Helicopter Parenting and Childhood Disability
I was not raised to be a 'helicopter' parent, but being aware of both the dangers and the opportunities in my children's environment, and acting to avoid or reduce risks, I was sometimes assigned this often-maligned assessment of my involvement in their school lives.
Like their classmates, they often had the benefit and drudgery of dealing with problems on their own. Most of the time, I did what I could to reduce unexpected problems being overwhelming for them. Sometimes I provided a support or accommodation for my son with Down syndrome that his older sister said would have been helpful when she was learning something new. Of course, I was aware of where he might struggle because I observed his sister and her classmates. It was often the case that when I knew better, I did better.
Of course, there are things we can see with adult eyes that children do not realize are inappropriate or unacceptable. They may not know how to ask for the support they need. Every child deserves the benefit of an adult concerned first with the child's own well-being.
Before I trusted my children in daycare, I found one with a good reputation - and I kept an eagle eye during drop-offs and pick-ups to make sure their reputation was deserved.
My kids didn't know it, but everyone with whom I 'trusted' their care knew I could 'drop out of the sky' at any moment. In no way have my children's lives been easy, so they have had plenty of opportunities to deal with problems.
It's a dangerous world out there, and I reduced the risks however I could. Classrooms are more complicated, due to school culture, teacher strengths and challenges, and legal issues. I was fortunate in that my children's teachers appreciated me, and did not consider me intrusive. I am sure that had more to do with them than me, as they were confident and gracious.
We have no idea what our vulnerable children experience every day. Mainstream kids can also suffer terribly when adults in charge don't make sure they are doing okay. Most mainstream students do not know what to do when they accidentally get in trouble. When someone else takes advantage of them, neglects,or intentionally hurts them, they may have no means to escape or communicate or even process what happened.
Sometimes preparation and support is simply to help a child get a head start on what will be a new experience, before other kids and a lot of noise complicate the situation, like going to school buildings before school starts, to orient them where they will be walking or preparing them for bus rides. It can helpful to organize neighborhood kids so they all learn recess games; to explain safety issues, and to have an open discussion about bullies. Children can grow up independent, knowing we will be there for them and on their side when things go wrong, whether they made a mistake or were wrongly accused.
I had the privilege of volunteering in local mainstream classrooms and schools, so I was well aware of how things can go wrong. Children (as well as adults) skilled in deception find ways to push blame away from themselves and onto more vulnerable children.
Despite being a pleasant and easy-going mom, sometimes my friends would describe me as a 'tough love' sort of parent, only because I gave my children and their friends clues about misbehaving, and that they could face unpleasant consequences for their decisions.
There were also many cases where I would interrupt an argument, rebellion, or discussion about (mis)behavior and say - 'Let's take a break and go for a walk' - or 'This whole business has made me hungry. Let's have a dish of ice cream and just get on with our day.' Sometimes I still say, "Let's pretend that didn't happen."
So, I have been called a helicopter parent, but feel proud of it. I'm sure that every child in the neighborhood deserves a bit of that in their daily lives, and moments of grace despite even the mildest form of tough love.
These days, the life of no child is easy. I hope we never worry about being called 'helicopter moms' - especially when that term is used to deny the capability and power of mothers to intervene to reduce risk or enhance opportunities for all children or just one child.
We who are privileged to bring up our sons and daughters where there are places of safety for them to play, be cared for, and go to school, still need to stand up for them when things go wrong, without being dismissed or denigrated by those who use these tools to protect their own reputations or to maintain power over families. It is always possible that they are protecting their livelihood by controlling whatever situation is at hand
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