Mama Drama: Helicopter Mom Needs Help Landing
posted by: Lisa Vratny-Smith
Dear Mama Drama:
I am the mother of two girls and enjoy being active in their school. I volunteer in a variety of ways in the classroom and in the school in general.
I stay on top of the girls’ academics and social issues and step in whenever I or they have concerns. My husband has recently said that I am being a “helicopter mom.” He says I need to let the girls speak up for themselves and solve some of their issues without me stepping in. I just want to do what is best for them, but don’t want to hinder them.
How can I support them without interfering or rescuing?
~ Hovering Mama
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Involved parents make a huge positive impact on the success of their children. However, it is important, though often challenging, to balance involvement without interfering or rescuing.
Your girls are lucky to have a mother who has the time and is willing to be so involved in their school. While it is necessary to keep tabs on how your children are doing socially and academically, it is just as important to begin giving them the tools to succeed on their own. Learning to ask for help, stand up for themselves, and solve problems are critical skills to becoming independent and successful adults ~ which we sometimes forget is the end goal of all this parenting stuff. Supporting your daughters in learning these skills will also improve their self-esteem and confidence. Children who are constantly rescued come to believe they are incapable of handling their own problems.
Since your girls are used to you stepping in and taking care of things for them there may be some discomfort for all of you as you begin shifting some of those responsibilities to them. I suggest beginning with an open conversation with the whole family. Let them know you have noticed that you’ve been doing some things for them that you think they now have the skills to do on their own. Discuss that as children get older they take on more and more responsibilities. Sometimes this means learning to do the laundry, wash dishes, or mow the lawn, and sometimes this means learning to handle academic and social situations independently.
When social or academic issues come up, start with problem solving conversations where you ask questions and listen rather than solving things for them. Have them explain the situation as they see it. Help them to walk back through what happened before the difficulty and look at how they may have contributed to the problem. Was there anything they could have done differently? Then ask how they think the problem could be solved. (You fixing it might be there immediate answer until they get used to thinking for themselves.)
If they don’t have any ideas, ask if they’d like some suggestions. Be sure to give more than one, so they do some thinking about their choices. Once they decide on a plan of action role play with them to practice the language they want to use and help them get used to speaking up for themselves. Finally, ask them if they think they can handle the situation on their own or if they’d like you to be nearby for support. This continues to give them the message that you are there for them, but that you trust they can handle the situation. Check in with them afterward to see how things went, celebrating their successes and problem solving some more when things don’t go so well.
While you are teaching your girls these steps you are also teaching yourself to let go and grow as a parent. Letting go is a practice and there will be times it will come more easily than others. When you notice that you’ve overstepped or are hovering, be gentle with yourself. It’s a habit that you are working to change and it will take a lot of practice. Step back, reassess, and make a new plan. You may find yourself saying, “You know, I started to take care of this for you, but I just realized that this is something I know you can handle. I’m going to let you take charge of this.”
Supporting your daughters in developing these skills will be a life long gift they will greatly appreciate. As you trust them to become more independent, your relationship will become even stronger and more positive. You’ll become a safe landing place, a helipad, rather than a helicopter.
The extra bonus is while they are handling their issues more autonomously you’ll find a bit more space and time for you and your needs. A tough balance for any mom, but especially moms with a tendency to hover.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to Lisa@milehighmamas.com, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.