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 6-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 2.”

She gawks 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 couple 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 unworthy 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 teetering near edges, or generally doing whatever it is kids do at the park. I wouldn’t know. I’m not 6.

The rounded plastic edges of every playground in America aren’t enough for these moms, nor 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 stink-eye.

This means that I have to haul myself 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 say loudly and often. They’ll side-eye my kids until I get up and manage to say, “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 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

@manicpixiemama

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.

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Gus 1 month ago

I genuinely think it’s great that you can do this for and with your children when you go to the park. I also think this doesn’t diminish your skill as a mom either; however, I don’t think me watching my children, choosing to play with my children or telling my children to have basic manners and the common courtesy not to climb up the slide while at the park somehow makes me a crappy parent or a hoverer. I also fail to see how that ruins anything for you and I certainly don’t interfere with any child at the park because it is a parents choice to decide what activities their child can engage in while at the park or any other place, for that matter. It’s simply how I choose to parent, just like letting your kids play freely at the park is how you choose to parent.

Kay 1 month ago

You came to the park to sit on your butt, drink coffee and play on your dang phone. Grow up and parent. Quit judging parents that take an active role in their kids lives.

Dawn 1 month ago

First of all if it wasn’t a dire emergency, Any mom or whoever I didn’t know TOUCHED my child, she/ he would no longer have helicopter arms. End of story. If YOU are comfortable with what your child is doing. Then simply open your mouth.

CapeStarfish 1 month ago

I feel like you are a brain work or a ventriloquist or have taken over my fingers and typed my thoughts…XANAX, hoverers!

Amazed 1 month ago

Some of the commenters need a coffee break. One was saying fuck so much I was hoping her kid wasn’t anywhere near her when she wrote because I’m sure her thoughts could be heard. Regarding helicopter moms: People don’t be so touchy. She’s talking about the extremes; the overprotective moms who don’t let their kids do anything on their own. Going up the slide? Teach your kid to only do it when no one is coming down and teach your kid to announce they are going down when they do so if anyone is going up the slide, they’ll know and can say something. It’s rather easy to avoid accidents this way. Of course, if you never let them do these things, they won’t know how to behave in these situations.

Rebecca 1 month ago

You could say I was helicopter mom to my own kids for a time. My six year old and my three year old can run around on their own and will call me when they need help, but when they were younger I kept close just in-case they fell while attempting to climb up the ladder. Sometimes other peoples kids do make me nervous when I see them climbing high up on playground equipment and I’ll look around to make sure that someone is watching, but I don’t interfere. I have also been amazed at how great climbers kids can be. I think the helicopter moms are probably new moms with their first kid. I was way more cautious with my first daughter because I didn’t know what she could or could not do, but watching other people’s children showed me what she was capable of and I learned to relax.

Semi-helicopter 1 month ago

Wow I am really blown away by all of the “other kind of mom” shaming on both sides of the fence. While I do not stand under playground equipment breathlessly fearing other people’s children will fall (and in 21 years of parenting have never actually seen this type of mom) I have always followed the lead of my kid. One was adventurous and did not wish much help from Mom so I left her to explore as I watched from “the bench”. The other was more timid and afraid of getting hurt so always wanted me close by and ready to assist. So those moms you think are “helicoptering” could actually be unselfishly thinking of what their kid needs from them as a parent. I have also seen my child over and over again be the victim of other people’s children who blatantly yell at them that no they cannot use the slide as they climb up it for the 100th time (sometimes while shouting profanities at my kid). So yes at this point as my child is in tears because she cannot use the public playground equipment that my husband and I pay taxes for I do step in and ask the child nicely to let other children slide. For the most part I think the majority of moms I have known over the past 2 decades of parenting have been somewhere in the middle. And for the person who commented that maybe the special needs child should be left in their backyard to play shame on you. I hope you receive your karma or a swift kick to the arse TODAY, either one would suit me just fine. Special needs kids have just as much right to play on a public playground than any other kid.

Chaos and star 1 month ago

Whose parents were on the other side of a pool.

Edit for last comment. Because maybe I need to read things through a little.

Chaos and star 1 month ago

I’m a hoverer- but mostly cos my kid is special needs. However it depends on the park, the kids and his mood.

Was at a water park a couple weeks ago- with slides and little pools. Totally awesome. Was fine after he got the hang of things and let him go. The only contact for a while was fishing him out of the pools at the bottom before he got landed on.
However- there were smaller and younger kids there who were on the other side of a pool.
The younger kids who I would pull out of said pools after they were sat on by older and bigger kids. Because kids don’t realise that water isn’t breathable and popping a float vest on a toddler is no help when someone is sitting on them.

So yes, I will hover, I will stop my autistic child from biting, scratching or punching yours- and if needed I will grab any other falling or drowning kids.

