Friday, March 9, 2012

The Cult of the Helicopter Parent

For anyone not parenting right now, you might not be aware that the expectations for parenting have become much more "hands on." Gone are the days of (as my mother said) throwing your kids out of the house until lunch and then throwing them out of the house again until dinner. It's partly due to fear of kidnapping*, partly due to the fact that a lot of households are two income, so kids are at daycare and partly due to this idea that you should be entertaining/providing "teaching moments" for your kids all the time. I read an article recently that claimed working mothers today spend more time with their children than stay-at-home mothers did in the 50's. I don't know if that's actually true, but it seems possible.

At first I bought into all that. Of course, you can't really leave an infant alone very long, but you don't always have to be entertaining him. However, with Ben I pretty much did that. Sometimes I would work around the house with him as my shadow, but usually I'd wait until he was asleep or Heath was home to finish the bulk of my chores. As you can imagine that was both tiring and boring, and it also taught Ben that we'll ALWAYS play with him. So lately I've been trying to do some re-training and teach Ben to play by himself. It hasn't been easy because he's like Heath - he never wants to be alone. Just yesterday he chose to sit in the bathroom and do nothing while I took a shower, rather than play in his room by himself for 10 minutes.

Right now we're in that in-between stage where he's not quite ready to give up his afternoon naps, but sometimes he's not tired enough for one. So on those days we have a rule that if he doesn't nap he has one hour of quiet time in his room. At first it was a disaster. "Quiet time" was really "crying time." Then he stopped the crying, but he would scream and yell and jump on his bed. Now I think we've finally gotten to the point where he understands and is usually fairly good with it. He'll play in his room by himself, but he has yet to make it an entire hour without calling for me or coming out of his room.

I've also been trying to play with him less throughout the day. Even typing that sentence feels so WRONG, like all the other parents are judging me. But considering that I used to play with him ALL DAY LONG, I'm trying to be fine with it. He's pretty content sometimes to play by himself if I'm in the same room. So if I'm doing dishes or cooking he'll color or play Play-Doh at the kitchen table. If I'm folding laundry in the living room, he'll play trains, etc. Most of the time he still expects us to entertain him, but he's getting better. Even extroverts need to learn how to be by themselves sometimes.

I hope I can continue this in my parenting, encouraging independence despite pressure from society or other parents to keep an eye on my kids at all times. We live in a safe neighborhood, with a nice playground two blocks away and Ben's future elementary school just down the street. I feel like he should be able to walk or bike around by himself by third or fourth grade. I just don't know if he'll have any other kids to walk or bike with.

*Seriously. I've talked to a lot of different mothers in the past three and a half years and the vast majority are very reluctant to let their kids out of their sight for any length of time for this reason.

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