I learned something new the other day. Helicopter parenting is a real thing. The opposite of helicopter parenting is apparently fly by parenting. Now you know what I know.
If, like me, you didn’t know what the heck that meant, let me enlighten you:
A helicopter parent (also called a cosseting parent or simply a cosseter) is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. – Wikipedia
“Fly by parenting” is a term for what I believe is a better way to raise a responsible, self – aware child.
Technically a fly by is described as checking in every now and again, as opposed to the “hovering” parenting style.
Coloured people have perfected the fly – by style of parenting. If your mom ever had this conversation with you, then you were most probably the recipient of a fly by style of parenting:
Mom: ( busy stirring the pot, looks up briefly to acknowledge your existence)Where you going?
You: To my friend’s house.
Mom: Do I know the mom?
You: Ja, she’s in your church (slightly sulkily).
Mom: Ok. Be back by 6. ( goes back to stirring).
And that would be that.You’d catch hell if you were back a minute late, but other than that, your mom had better things to do with her time.
If this scenario was your reality, then you’re probably white and you have been helicoptered:
Mom: ( stops everything and gets down to your level) So, what are your plans for today?
You: My friend wants me to come to their house.
Mom: (anxiety creasing her brow) Who is this friend? Is it Mathew/Mark/Luke /Paul/ John/Ringo?
You: No mom, you don’t know him.
Mom: Then don’t you think I should? What’s his mom’s number so I can call to arrange a playdate here?
Cue a desperate back and forth to arrange the perfect play date with gluten free snacks and organic juices.
I was a fly by kid. My schedule was pretty much this:
7AM Get up, have breakfast ( you made it your own damn self!), wash and get changed for school
3PM Back from school, change, have lunch ( leftovers from last night’s supper) homework, wash your school shirt, socks and panties (your own damned self! By hand!)
4–6PM Play outside
6:30PM Dinner, chores ( washing up after dinner, cleaning the kitchen, feeding the dogs/birds/hamsters/chickens
7PM Shower, some TV and bed by 8PM
My mom would check in every now and again when things got too quiet, or if you’d done something wrong. You knew you were in trouble because she called you by your WHOLE name!
I now am a mother myself. Until my daughter was about 5 years old, I was a helicopter parent.
Our day was something like this:
5:30AM I was up to put out the breakfast dishes, put in lunch, iron a fresh uniform everyday, lay it out, pack her school bag and my work bag.
6:30AM Wake her up with gentle tickles,coos and other, less jarring methods, carry her ( sometimes) to the kitchen for breakfast, run through all the cereals we stocked for her to choose her favourite that day, feed her if necessary
7AM Coerce her into the bathroom, brush her teeth, help her dress.
8AM Take her to school, walk her through the gates, hand her over to the assistant, explaining that she ” had a very rough morning and feels a bit grumpy” with an apologetic smile.
3PM Pick her up at school, chatter incessantly about her school day, coo and ooh and ahh over her finger painting
3:30PM A healthy gluten free, lactose free lunch made into all kinds of shapes
4PM Get ready and leave for ballet class/ swimming/horse -riding
6PM Dinner, shower/bath (with organic, soap free products naturally) and bed with a Sleep Fairy soothing her way to dreamland.
7–9PM I would be reading online or a IRL parenting book on the best way to nurture a responsible, caring child.
10PM Collapse exhausted into bed.
Weekends were more of the same, amped up to insane levels. All the activities had to be done! All the socialising had to be done! All the playdates had to be made and kept!
Then we went home to SA for a short holiday. My mom gave me one look when I helicoptered in her presence, and that knocked the blinkers off. That look works, whether you’re 4 or 40!
She had G washing dishes (standing on a chair), gettting dirty in the garden, feeding the dogs, and folding the towels and sheets with her.
My child had never been happier!
I realised I was setting unrealistic standards for myself, my husband ( he was a victim in all of this madness) and I was setting up my child to fail. She was 5 with a schedule a 50 year old couldn’t manage!
When we got back to the UAE I resolved to take a step back. I practised active listening with G and was shocked at what she had to say.
The playdates? Turns out she didn’t like the kids, thought they were rude and went only because she thought I liked the moms group. I didn’t.The ballet? Turns out she didn’t really like the dancing, but the tutus. After that she wore tutus and ballet slippers EVERYWHERE.
Our routine changed too.
Instead of me waking up early to get everything ready for her, she got her own dishes out, made her own cereal, packed her own bag, and got dressed by her own damn self!
Playdates and activities were replaced with park days, quiet time at home and more shared activities. For example: hubby would cook, she would chop up the veggies ( kid friendly knife, of course!) and I would do the dishes after.
Ironically, she did better at school, became more independent, more confident in stating her opinions and stood up for herself more in social situations.
I’d still ask about her day, but mostly if I noticed something was “off”. Otherwise she’d volunteer information and we’d have a conversation not just about her, but my day, daddy’s day and anything else we wanted to chat about.
We grew closer as a family.
So here’s my advice on adopting a fly by parenting style:
1. Know who the friends are, where they live, and telephone numbers of parents. Just don’t let your kid know you know.
2. Don’t ever say ” I live for my children”, even if that’s the way you feel. Children must know they are part of your life, not all of it. Have interests outside of them. G knows that Friday is my reading time. She can either join in ( quietly read) or go find something else to do. I’m unavailable.
3. Leave unscheduled, free play time. Avoid micromanaging what they do and when they do it.
4.Set the parameters for behaviour and be consistent in enforcing it. If your rule is bath time by 7Pm then be consistent. Know your “Non – negotiables”.
5. Be flexible with your “Negotiables”. If you don’t usually allow sweets after 6PM ( I don’t – getting her to bed is a problem if she’s sugared up!) and a friend gives her a toffee, let her have it. It’s one sweet, not the entire Chocolate Factory!
6. Make every opportunity an opportunity to bond. Do nails,plait hair, make sandcastles, go on the fekken slide ( it’s not what it was when you were a kid, but go!)…be silly!
7. Realise that your kid won’t ever hate you if you’re doing your best.
8. Take it easy. Parenting isn’t a contest, no matter what all the parenting books say. Enjoy your child because one day she’ll be grown and you’ll be left with memories rather than to-do lists.
9. Let them sleep in. Let them get dirty. Let them spend a little too long on the iPad. Nothing will happen. Let them experience all of it.
10. Throw out the disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser gels. I use those for when we’re on the road or out and about. But at home? “Go wash your hands with soap and warm water!”
I don’t have all the answers. I worry about what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. But I can’t make my child suffer because of my fears and insecurities.
Her childhood is just that, HER childhood. My job is to make it as fun and memorable as possible.
Until next I blog,