Helicopter Parent or Tough Love – Does it Really Matter?

by SmartyPants Staff


Helicopter Parent or Tough Love – Does it Really Matter?

by Whit Honea


In hindsight, everyone was remarkably calm. Granted, I’m a fan of grace under pressure. But it wouldn’t have seemed unreasonable for the slip of a child down the side of a boulder into an unseen crevice to result in something closer to cries of alarm, or the onset of confusing commotion.

What actually happened was far quieter than that, or at least it felt as such, muted, as it was, by time standing still. The words were lingering in the air, and I was running toward my son. I saw my wife on the trail above us, pointing and saying something I couldn’t make out.

Everything felt fluid: the pounding of rain, the wave of fear, a slippery slope, and the whetting of focus.

I pulled my son from the hole he had found, all in one piece and everything accounted for, minus the chunk of chin that he had left behind. It took longer than you’d think for the blood to start.

He cried for a moment, the jolt of surprise far more frightening than the throbbing of pain, and he applied the pressure exactly as I showed him, all the way to the hospital. He sat in the backseat, one hand pressed against the towel beneath his chin, and the other held in the firm, silent grasp of his worried older brother.

The weeks that followed were full of the usual things: a new year of school, the last gasp of bloated summer heat, and the slow heal of a scar surely forming. Who needs scrapbooks when the story is saved forever across the skin of a growing boy’s face? After all, the best souvenirs should last a lifetime.

It wasn’t his first injury, and as much as I cringe at the thought of tempting fate, it won’t be his last. He is too curious and quick, restless in a world that confuses safety with comfort.

Perhaps some would suggest that I take a firmer stand, literally, as close to his play and daily wanderings as space will allow. But I am not a fan of the helicopter approach, sympathetic as I am to constant worry and the fears queued in the possibilities of my mind. Rather, when I am present in the moment, it is to run and play – all the things of risk, lessons, and living in the now. I prefer to interact instead of hover.

Life is nothing if not adventure and the taking of our chances.

The world is full of skinned knees, and it up to us—the parents in the moment—to react accordingly; to choose when to stick it out and when to kiss it and make it better. The mending of a child, and the approach we take toward scrapes and pain, the displays of strength and emotion, these are not absolutes set in stone. They are as flexible as the knee now injured, and our reactions can leave scars too.

Most kids will go through their phases of overreaction and the crying of wolf, the want for attention and pangs without context. Only the passing of time can prove the distinction between rogue splinters and the breaking of bones.

There is a theory about toughness – that it is on parents to instill a healthy foundation. And while that may be true, it is also overused. The world is tough, and it isn’t going anywhere. Kids will get there soon enough. Faster if we push them.

The cut in his chin was deep. There was bone showing and skin missing. He was disoriented and shocked, oblivious to the stares around him. He was afraid but kept going, walking far too long in too much rain, my hands cupped on his, tight and growing redder by the moment. He was bravery in short pants, and that seemed tough enough to me.

Know any parents who might enjoy this? Share this with them!

What’s your style? Do you tend to be more protective or take a hands-off approach? We’d love to hear your point of view in the comments!


Posted on September 30, 2015

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