What I won’t do is help someone else’s kid onto platforms if they can’t get up. Hell, I don’t even put my own up because it’s sort of limiting them- if they can’t get up they likely aren’t ready.
(This includes those tube like playgrounds- though there is much hilarity in watching dads who help put their just walking kids up have to follow because said kid refuses to come down the slide.

Jen 1 month ago

I do tend to hover my own kid. I do enjoy playing with them at the park since I work full time. But never would I actually intrude on another child’s play unless I felt the we’re putting my own child in danger or just flat out being mean. I get what this mom is saying.

Rmy74 1 month ago

I think some Hovering Moms group decided to attack this comment section! You all seem to have missed the humor completely and the message. I too, take my kids to the park to give them a break from me. Let them run wild and test their limitations and social skills. Yeah, kids act like kids and won’t do everything perfect but you have to let them try. I will step in if things get heated or they could hurt someone. Otherwise, I let them play and read my book.

Sadie 1 month ago

Wow! I am amazed by the tone of these comments. She has made no attack on you defensive, hovering mommies. She just wants you to keep your judgments and parenting style to yourself and your kids.
You are, in my opinion, hindering the development of your children but hey, they are your kids, do what you want to them.
No where did she suggest her kids were free to do whatever they wanted or to “bully” other children – boy, I hate that new buzz word – or to “trample” them.
Try to remember, our job as parents is to teach our children to function successfully without us.

Maria 1 month ago

Aw this bummed me out. I work long hours all week so I look forward to playing with my girl at the playground. I guess that makes me a helicopter parent. I wish the moms sitting in a tight bunch would say hi to me, but they’ve never looked away from each other…or their cellphones.

Playgrounds…. 1 month ago

While I agree with most of what you have said, I whole heartedly disagree with allowing children to climb UP the slide. I have seen way too many kids get teeth knocked out, arms broken and worse, because they were knocked down by another kid coming down the slide while they were going up. It boils my blood that some parents find this acceptable. Lets talk when your kid get knocked off the slide and breaks their arm because they were going UP the slide.

Nicole 1 month ago

I like to play with my kid at the park. He wants time with me because he doesn’t get enough of it. I work full time and I often get to see him for about an hour or two a day during the week. I make a point to spend time with him on the weekends. I make every effort to let him run around and be free, but I draw the line at him trampling smaller kids. I teach him to look out for others and be kind. There is nothing that pisses me off more than parents who don’t teach their kids to look out for the smaller kids. I will try to not to say anything to other kids on the playground, but if your kid is being a bully and trampling a smaller child, I’ll gladly parent in your absence. Enjoy your phone.

chrischem 1 month ago

My kids are 11 and 13 now and I really miss the days when they were little and would run around the playground or park. Instead of everyone judging each other and worrying about how one mom parents her child compared to another, why don’t all of you just savor the moments with your small children and forget about the small stuff?! Before you know it, your kids will want nothing to do with you and you will wish they were little again!

Slides! 1 month ago

I’m not cool with kids going up the slide unless the park is completely empty. That crap makes me mad when parents ignore that it. But that’s ok, I hollar at them to stop and I don’t bother to look for their parents because they obviously don’t care. But I do. :)

I like it. Except… 1 month ago

…I can’t stand when kids go up the slide. We have those tunnel slides where you can’t see if anybody is coming down and watching kids get plowed just bugs me. I will yell about the slide. All the rest, meh. Go have fun. I was raised in the 80s–metal play ground equipment and gravel (but no cool tunnel slides). They’ll survive. Good points about playing with the kids at the park–most of the time, we went there by ourselves anyway.

Mena 1 month ago

Sarah, i dont think this is judgmental, i think its saying “back off” loud and clear and “hey, we are totally ok. you do it your way, and let me do it mine”

I completely agree with the writer. I deal with the same thing, every single time i go to the park with my kids. And its hard to be able to say these things to a heli parent, because, at the end of the day, they 100% believe that they are doing it the right way. And, maybe they are. Maybe it works great for them, but it doesnt for me. I dont tell their kids to go ahead and do and undo the things their parents have carefully worked to teach them. But i am constantly getting stink-eye, or comments from these parents to my kids or to me about my kids that they shouldnt be or should be doing something.

So my 15 mth old tripped, so what? She is fine. No one has to yelp and run to her rescue. She can learn what falling and more importantly getting up, is all about. She was ready to get up and run her little cloth bottom to try again, but now heli parent has made her NOTICE something BAD happen. “Are you ok?, “do you have a bobo?”, “do you need help?”, “where is your mama?”.

No your kid does not HAVE to share with mine just cause mine is younger and really wants that toy. No, your kids doesn’t have to put it away now because he wont share.

That all said. THANK YOU for caring about the safety of my kid. But, if you see that im okay with it, you should be too.

