I'll never forget the conversation I had with my friend, Scott, before I had kids. His brother and sister had a young daughter and were moving from their one bedroom apartment in Southern California to somewhere cold and mid-western, to get the yard, the square footage, every other ideal American dream to fulfill their little girl's life. Scott was saying, “You know, my mom moved here from Argentina and raised four kids in a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan. She says that people are revolving their lives around their kids and it just isn't healthy. Kids survive.” I think her apartment lacked a stove as well, but I'm getting away from the point.

It doesn't take much to find the trail that leads you to the monster of helicopter parenting (so titled due to the constant hovering of Mom and Dad). Take a look at your local baby store and you see the evidence of over-parenting in society:

  • Walking wings — to encourage your child's walking development
  • Indoor safety helmet — to prevent your child from injury during a fall
  • Baby knee pads — to prevent your child from harming their delicate knees while crawling

The list goes on and on. And while these safety supplies can be used less frequently as the child gets older and the parents mellow, the “safety delusion” persists.

  • Fewer children ride their bikes or walk to school, from 41% in 1969 down to 13% in 2001*
  • Parents are told to photograph their child daily in case of an abduction, even though the odds of an abduction and being killed are 1 in 1.5 million.**
  • Playgrounds are told to take down jungle gyms even though death by injury is down 51%*

Parents seem to be obsessed with bubble-wrapping everything to protect their children from consequences instead of teaching them and then allowing them to make their own mistakes. And yes, sometimes those mistakes are painful.  If we hold a child's hand for every step they take, how can we ever expect them to learn to walk on their own?

To further expand on this thread, if we pay off 18-year-old Jimmy's credit card when it's maxed out, how will Jimmy learn that the consequences of irresponsible spending can be a lifelong misery? It would be better for him to learn, at 18, to get a second job and work to pay it off. This lesson is much less painful at 18 than at 38, with an upside-down mortgage, two kids, and staring at a behemoth credit card debt. Jimmy can't learn the lost quality of delayed gratification if we as parents are constantly rescuing him.

The over-parenting phenomenon has reached its clingy hands into the highest institutes of learning. Once thought to be an introduction into the real world, away from Mommy and Daddy, colleges are now having to instruct professors on how to deal with overbearing parents. Some colleges have even had to invent a “director of parent programs” to teach parents the inner workings of college life. I thought when my kids went to college, I finally got to live my own life back!

An article by Carl Pickhardt,Ph.D., Dangers of Over Parenting, says over-parenting can result in the following repercussions:

  • Intolerance of others' shortcomings
  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Struggle with handling problems on their own, (waiting for Mommy to save them)
  • Rebelliousness
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Feeling responsible for parent's happiness
  • Unable to accept responsibility or authority (rules don't apply to them)

I think there are many triggers that turn a normal person into a helicopter parent. Maybe they feel they didn't receive the love they so desperately needed as a child, and therefore they smother their child to “prove” their love. Or maybe they haven't accomplished things they're proud of, so they look to their child's accomplishments to fulfill that hole. Example: The former wannabe beauty queen who becomes a stage mom with her child.

If we get all of our joy and feelings of gratification from our children, they will grow up feeling personally responsible for our happiness. It's best to get away from the kids, overnight if possible, once a year or so, just so you can remember what it feels like to be you. Once you get back in touch with who you were before you were “Mom” or “Dad,” you may be surprised at what you discover. Take that art class you put aside so you could take a Mommy and Me class. Start writing again. Date your spouse. Join a bunco group. Just get back to what made you unique and you'll be more equipped to raise a strong, independent child, that doesn't need you.

And isn't that the real goal of parenthood after all?

*The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting

**The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting (page 2)