Dear Helicopter Moms, You’re Ruining It for Everyone Else

She’s standing there under my 3-year-old, arms aloft like she’s at church waiting for God to drop a truth bomb on her. Baby Bear monkey-shimmies six foot metal ladder.

“Do you know whose he is?” she asks me, almost breathless with terror.

“He’s mine,” I say. “And he’s been climbing that ladder since he was two.”

She goggles at me. And then I know I’m doomed: she’s a hoverer. And unless I hover over my kids, she’ll do it for me, not-so-silently judging me all the time. Thanks for ruining my mama playdate, lady.

Because there are two kinds of parents at the park.

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I take my kids to the park a lot. I do it for a few reasons — so they can play with other kids, so they can negotiate a world on their own. They learn to test their bodies: can I climb this ladder? If not, too bad — maybe next time. They learn to run and scream and make friends and do all those things kids do at parks while I sit and talk to mama friends. Because that’s what I do at parks. I talk to my mama friends and make sure, from a safe distance, that no one’s killing anyone else.

I take my kids to the park for a lot of reasons, but I don’t take them there to play with them. This, apparently, makes me nigh worthy of social services intervention. At least, to the other type of parent at the park. Those are the hoverers.

No bench-warmers, these park hoverers. They come to the park for one reason: to play with their kids. And not at a distance, either. They come to the park to coax Junior up the stairs and down the slide, to bounce him gently on the seesaw, and to swing him endlessly on the swing. No climbing up the slide for him. No testing tall ladders, or tettering near edges, or generally doing whatever it is kids do at the park. I wouldn’t know. I’m not six.

The rounded plastic edges of every playground in America aren’t enough for these moms. Neither is the rubberized or mulched ground. They need to be right there, preferably with arms open to catch a stumbling tot. They adhere to age recommendations. And they ruin it for the rest of us.

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It always happens like this: I’ll be sitting on a picnic table with a bunch of like-minded mama friends. One may even be — gasp! — knitting, while the most heartless harpy among us checks looks at her cell phone. A child — usually my youngest — tries to scramble up onto a platform just a little too large for him.

“Where’s your mommy?” I hear the high faux-nice voice say. “I’ll help you up.” And she looks around for someone to stinkeye.

This means that I have to haul my carcass up off the bench and spot my kid, because if he can’t get up on his own, he certainly can’t get down.

These are also the moms who hover theatrically under my children when they attempt to climb ladders, or scale rock walls, or swing from monkey bars. The helicopter moms stand there, arms held aloft, frantically looking for the mother to blame. “He’s making me nervous,” they might self-deprecatingly titter.

The hoverers strictly enforce Park Rules, the unwritten ones everyone else ignores. Up the stairs and down the slide: they’ll say it loud and often. They’ll side-eye my kids until I get up and manage, “Let’s not climb up the slide, kids.” Even though climbing up the slide, as long as there’s no line, is half of what the slide is for. No sticks on the playground. No wrestling on the playground. No throwing pinecones, even when they aren’t aimed at anyone. No bare feet. No bare chests (hey, my kid got his shirt wet at the splash pad).

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And NO playing in the mud, which just sets a bad example, because then her precious angel might want to get dirty as well.

I don’t come to the park to parent. I come to give my kids the freedom from parenting, within reasonable limits. I come to the park to let my kids explore. I come to the park to let my kids be kids.

And when moms stink-eye me for it, or worse, pick my kid up and put him where he can’t get to on his own, they ruin it.

Hoverer, maybe when your arms get tired from spotting Junior, you could try joining us on the bench. It’s nice over here in the shade, and we’re a friendly bunch. Maybe Junior will make some friends. Maybe he’ll run around and get dirty. Maybe it’ll be the most fun he has all day.

In the meantime, keep your helicoptering to yourself.

Related post: The 9 Worst Parents at the Playground

About the writer


Elizabeth Broadbent blogs at Manic Pixie Dream Mama and writes a regular column for ADDitude magazine. Her work has appeared in Babble, Today Parents, popsugar, xoJane, Bustle and Time magazine, in addition to being discussed on both CNN and the Today Show. She has three children, ages 5, 3 and 1, two dogs, sizes large and larger, and one husband, disposition saintly. See her on Facebook at Manic Pixie Dream Mama or visit her on Twitter @manicpixiemama.


Limitless 4 days ago

I agree with gentlemom, and just because it’s a playground doesn’t mean they are immune to getting seriously injured…

GentleMom 1 month ago

I want to know why other people care SO much what other parents do! Yes, I take my kid to the park to play with him. Why else would I take him to the park? To ditch him so I don’t have to deal with him? But that doesn’t mean I’m a hoverer. I still let him play and try and climb and explore. I’m the first one to push his limits and tell him to try again. Why does there need to be more and more campaigning for moms against other moms? I AM that mom that will help another kid, and other parents have helped my kid… IF the struggle seems real, or it seems as though other kids might get hurt too. So what? I’m not judging you for sitting there and taking a much needed break. Why judge me because I want to play with my kid and make sure I’m there to catch him if he falls?

No_Hovering 2 months ago

The author is so right it’s astounding. Hovering, neurotic parents are not doing their own kids, and certainly not anybody else’s kids any good. For all the knee-jerking panty-bunchers attacking the writer – if you want to “play with” your own kids (or smother them to death in a completely overbearing and oppressive manner) fine…but stay away from other people’s kids, stop overreacting when other parents let their kids be adventurous, and for F’s sake, stop with the drama when someone else’s kid is crawling up the slide. They’re kids. It’s a playground. It happens. Micro-manage your own kid if you can’t simply CANNOT step off for even a second, but mind your own business otherwise.

The bold kid crawling up the slide will probably grow up to be a pioneer in some exciting and lucrative field. The smothered kid whose mom is hovering and whining while he tries to climb a 3 foot rock wall will never grow up, and will live in her basement until he’s 47, playing video games, and having mom make all his meals, because he’s still not allowed to approach a hot stove without her having a panic attack.

Nic 2 months ago

I can always tell which kids have parents who let them try things and which don’t. The ones who don’t are the ones who come to program and ask me to draw their pictures FOR THEM because they “don’t know how”. It’s important for kids to learn how to try, fail, and try again (in a safe environment). And the playground is about as safe as it gets.

Yocheved 2 months ago

#LenoreSkenazy #FreeRangeKids

Nuff said.


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