JustMe123 1 month ago

What people are referring to as bench parenting used to be normal parenting, except most of the time, our moms weren’t on the bench but at home and we walked ourselves to the park. I don’t recall one mom ever playing with their kid and none of us ever considered ourselves neglected. I’m glad I didn’t grow up with a parent who had to insert herself in all my playing.

High horse 1 month ago

Anonymous-why don’t you leave your child in their backyard? Mine isn’t the one with a condition I have to monitor. This world is ridiculous. Kids need space and time to play. If your child has such a condition that mine can’t play in a public place leave yours home and let us enjoy without you commenting on our “heathens”. -I like my horse high.

Sketcher 1 month ago

I see all the judgy helicopter moms came out to comment…

Jordan 1 month ago

Hey, at least all these types of moms (of which there are certainly more than 2), took their kids to the park.

Also, maybe the helicopter mom is also an ICU nurse who is a little bit traumatized by the toddler she took care of yesterday who subluxed their spine from only a 3 foot fall on the playground. We’re all doing the best we can.

MarieBelle 1 month ago

It’s really disheartening and disappointing to read a mom criticizing a mom like this. It’s a hard job and not everyone may approach things the same way as you or do things right, and a lot of mothers are truly anxious about whether they are doing the ‘right’ thing, or being judged by other parents. You’ve just made this worse.

Green 1 month ago

The author has some valid points, especially about the kids having enough independence to learn to trust themselves. I assume she is speaking of age-appropriate tasks for kids that have no developmental delays and/or physical handicaps.
But my personal favorite thing to do if someone tries to interfere with my children is to strike up a chat. Helicopter moms get lonely and want mom-to-mom conversation too! In fact, they may be helicoptering b/c they feel awkward sitting by themselves. I figure they’re just trying their best, and as long as they act appropriately I won’t fault them for having a different parenting style.
Every kid and mom is different, and that diversity is what the world needs!

Ally 1 month ago

Mothers, stop criticizing other mothers! This world takes all kinds of people and styles. Nobody is better then the other and nobody’s parenting style is better. Enough is enough. This is pathetic.

MissT 1 month ago

This helicopter doesn’t have the time or energy to hover over your kid. I’m to busy hovering over my non-verbal autistic daughter who also has cerebral palsy. Her CP is very mild. Non the less it effects her ability to balance and judge depth. She is unaware of her seroundings and has an extremely high tolerance for pain. So something dangerous and painful won’t register for the next encounter. It’s like it never happened. So I would have to say you typical moms are ruining it for me.

Cookie 1 month ago

There can be a happy medium. I am definitely not a helicopter mom, but I do watch and make sure my kids aren’t impeding anyone else’s fun and do get up to help if they call for me.
But for the most part, I have to agree with this article. I don’t go to the park ( or playgroups) to play with my kids. My kids ( 2 and 4) aren’t in daycare and need time to interact with other kids and also need to learn to solve their own problems. I’m not ignoring them, but I also don’t immediately step in if there is a play ground disagreement either. I watch and wait to see what guidance I can provide. What irritates me about helicopter parents is when they start mouthing off to my kid and act like they have that right because I am not jumping all over every little stick on the slide or whatever. And then act like I’m a shittier parent than them. The “stinkeye” thing is for reals.

Celia 1 month ago

I was more cautious when my kids were, say, toddlers. Once they could negotiate the steps and ladders without imminent risk of broken limbs, I started reading my book or my phone, unless they need me to push them on the swing or we decide to play chase. Parents should feel free to do both or either, depending on their kids and their own mood.

Kids who are old enough to traverse a slide confidently on their own will figure out how not to kill each other on the slide, even if one is going the wrong way. Sometimes, they may even collide while figuring it out. Sometimes that’s as much fun as sliding.

KateM 1 month ago

My husband and I play with our son at the park because he asks us to. More often than not, we end up with other people’s kids playing with us too because we’re fun and their parents are busy with their phone. Sure, I agree kids need some freedom in the playground but sometimes they get up somewhere they can’t get down from – should I let them fall because you don’t want to get up from your seat in the shade? Every time I have seen kids climbing up the slide, they are completely ignoring the kids that want to go down the slide, seriously, every time. Unless a parent tells them to knock it off or a kid gets sick of waiting and knocks them off the slide, they will keep doing it. Sometimes we aren’t helicopter parents, sometimes we just like our kids more than the other parents at the park.

