Parent As Hovercraft

“If you bend over backwards for your children,
you will eventually lose your balance. – John Rosemond

I had arranged an after school play date for my second grade son on a beautiful spring day. The other boy’s mother worked outside the home, so I offered to retrieve him after school. She was grateful, and planned to pick him up at my house around five.

I sat in the carpool line, thumbing through Traditional Home, sipping my decaf Americano while my four-year-old daughter snoozed in the car seat.

Someone was yelling my name. I looked up and saw her running toward my car, arms flailing. It was the mother of the boy I was bringing home. Was he ill? Was there some sort of emergency?

I rolled down my window. “What’s wrong—why are you here?” She was red faced, breathless. Something bad must have happened.

“I’m so glad I caught you. I just wanted to let you know I’ll be driving Johnny* to your house today.”

“Ummm, okay. Why?”

“He didn’t want to ride in your car. He said it smelled bad.” This she said without missing a beat. I couldn’t speak for maybe thirty seconds.

“So you left work to bring him to a play date. . .because he didn’t like the way my car smelled?”

“Yes. He has a sensitive nose.”

At that moment I spied the boys running to the car and she scurried off with her son, yelling “See you there!”

They followed behind us the whole way, while I attempted to sniff and snort out the stinkiness of my little red Volvo sedan. What could have smelled so awful to him when he last rode with us? Was it take-out Chinese from the previous night’s dinner? Stale Happy Meal fries colonizing under the seat? Dried baby vomit that escaped Febreze’s touch?

It didn’t matter. The bigger issue was the message she sent her son, which was this: if something is even the slightest bit uncomfortable for you, Mommy will run to the rescue with a different solution. I thought about what obstacles he might later face in his lifetime—for example if he had a boss who smoked and had to ride to a sales meeting in his stinky car. Would he say “I’m sorry. I can’t possibly ride with you in your disgusting vehicle that smells like a rotted lung. Can you drop me off at Hertz?”

They’ve been labeled Helicopter Parents, Stealth Fighter Parents, but I prefer Hovercrafts, parents hovering in the wings waiting for some minute offense to warrant their next surgical strike. Not getting enough time on the court? Yell at the coach. Didn’t get the lead part in the play? Verbally slice up the drama department, then boycott the play. Really, parents?

A teacher friend tells these two stories.

A boy gets caught cheating on an exam, and is suspended. His father, an attorney, calls the school, demanding the suspension be lifted because “if he could see the other person’s paper, he had a right to look at it.” Therefore, any suspension would violate his Constitutional rights.

Another student, reprimanded for a similar offense, is required by the principal to pick up trash around the school grounds every day for a week. The parent asks, “She’s really busy this week. Can the nanny do it instead?”

Are you screaming yet?

I claim no expertise in parenting other than the fact that my three kids are older now and experience was my best teacher. Here are a few things I’ve learned traveling the parent road.

Let Your Kids Work Out Their Social Issues.

Unless there is real bullying or a harmful situation, don’t get involved in the day-to-day squabbles. They need to learn to work it out. Otherwise, how will they ever be able to deal with colleagues in the workplace? Spouses? Realtors? The bank? This is their training ground. Don’t run interference on every little thing. You’ll need to conserve that energy for the really big things, the ones that do require a referee.

Give the Rope Some Slack.

Start by giving a little, and see how they do with it. If they don’t blow curfew or drive the car to L.A. for the weekend while you’re in Napa, give them a little more rope. If they hang themselves with it, pull it back. Repeat.

Give Them a Foundation of Faith.

Teach them about God, giving them a foundation of faith. Then show them your faith in action. When they’re teetering on the edge of the ledge, they will have that tether to bring them back. And pray. Do it without ceasing. It works.

Know That If You Hover, You Will Crash Land.

As a parent, our kids’ disappointments hurt our hearts as well, but demanding the reversal of a coach or teacher’s decision benefits no one. Learning to deal with failure is part of life. You cannot always be first. You won’t always win. If you don’t, your kid will be the one whose college application travels through undergraduate admissions with a sticky note that reads: “Watch out for Mom” on it.

Admissions counselors do reject students they would have otherwise accepted—moving them to the slush pile— for overt parental involvement on the application. Yes, they can tell. And after all those years of hovering, trying to make everything perfect. . . .

Talk about a crash landing.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old
he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6


*not his real name

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  1. CarolynCarolyn03-17-2012

    Good story! Too funny…. We have the same parenting philosophy! :o) Trust is huge

  2. SeabeloSeabelo03-18-2012

    Very, very profound. No children of my own yet, but this narrative was pregnant with insightful meaning!

  3. Bethany MacklinBethany Macklin03-18-2012

    This made me laugh–and relate! I spoke on this type of topic a few years ago and though the older crowd almost gave me a standing ovation, the younger crowd, well, not so much. 😉 Even with all my illustrations coming form my own hyper-parenting faux pas…

    I enjoyed meeting you again at the Inspire workshop and every thing I read from you convinces me I am going to enjoy getting to know you more. 🙂

  4. Kim AlmasKim Almas06-11-2012

    Exactly! Thanks for the reminders 🙂

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