Last week marked a turning point for me in six and a half years of parenting my daughter; I gleefully and purposely crashed my helicopter. It was never my intent to become a helicopter parent, after all when the girl joined our family six and a half years ago, I already had 13 years of parenting experience under my belt, and should have known better but alas I didn’t. I have come to think that the 13 years that separate my kids actually played a huge part in how I became a helicopter parent since my kids were born at different stages of my life.
When I became pregnant with my son, I was an 18 year old newlywed who knew not a thing about babies or kids. This was before internet was a thing, back in the dark ages of 1991, yet despite barely being an adult myself, I read exactly one book while pregnant with my son, the dreaded What to Expect When You are Expecting that my parents gifted to me. When my son was born, I trusted my instincts and those of my village at the time, primarily my mom, grandmother and mother-in-law. Looking back at the first five or so years of his life, I had little angst in raising him, I just did it. Despite initially receiving advice to spank, after a few spankings, I decided they didn’t feel right and never spanked him again. I didn’t read a book, go on a discussion board, talk with friends or agonize; I trusted that it was the right thing to do despite having been spanked myself. Mind you while raising him in those early years, my hands were full, having split from his dad and the former Mr. BGIM when my son was 13 months old, I didn’t have oodles of time to ruminate on my parenting choices. I did the best I could and looking at what an awesome young man he is now at 20, I guess some of it must have been pretty okay.
Fast forward to the fall of 2004 when I discovered I was pregnant with the girl child, I immediately started researching and reading and joining online discussion groups and immersed myself in how to be a better parent. For some reason I think I thought by doing more this second time around, things could only get better. By the time the girl arrived earthside in summer 2005, I had read well over 20 books on childbirth and parenting, settled on a parenting style and pretty much planned everything out on how this child was going to be raised. Never mind the actual kid I received, damn it, I knew this was the better way. Of course by the time she arrived I was no longer a 19 year old high school dropout but a thirty-something year old college graduate with a professional career.
Over the next several years, I drove us all crazy adhering to a parenting style that frankly did not match the kid that I received. I have shared in this space in the past, my marriage almost collapsed under the weight of this high intensity parenting coupled with an intense child. Course corrections have been made and there is a lot more balance in our lives, but the truth is until recently, I still didn’t trust myself or more importantly my child, which is frankly a bad thing.
A few weeks ago, my daughter asked me about my first marriage and how her brother used to see his dad when we were separated by 1100 miles and I explained that he flew alone from Chicago to Maine. She asked me a simple question that really shook me…would I ever let her fly alone? I quickly said no and explained the times are different, she accepted that answer and moved on but it stuck with me.
See, my son was 5 when he went on his first solo flight. I took him to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, I checked him in and when it was time to board the plane, I was allowed to walk him to his seat and when he landed in Maine his father was waiting at the gate for him escorted off by a flight attendant. My son did that journey many times, he recently told me how on his flights he often met the other kids who traveled from parent to parent. He liked his travels and was never scared, truthfully neither was I. I trusted that the plane would arrive and he would be safe, I trusted that he would know to ask for help if he needed it and never was there an issue. Not even the time a flight was delayed 6 hours and stopped in Indiana and I was a little nervous. The airlines made sure that my son and the other unaccompanied kids were served a meal and supervised and for him it was simply an adventure.
My daughter though at six and a half doesn’t even get to play with neighborhood kids unless one of us is outside with her. It hit me the other day, how is she going to learn the skills to navigate the world if I am always hovering?
As fate would have it, last week we took the train into Boston and 40 minutes into the ride, the kiddo told me she was hungry and asked if we could get something from the snack car. Normally when we take the train to Boston, if we have to go to the snack car, we both go. To be honest walking through the cars to get to the snack car while holding her hand and later our snacks is a pain in the ass since the train is in constant motion. I momentarily thought of bringing her to the snack car but knowing I needed a cup of coffee plus the snacks and realized what a lousy idea. So I asked her if she wanted to go, she said no, she was happy to stay in our seats and play on the iPad. I told her to stay in the seat, and don’t get up until I returned, in the end it took about 15 minutes to get our snacks and when I returned she was just where I had left her, playing on the iPad and waiting for her orange juice. I won’t lie while waiting in the line, my mind was filled with what it’s…until I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. For starters this isn’t a city subway system; there were no stops between the time I left and time I got back to our seats, so where was she going to go? Heaven forbid, someone did try to snatch her up, we were seated around other families who probably would notice and more importantly my kid is loud as hell. In the end, I trusted her and myself.
It felt good to trust her, to see that look on her face that she knew I trusted her. The past few days have been filled with baby steps of me letting her find her footing in this world, so it’s official, I have crashed my helicopter and it can’t be put back together.