“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 Food & Wine, 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 my house. . .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. She scurried off to grab 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? Old, 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, Hovercrafts, whatever–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.
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.
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 calls the principal and asks, “She’s really busy this week. Can the nanny do it instead?”
I claim no expertise in child-rearing other than trial-and-error experience, and the fact that my three kids are now older and decent and compassionate humans. Score!! Here are a few things I’ve learned traveling the long and windy 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 co-workers? 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.
Lead by Example.
If you don’t want your daughter to be a drama queen, don’t you be one, Mama. They keenly observe your exacting judgment on that new mom at school and hear you yell at the store clerk who accidentally overcharges you. When you act entitled, this teaches them entitlement.
Respect that Parenting Styles Differ.
If you were raised by an “if-you-play-in-the-front-you’ll-be-kidnapped” kind of mom (like mine, God love her soul), of course you’re going to bring those fears to your parenting table, and look with disdain upon the mom who allows her young kids to walk to the park alone. DIDN’T ANYONE EVER HEAR ABOUT POLLY KLAAS? you’ll want to yell. But alas, here are the facts from the actual Polly Klaas Foundation (and they’re on it!)
99.8% of the children who go missing do come home.
- Nearly 90% of missing children have simply misunderstood directions or miscommunicated their plans, are lost, or have run away.
- 9% are kidnapped by a family member in a custody dispute.
- 3% are abducted by non-family members, usually during the commission of a crime such as robbery or sexual assault. The kidnapper is often someone the child knows.
- Only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news.
- About half of these 100 children come home.
So…let’s give other moms and dads a break. Unless you observe real neglect, the fact that parenting styles differ should be heralded. We can all do it better, and sometimes we need a beacon to show us the way.
Know That If You Hover, You Will Crash Land.
If you don’t stop, 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. (No, I’m not kidding).
Lenore Skenazy in her book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, says this: “I’m not saying that there is no danger in the world or that we shouldn’t be prepared…[but] the way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources.”
Use their resources?? Brilliant! And here’s Webster’s definition of resourceful:
re-source-ful – (adjective) = having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.
And it’s the only way to prevent a crash landing.
*not his real name; variation of this post appeared in 2012.
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Wishing you all good things–