Helicopter Mom Or Hands Off Mom?

Between the era of my childhood and today, being a mom has really changed and being a kid has really changed. As a mom, I find myself trying to find and use the old-fashioned, hands-off approach of the past and combine it with the hands-on, technology-savvy, volunteer-a-lot-at-school, play date scheduler, and overseer of everything my kid does helicopter-mom of today.

When I was a little girl, I don’t remember my mom ever calling one of her neighbors or one of my schoolmate’s moms to set up a “play date.” If she’d heard this term back then, she’d probably scoff and say, “Who do you think you are, the queen of England?” She’d send us out of the house to find our own friends, tell us not to come back until sundown and lock the screen door. Any attempt to reenter the house prior to deadline, had to be a blood-shedding emergency. That alone, had its own consequences so we used that excuse sparingly.

I thank my mother for that now, because it taught my sisters and I how to be independent, resourceful and sociable. Through trial and error we learned to distinguish a good kid from a bad kid. We learned that there was a pecking order from bigger/strongest to smallest/weakest and we strived to be the best through our own efforts. We also learned to circumvent barriers by figuring out how to “jimmy” the screen door to run into the house and use bathroom unnoticed.

There was no signing up your kid for all of these paid, coordinated activities like soccer, My Gym, Pump it Up, ballet, Le Cross, Curiosity Zone, and countless summer camps. Our “curiosity zone” was our imagination. Like, how far can you go if you ride your tricycle with only two wheels? Or, what if we put on our roller-skates and hang on to the back of the banana bike while one sister pedals as fast as she can before she makes a sharp turn? Or, what if you poke the ant-hill with a stick, or play baseball in the house? It sounds unproductive but in these activities, we learned cooperation, decision-making, lobbying techniques and democracy because, without a unanimous vote, there’d be a whistle blower when something went wrong. In case there was a decenter, we had to learn negotiation and diplomacy to avert punishment.

Coordinated activities then, were primarily sponsored by the schools. If you wanted to be on a team, you had to tryout and have the necessary skills to make the team. The school provided the uniform and equipment. If you weren’t better than the top players, you sat on the bench. I can’t remember any time when my mom prompted me to make practice. I had to get there by myself too. Moms and teachers had it easier too. They’re roles were more-defined. My mom worked – a lot. If I saw my mom in school, it was not good news. I’d done something wrong. Teachers dealt with their students and didn’t have to worry about coddling over-protective parents.

I like the hands-off aspect, but I’m also very aware of the influence my presence has on my son and teachers when I volunteer at his school. I realize now, that if my mom have had a chance to be more present at my school, she would have been more aware of the level of education I was getting and made the school staff know she was watching. But her hands-off approach helped me develop and define a confidence I’d use in planning my future.

I had a school counselor who tried to encourage me to attend a local community college, and tried to dissuade me from going to a large state-university which I had already been accepted to. He believed I could not handle the culture of a bigger school. But my trial and error choices from my childhood experiences had given me the confidence to set my own goals and veto his suggestion. I went on to graduate with two degrees and achieved a good grade-point-average.

The varied choices we have for our children today, and our involvement in their lives, is definitely an advantage, but when children can achieve initiating their own game, choose their own teams and set game rules without adult intervention, it produces valuable lessons that can be carried well into adulthood.

[Photo By pasa47]

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