Friday, March 5, 2010

Helicopter Parenting and Landing Pads

"Mom, can I please talk to you upstairs?"

In our family, this has become code for, "I am having a problem and I want to talk with you about it in private.". So, up we go to Mark and my bedroom. We close the door and sit on the bed and then it begins.

"I am confused about why girls _____."

"It really hurt my feelings."

"I need you and dad to see that I'm growing up."

"I don't understand the teacher."

"My brother is driving me nuts."

"School is really getting to me and I think I need a break."

"I feel left out."

Sometimes there is frustration, sometimes anger, sometimes tears. But every time, there is me wondering how to make it right. What part do I play in helping my children to navigate the endless twists and turns of childhood? How involved should I become? How distant should I be? When I am sitting on my bed with my baby in my arms, all I want to do is make it right. But is that my job?

I live in fear of Helicopter Parenting. The term was coined to describe parents who hover over their children in an effort to make their lives smooth, to fight their fights and win their wars. It is just not who I want to be. And yet, when I see one of my kids lost in some struggle and unable to negotiate the way... what should I do?

Most of the time, I really don't know. But I can tell you what we try.

1. Listen. Listen past the words to the feelings underneath. As parents, we know that this too shall pass, but for children the situation at hand is all encompassing. I need to affirm the feelings.

2. Ask. Ask questions and seek to understand. What I love about my kids talking to me alone in my room is that I am face to face, without distraction and can really try to comprehend the problem at hand. It is not my job to fix it, but it IS my job to understand.

3. Teach. What does my child need to know how to do to better handle the situation themselves? The problem with helicopter parenting is that children are left without the skills needed to manage problems in real life. When an issue arises, we have an opportunity to teach our children to communicate, to be compassionate, to advocate in more effective ways.

4. Pray. Whether it is kindergarten girl cattiness or middle school mayhem, we need to sit with our little ones and talk to God in a way that real and honest and true. Every time we do this WITH our kids, we are teaching them that the Creator of All Things cares about the details. That The One who sustains all that there is wants to sustain us, too. It's a powerful lesson for children...

But what do we do when we have done all that and problems persist for our kids? How do we help without hovering? Is it possible to do so, at all?

Here is what I know. These children are mine... entrusted to me by a God who loves them more than I can understand. And sometimes, when I have done everything I can to help them through, the time comes to intervene. And, here is what I know. Sometimes, intervening does nothing at all because what my child needs, more than anything else, is for me to look him in the eye and love him. What my child needs, more than anything else, is to be pulled in close and fully embraced and be given time and space to cry or laugh or yell or rage and still be loved all the same. Because the truth is, I can't always make it right. But, I can always be the place my babies come home to... to regroup, to heal, to celebrate, to breathe. And that has nothing to do with hovering... and everything to do with being the place to land.

Blessings on your day.

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