Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Helicopter Parenting: My thoughts and yours

I just finished reading a very timely and insighful post over at MckMama's, "Today's parent: Promoting a new kind of Nanny State".  Here it is: http://mycharmingkids.net/2010/07/todays-parent-promoting-a-new-kind-of-nanny-state/

I have noticed that parents here in Sweden, generally speaking, are much more laid-back in their parenting styles than uptight, paranoid me. Or maybe they're too careless and I'm the SuperMom. Though somehow I doubt it. I think there's a happy medium here, one that I long to achieve.

There's this cute-as-a-button 2 and half year old, let's call her Dolly, who lives a few houses down from us. The first time I met her, she was with her Mom in the park area a couple of doors down from their house. Her Mom left the park. I thought maybe she had to go check on another one of her kids for a quick sec. She didn't say a word to me. She just left. And the time ticked away. And I became increasingly agitated as I watched this beautiful blonde bubbly babe start to scale the neighbour's fence. I ran over to make sure I was there in case she fell. She didn't. She made it to the other side (something my kid would never attempt) and came back over again. She ran, she climbed, she jumped on the trampoline and then she took off on her little tricycle towards the street as a huge bus was making its way down the road. I ran like a bat outta hell (along with her older brother) towards her. In the nick of time I might add. My heart was racing for the 15 minutes her mother left her alone, in the park with no supervision (except for mine, which was not solicited but came naturally). For the record, this is so not cool.

And then there's the two little boys, one a few weeks younger than mine whose parents let them run down to the pool (no lifejacket or floaties) while they chat out of sight, backs turned with friends. Water and kids and no supervision. Not cool.

And the many kids in the neighbourhood who run seemingly free, many around the same age as mine. Whose parents are perhaps looking out the kitchen window (or not) while their kids play in an unfenced yard.

Then there's me. I never let my kid outta my sight. Even when he's in our gated front yard, I'm there. Or hubby is. He's not allowed to run on the slippery pool deck or climb the rock mountain in the middle of the pool. Or run too far ahead of me. If I notice some questionable interaction with another child, I'm intervening on auto-pilot (protecting whichever kid needs it). Even at the indoor playpark, I'm usually right there beside him climbing to the top.

“If you take away the child’s ability to naturally explore jumping, climbing, space, their body’s response to impact and how to adjust the way their body needs to land on impact, then you are not promoting their natural development. In fact, you are hindering their innate physical development. The emotional component of development also needs the opportunity to explore how to take risks and gain confidence. Kids are made (and for natural development, required) to spin, jump, and most importantly fall…The more you restrict a child’s natural need to take risks, the more they will seek out even more risky behavior. For example, if all they hear is “no jumping off the couch”, “no jumping off the playground structure,” “no jumping off the table” etc., etc., they are only going to be forced to search out something they can jump off of when you aren’t looking and there to make sure they are safe.” From MckMama's post (a commenter)

Our natural instinct as parents is to protect our children. But I realize I am too much. It has become too much. I need to take steps back. But how far back is too far, is too close? What if I let him climb to the top of something by himself and he falls and hurts himself and I could have been there to catch him? Could have prevented it by not allowing him to climb to begin with? What if that fall could have taught him something valuable but I was too overprotective to allow it?

He comes home from his fabulous school all the time with bruises and scrapes. The same kind we got as kids. If something MAJOR happens, I always hear about it from the teachers. But otherwise, the war wounds are evidence of his being a kid. When I was a kid, I wandered around the neighbourhood devil-may-care and spent everyday of my summer at the local pool, without my Mom around (I was likely about 5 when that started).

Why can't I let go a little, loosen the apron strings? Why am I so afraid? Well obviously I have very good reason to be afraid: kidnappings, head injuries, bee stings, car accidents, etc. Is there a such thing as a balloon parent? One that rises steadily upwards without hovering like a chopper? I feel like I am stifling and smothering compared to many of the parents here who stand back or in some cases, dissapear.

I want my son to become his own little man. One who isn't afraid to take risks in life. Today's jungle gym represents tomorrow's corporate ladder.

Talk to me Moms.


septembermom said...

