HELP NEEDED: How to Calm a Parent Who Fears Danger AND Blame?

Hi Readers! Here’s my situation: When I speak with parents who feel they really have to watch their kids ALL the time, often it’s not just because they fear  that otherwise “something terrible” could happen. It’s also  because they fear that IF something does, THEY will be blamed.

So even if parents are pretty sure their son, say, is ready to walk to school, or scooter on the sidewalk, or play basketball in the park with his friends, they still won’t let him do it, on the off-chance of that double whammy: Disaster + blame — blame they will heap on themselves and blame that others will happily heap, too.

My questions for you (since I hope you know I often rely on you for ideas and inspiration): Is there anything that has helped YOU get over that one-two punch? And is there anything that you have ever used that helped anyone ELSE get over those fears? Any psychological exercises or examples or just surprisingly effective arguments?

I find that my rational reassurances — “The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor!” — run straight into the wall of, “Yes, but it only takes ONE TIME.” Or, worse, “It only takes ONE SECOND…” (That “one second” thing kills me. It’s like EVERY SECOND is going to be their kid’s last.)

So I’d love to hear some more ideas of how to talk folks down from constant terror, because it sweeping the globe. (And as for WHY it is sweeping the globe, I’m not even getting into how mad I am at certain cable shows that have recently begged parents to, “Never take your eyes off your kids!” Because my seething goes without saying.)  — Lenore

The Personal Toll on Helicopter PARENTS

Hi Readers! Just back from the dead, after a grilling incident left me with second degree burns on my right hand FINGER TIPS! Bad news for a blogger (and YEOW!!!!!). So I went to the E.R. and got some very powerful pain drugs. So powerful that they left me lying on the floor all day yesterday, lifting my head only to vomit. Now, happily, my fingers are fine (tap, tap, tap) and I have vowed never to take a Vicodin again.

And now, on to less personal gripes.

Check out this essay, “Helicopter Moms, Heading for a Crash,” from Sunday’sWashington Post . It’s by Margaret Nelson, author of Parenting Out of Control, and it basically says that by the time you have watched TV with your kids (to make sure it’s appropriate, and discuss relevant issues) and done homework with your kids (to help and guide them) and played with your kids and driven your kids and watched your kids at soccer/dance/chess/lacrosse, there’s not a lot of time left for your other relationships: With your spouse, your friends or your community.

I really related to the homework part. My husband and I DO spend a ton of time helping one of our sons with his homework and we  watch the evening dribble through the hourglass until but a few grains are left for teethbrushing and good nights.

Sometimes this time drain it’s not just a reflection of hovering and helicoptering — at least not deliberately, on our part. Sometimes it really is externally imposed by a society that demands a ton of kids and, by extension, parents. For instance — not that this is such a time sucker — but almost every quiz my sons take at school has to be brought home, reviewed and signed by a parent. Why?

And that’s not to mention the paperwork, the forms for every activity, the giant projects that a kid COULD do on his own…maybe in a few years. But it seems to me that sometimes the schools treat 8-year-olds like middle schoolers, middle schoolers like high school kids and high school kids like graduate students in advanced particle physics at Princeton.

Anyway, perhaps that’s a bit off topic (okay, AND a personal gripe. Just like I promised to move away from! It’s the Vicodin hangover typing.)  What I liked about the Washington Post piece is that, rather than castigate helicopter parents yet again, it mourns the richness of life they give up: the time to volunteer for a political campaign, or have dinner with friends. As Nelson says at the end:

Many of the helicopter mothers I’ve spoken to have told me, often with pride in their voices, that their daughters are their best friends. At first, I wondered why these women — some of them in their late 40s or 50s — wouldn’t prefer to spend their free time with people their own age. But as I looked more closely at the way they are tackling parenthood, I understood: They have no free time.

All the more reason to try to go Free-Range — not just on a home-by-home basis, but also to encourage a society that lets kids be kids, so parents can be part of the bigger world, too.  — Lenore

Killer Kids: Blame the Parents?

Hi Readers — This note came in response to my ParentDish column, “New Study: Parents Stink.” Sometimes I am just, well, blown away by the logical leaps people take:

“I am a mother of a 26 year old man and a 13 year old boy. I give my 13 year old as much freedom as I think he needs but I always know where he’s at and who he’s with. This may be hovering but it’s better then him showing up at school one day and blowing everyone away and I had no idea he had been planning this.”

I agree: Most things are better than having one’s kid wake up and kill everyone at his school. Especially when it’s a big surprise. (I hate surprises!) And of course, if he does indeed do this, it’s all the parent’s fault.

That belief — that everything my kid does, good and bad, stems directly from MY parenting skills — is the kind of belief that drives us nuts to begin with. I wish she’d read my book, or at least Chapter 11:  “Relax! Not Every Little Thing You Do Has THAT Much Impact on Your Child’s Development.”

Meantime, whatever this woman thinks of “Free-Range Kids” (and me), I actually don’t condemn parents who want to know where their 13-year-old is and who he’s with.  I just think it’s pretty wacky to believe that if a parent is a little less informed, that kid will wake up, go to school and kill all his classmates. — Lenore