How My Lenient Parents Made Me A Helicopter Mom

by Sarah Cottrell
helicopter parenting
PeopleImages / iStock

Every generation of parents grabs the torch of “I Will Do Things Differently Than My Parents Did” and runs a decent few miles until they slowly wear down their resolve to be better. Opting to just survive parenthood becomes the focus. This flux between determination to be different from my parents and doing my own thing is where I find myself these days.

When I was growing up, my parents were laid-back. I mean, really laid-back. My mother, while driven and tenacious about giving us a decent childhood, didn’t have time to helicopter over my every potential stupid mistake. I certainly made a ton of mistakes. She was of the belief that if I got myself into a mess then I had better be prepared to pull myself up from my boot straps and deal with it—problem-solve, be resourceful, ask for help if I needed it. If I got myself into a mess then I should be smart enough to get myself out of it. While this parenting philosophy did serve me well later in adulthood, it left me feeling like a wild child when I was young.

Growing up there was no talk of financial planning, no real curfew, no reminders to eat my vegetables. There was a lot of talk about being a strong feminist, female empowerment, the importance of reading, and a few other great lessons, but otherwise I really and truly had no boundaries. My mother is lucky that I was a naturally cautious person and held enough of a fear of authority that I never broke a law or landed in serious trouble.

Now that I have kids I find that the pendulum has swung fully to the other extreme and I am—compared to my mother—a very strict parent. I police the amount of sugar my kids eat and insist on a particular diet. My kids are in bed by 7 p.m. and not a minute later. Not once have I allowed my kids to have playdates without my husband or myself being present. I hover over homework. I am the squeaky wheel at the pediatrician’s office, the school office, and the dentist’s office. I am absolutely everything that my mother was not.

And it is driving me mad.

At some point recently, I had a moment of clarity when I realized that I have neurotically become the Tiger Mom out of a fear that I would be so idle with my parenting that my kids would feel neglected the way I had. Everything from cooking to cleaning to planning social activities and shuttling kids became more than a priority, those things became the meaning of my life and it sucked the marrow of enjoyment out of me. Now I am stressed out and finding that on occasion I snap at my kids for not falling into the rigid lines of my expectations.

So I decided to find balance. But where do I start? I watched myself ordering my family around, rearranging my house, folding underwear (holy shit, who does that?), and then it hit me. I need to start slow and throw out the most obnoxious behaviors. The cleaning can get done every day without me having an aneurysm because someone threw dirty socks on the floor instead of the hamper. I could let the kids make their own dinner choices instead of my ridiculous menu plan dictating what we eat. I could—dare I say it—let my oldest kid go over to his friend’s house without my nosey self being involved.

Finding balance has become the biggest priority in my house these days. Learning to chill the eff out and let my kids have some fun while I practice ignoring messes will help me be a better mom.

I don’t want to be Tiger Mom any more than I want to be Passive Mom and so, like every other mom I know, I am treading lightly into the choppy waters of not knowing what I am doing in motherhood.