As my kids get older, I do loosen the apron strings somewhat. However, I do find myself watching the window often when they are outside. It's a crazy world we live in. I think mothers have to worry to some extent. When they are little, I watch my kids pretty closely. I don't think it hurt them in any way. You should see how my 13 year old does fine without me now. However, he still keeps me in the loop. I think it's great that he knows that I'm in his corner still.

Hyacynth said...

First, maybe the Swedes leave their kids because they don't have to worry about things like abductions and such? Perhaps, we're afraid of it, and rightly so, because it's more epidemic in Canada and the US? Just a thought.
On to the real discussion.
God gave children parents for a reason -- because they'd never make it to adulthood without us. LOL!
While I'm a little bit joking, I'm also not. I think we have to keep a watchful eye on our children. No, we don't have to hover and constantly try to control their actions. BUT we should be mindful of the real dangers -- swimming unattended is a real issue. Leaving my kid at the park is a real issue. G. climbing the couch in the living room and possibly falling off and hitting his nogging -- yup, stinks, but it's not one of those things I can control. He's a kid; he'll climb. But on the same token, he's a kid; he'll follow a strange man with candy. I'm all about assessing the risks and intervening when necessary.
I say keep doing what you're doing; if he can explore under your watchful eye, that's perfect.

Mon said...

i watched this program about the Danes, and they leave tiny babies in prams outside cafes napping. can you imagine that in america, uk?!

for most of us this can be a tough one. there's the popular movement now, of free-range kids. and i've heard these parents make a big show of how they don't hardly watch their kids. and then a good friend of mine in america said that only recently a little girl was almost abducted in the kids park right across from her house. someone stopped the guy before he shoved her into a car! so frightening.

but, i don't want to bring her up afraid of the world, and she needs that developmental experience.
i just go by intuition and judge the severity of the 'hurt'.

she's allowed to jump on beds and go crazy on the sofas, but without going totally bonkers.
friends of mine allow their kids to go bonkers... and one child fractured his arm, the other landed on her head as she sat on our dining chairs. i was looking at her thinking, she doesn't seem safe to me.

what i try to do is hover in the background, so that she doesn't feel too watched. i'm perfectly ok with her falling, scraping knees, banging her head.
but i would feel so crap if i could have prevented a fracture, concussion, or worse, for the sake of letting her alone.

i also listen to her. she's a velcro kid so she likes having me around, but i encourage her to go off. and if SHE pushes me away i'll go... within view. :)

bottom line, intuition first, what's right for one family is different for another.

Tales of a young mamma said...

Interesting post! I grew up in Sweden where me and my siblings ran around the neighborhood alone even at a young age. When we moved to America that quickly changed even though we lived out in the country. I think it totally depends on where you live. If America was more like Sweden I would be more willing to let my son(when he gets a little older) play out with the neighborhood kids without my constant supervision. And if I have my way we will be back in Sweden some day so he WILL get to experience that kind of freedom. But here? Here I'm like you, don't turn my back on him for a second.

SwedishJenn said...

@septembermom: Yup, I'm both looking forward to and dreading 13 years old :-).
@Michelle: I really liked what Daddy did for the tree climbing, perfect example of how parents can allow a kid to be a kid but in a safe way. I think if I had (were to have) multiple kids, I would learn to relax a little from child to child. But with only the one, I find I'm over vigilent at times. Creating a safe learning environment is a must.
@Mon: Swedes do the very same thing. You can walk by a daycare and see babies sleeping in their prams/strollers unattended (with teachers peeking out occasionally from inside). Even in the dead of winter. Holy crap about the near-abduction. What country was this? I'm assuming NOT a Scandinavian one. Instinct first. Love it. I will go with my gut.
@YoungMama: It really does depend somewhat in which country you live. And because I have a North American mentality, I will definitely be the strictest Mom on the block, no matter what the occasion.
@Hy: The park and swimming unattended are real issues for me too, especially with the ages of the children in question. We're not talking about pre-teens here. And because I was a lifeguard in my youth, I have a REAL problem with the swimming thing. Assessing the risks with those gray areas is key for sure.

Anonymous said...

jenn you live in the land of "lagom" ;) so you maybe dont need to be laid back as a swed but not as paranoid as a american just in betweeen.. lagom ;)