situation for her, will she be better equipped next time it should happen?
- If I play out the worst-case scenario in this situation, what will happen to my child? What could my child learn from it?
- Am I wanting to control the situation because I want my child to be well liked or popular? It can be hard to watch a child be left out. Often, it is our child’s choice or due to our child’s lack of social skills. We also want our child to learn to trust their own instincts. Your child may know more than you about the attitudes and behaviors of other kids. I learned this the hard way when I, in an effort to be inclusive, forced my daughter to invite every girl in her class to her birthday sleepover. The two she didn’t want to invite caused so much drama, it practically ruined her birthday party. Lesson learned! Similar situations came up again and again over the next ten years. It is possible you could be encouraging your child to hang out with kids who are unkind or making poor choices.
- Would my spouse (or a significant other) say I am micro-managing my child? And if so, is it effective? Is your child functioning more responsibly because of it? Is your relationship happier and healthier?
- Has your child already suffered natural consequences? If so, no need to give another consequence or punishment. Empathize with how bad it feels to suffer for our mistakes. We have all been there and will be there again. If you tell your best friend about how badly you messed up at work and the humiliation you suffered as a natural consequence, would it help for her to yell at you about how horrible your mistake was or if she refused to spend time with you? Probably not. Would it damage your relationship with her? Absolutely.
- Is this a typical developmental behavior or a problematic behavior? Typical teenage behavior may require an open, frank discussion with plenty of guidance on potential dangers. Problematic behavior may require professional help. Here are some examples according to the book by Harvey and Rathbone, Parenting a Teen Who Has Intense Emotions:
- Returning from school and staying in his room most of the evening versus Sleeping whenever not at school
- Experimenting sexually with another high school peer versus Meeting sexual partners from the internet in secret
- Fighting with his parents versus Breaking things or acting aggressively when limits are set
- Experiencing stress at school, feeling overwhelmed, getting behind on assignments versus Refusing to go to school
- Trying alcohol at a teenage party versus Drinking alcohol when alone at home
After reading these questions, you have decided NOT to interfere and take the actions you had originally considered. If you resist the urge to interfere, what might a common scenario at your house look like? It may go something like this:
You check the online grade book and see your daughter’s grades are not where they should be in Algebra II and there are three missing assignments. You are livid! You want to fire off a text to her right now but, you resist and wait. That evening, you ask to speak with her. You casually ask her how her classes are going, specifically, algebra. You inquire about her grades and ask if she is turning in all her assignments. You remain calm and cool listening to her answers. She tells you that everyone is doing poorly in algebra II and the teacher simply cannot teach. She also explains there are some grades not put into the gradebook but, she has done all her work. You ask if she is finding enough time to study and do her work. You ask if she thinks she needs any help, such as, a math tutor. She tells you no, she’s fine and she has it all under control. You discuss her going to the teacher to ask the teacher what she can do to bring up her grade. She reluctantly and dismissively agrees. You resist the urge to contact the teacher yourself. You let your daughter know you are holding her responsible and are letting it go but, you will have to step in if the grade is not brought up when report cards are issued. Then, you sit back and watch and wait (and bite your tongue!). She may come to you in a few days and talk about it. In a week or two, you may casually ask how it’s going. Otherwise, you don’t remind her about homework or tests or grades or potential consequences. This communicates faith in her abilities and gives her an opportunity to find a way to work it out. In addition, her buttons are not being pushed by your micro-managing therefore, she feels less beaten down, more motivated, and will not resist putting forth effort purely out of spite. When report cards are issued, either A) She has brought up her grade and proved to you she can work it out on her own. Meanwhile, you have experienced a calmer household for the past several weeks. OR B) She did not bring her grade up and you issue a logical consequence; a consequence which will also support her bringing up her grade for the next grading period.
I hope this helps you understand how being a lighthouse parent works in regard to a concerning behavior. You are connected and communicating but, not taking action to fix it for your child. This can be very difficult. It is for me.
I would love to give you a scenario for every behavior which concerns you, but that is not possible. The best parents get creative. They realize not every one of their children is treated the same or parented alike. They realize that the same consequence is not given for every offense. For that matter, a consequence does not have to always be given. I have read lots of literature that says punishment or loss of privileges do not work. I don’t know if I am in total agreement but, I do know that sometimes, TLC and extra support are what is most effective.
It is important to stop, weigh the pros and cons, and explore other possible avenues to get the results you want. We all are familiar with the saying by Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for ya?” And, Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It is always a good time to try something new. Maya Angelou may have said it best, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Remember, God entrusted you with your specific child. He knit your child together in your womb (Psalm 139:13). If your child is adopted, He ordained for your particular paths to unite. No matter the situation, He chose YOU to be your child’s Lighthouse Parent. You’ve got this!~