Mommy2one 1 month ago

My child is an only child, so when I take him to a playground or play area I take him so he can play with other children and make friends. So I usually bring a good book, and read my book while glancing up ever few pages while listening for him. He always makes friends and has a good time, and I get to read, but if he calls me to him then I go to him. I have made other mom friends at the park too.
Some parents don’t know how, not to hover over their kids, and I don’t know how to hover. Some kids are more needy and need the comfort of their parent, where some kids are independent and don’t need/like the hovering. I went on vacation this summer with my son, my 2 year old nephew and my roommate (who is a hoverer). My kids are not used to an adult who constantly hovers over them, and my roommate wasn’t used to having a parent let kids be independent. We made it work though the kids kinda got used to an adult hovering, and my roommate learned that kids can do stuff without an adults help (although she had a thousand heart attacks in the process). I do hate the dirty look I get when I am letting kids be their independent selves though. All my kids (my son and nieces and nephews whom I babysit) are very independent and when adults hover they get annoyed by them. I have a cousin whose kids hover over the parents and the parents hover over the kids, and it only annoys my son because he wants to play with them and they won’t leave their parent. So for me, it’s what ever works for the parent, but don’t get each other dirty looks/comments just because they don’t parent like you. Lets all play nice :)

Chanda 1 month ago

I’m a mom of a 24, 20, 7 and 2 year old. I’ve seen it all and experienced different levels of skill with each of my kids. When my kids have fallen off a play set or been teased by another child- each time they would call out for me. Call that helicopter parenting, sure. I call it being a parent. By the way, over 24 years of parenting, I have many times saved a child from knocking themselves out from a pass by a swing in motion or falling off the twisty slide. Thankful for helicopter moms who care about my kids enough to help, not vice versa.
And just a note, my older two are both very secure successful independent adults who don’t ask mommy for help. They’ve learned to ask when they need it and take their two little sisters to the park and do the same as I have. How sad to read this and know a young mom who may struggle to do everything right would feel bad for loving her child this way. Helicopter all you want mamas…your kids will love you either way. ❤️

Beth 1 month ago

I go to the park to play with my child. I work 50 hours a week and I miss her! I’ll even play in the mud with her if she wants. We will both get dirty! She sees kids all day and I see adults all day. Good news for you all, I’m here for us and not you so I’ll keave you out of it.

marys 1 month ago

I would love not to helicopter and apologize for any “helicopter” parenting. I am just trying to prevent my 4-year old from hitting, punching, kicking or biting anyone as he is very aggressive. We are working on it.

N 1 month ago

Hallaluejah!

Helen 1 month ago

I couldn’t agree more! I loved the freedom of my upbringing. Love watching my 3 kiddos explore and navigate things on their own too. I think helicopter moms absolutely have the right to parent as they feel comfortible, but so do I, so please don’t hover over my child!

Sally 1 month ago

I come to the park to play with and interact with my child. I take a step back when she makes friends. I try not to hover. But when I’m interacting with my child I usually have a group of other children wanting interaction from me, because their parent is sitting on a bench somewhere. No judgement, just an observation.

Grace 1 month ago

Please, understand every parent you judge as a helicopter parent might be the parent of a special needs child. That child might need encouragement to climb the ladder, or special supervision because of limitations that are not visible to others. Parents know the limitations of their child. You may be lucky to not have such worries. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you judge.

Cheryl 1 month ago

I love all the outraged comments from Helicopter Moms. Heh. Irony much? 😛

panda 1 month ago

you can definitely spot the helicopter moms in the comments.

Melanie 1 month ago

I play with my kids, I watch them, I guide them I take pictures of them for memories I’m not at the park to socialize with other “moms” I do that at other times when my children aren’t around needing my attention this article is about lazy parenting and this is the reason why kids often turn out the way they do get up off your lazy butt and interact with your children!

Anonymous 1 month ago

It’s fine to play with your kid at the park, that’s half the fun, but don’t parent other people’s kids

Zarahti 1 month ago

(the third type is bad at phone-commenting, sorry)

the third type doesn’t have any interest in doing anything to, for, or about your children— other than making sure they aren’t being little jerks to their own children. They also don’t have any interest in joining the mommy klatch. A family outing with some peace while our kids are off enjoying themselves in the park is all we crave. That seems to annoy the klatchers, who seem to think everyone needs “mommy group time” or something.

Mom of older kids 1 month ago

I have older kids now. I was always the same as you. I didn’t keep as close an eye on my kids in the playground. They are now extremely independent kids who navigate situations with more skill than the average.
The one thing I need to point out is that every mother is entitled to her own style of parenting. At the end of the day, you are no better than that mom by reserving such harsh judgement. You will encounter this at every stage, when it comes to deciding what age your teens can be left alone in the house, etc. Everyone is different, it is what makes us different from each other. We should respect each other’s parenting decisions.

ash 1 month ago

So true

Two Moms 1 month ago

This article is spot on. If you’re a helicopter mom at the playground, back the eff away from my kids. You make the playground LESS safe by hoisting kids up to places they can’t climb or reach themselves. Partially by putting them into an unsafe place and partially by screwing up their ability to discern what their own capabilities and limitations are, so they’re more likely to get into unsafe situations on their own in the future. Thanks but no thanks.

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