Every time I cut a watermelon, I have to ask myself an important question: Are you a helicopter parent?
My mother said it all began with my great grandmother Martha. She loved to give us little ones sweet treats, but my favorite of all was the melon she so religiously extracted the seeds from. What I remember most is her selfless smile when summer’s juices ran down our chins.
But, here in the twenty-first century kitchen, I weld a sharp knife whose blade mirrors the painstaking care I take in eliminating challenge for my children: watermelon seeds.
Sometimes I can’t help but wonder: Do I have it all wrong?
Nothing has called me to be a better parent than the field of education. Every day I am given a window into how college students were raised.
Observe a behavior in class. Mental note.
Read an essay. Mental note.
Overhear a conversation on the walk to my office. Mental note.
If it weren’t for my husband (also an educator), I think my brain might explode from information overload.
Young adults offer excellent insight into both their past as well as future paths my children might follow. One issue that frequently emerges is a lack of resiliency – of the emotional variety.
Although there is no crystal ball that tells the entire story, what I can piece together is that – too often – parents lessened the impact. Perhaps even stunting development.
What do I make of all that I absorb? I fight the urge to helicopter parent my kids in several ways, including the following:
- I model how to see gray.
If we’re not careful, the black and white world of extremes will win the hearts of our children. You’re either a Republican or a Democrat. You believe in climate change or use Styrofoam. And, my personal favorite: Christ or science.
But I seek to provide a different narrative for my kids because I know that life is messy and few people – even those who hold great power – have all the answers. My own view from the middle reminds me that the growing only happens when you allow room for it on both sides of the issues. And, in that stretching, challenge is met with strength.
- I invite them to take risks.
Recently, my son discovered a used pink tricycle in our garage that his sister will one day inherit. He has not yet learned how to use pedals, but that didn’t stop him from taking it for a spin down the paved ramp that leads to our driveway. My heart was in my throat…his shins…his feet…unyielding metal. But, with my husband’s encouragement, I held back. I let him risk it all to regain control. He didn’t crash.
Most difficulties and crises of life are not quite this literal (or straightforward), but risks are not only rewarding, they are healthy and necessary for facing the hard people, places, and circumstances that extend beyond the pavement.
- I allow them to get up on their own.
Children must make mistakes – this is how they learn to navigate the world. And equipping them to independently rise when they fall isn’t easy.
Regardless of my own desire to control, I will not always be able to soften the consequences or rescue my babies during their time of need. They will hurt, and it pains me to know that I will fall short – that I’m supposed to. But I have this sneaking suspicion that my soon-to-be one-year-old – with bruises and scratches galore – will be better off because, unless harm is imminent, I choose to cheer. And, the truth is, we were all designed to “toddle”.
I don’t think chopping fruit will really change the trajectory of my parenting, but I appreciate the introspection it offers. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? And will it lead to a better life for my children?
The future is tricky, but there is something to be learned from those who surround us. Every day we are planting the seeds. And, sometimes, the greatest milestones can only happen when we sit back and do nothing – out of love.