Helicopter moms come in for a landing

They’re hard to miss. We’ve all seen or heard them coming—the mothers who navigate their children’s lives with the precision of a drill sergeant. But rather than revile helicopter moms, it’s time we try some understanding.

Those of us who spent years hovering can’t just easily turn off the engine. I can laugh now when I recall hiding in the bushes to watch my 4-year-old in the pool on his first day of camp, but the counselors would have shaken their heads in disbelief if they knew I didn’t trust anyone but myself to keep my son from going into the deep end.

Now that my kids are teens, I realize my controlling personality may be doing more harm than good. So last year I let my 12-year-old daughter go the mall with her friends—no adult supervision.

I’m reforming, but I’m not cured—just like the four other helicopter moms who share their ongoing struggle to set aside their well-intentioned but sometimes over-the-top attempts to make their kids safer, smarter and happier.

Told to back off by Boy Scouts

Aimee Schlueter, Batavia, mom of 12-year-old rebuking her overprotectiveness

I think the whole label is misunderstood. I like to advocate for my kid, make sure he’s safe, make sure he’s in appropriate situations, and I like to be involved.

I’ve never been one to leave him outside alone. That’s a fear of mine—someone taking him. I probably watch way too many forensic TV shows! If he was the only one at the bus stop, I would peek through the window and make sure nothing happened to him.

He thinks I’m totally crazy, but I know other moms do it, too.

Maybe other people consider it hovering, but I’m just taking care of my kid and advocating for him.

I think if you let other people dictate what’s good for your child and don’t step in if you know better, then you’re not really doing them justice to reach their full potential. That may seem like interfering, but I’m really just trying to help.

I have learned to let go, and part of that has been with scouting. Some of the female leaders were a little more gentle, but the men are like: Quit being a helicopter parent! I never even heard that term until last year. What is that? Am I that?

I want him to be happy and do the things he wants. I don’t want to limit him and put my own fears on to him. I’m still working on it, but I’m a lot better.

I am realizing that he’s going to be OK. I’ve raised him to make good decisions.

Overly involved until college

Cyndi Janusz, Round Lake, mom of three, including a 21-year-old hovered over through high school

I kind of watched myself be consumed with all his things. You kind of live vicariously through your child, going to all his events, then making sure he had everything he needed, being his strongest advocate in school. He had a little trouble with ADD. If he had an issue at school, I would be there to address it.

I was very involved with his teachers. I didn’t let things flow for him. I spent too much time figuring things out for him that he should have been figuring out for himself.

I may have helicoptered him into ADD. He doesn’t have it now. It hurts to admit it, but it’s a fact; I have to say it. Because of protecting him emotionally, I didn’t allow him to take the lumps.

It took a lot of intervention. When he was starting high school, people were making comments to me. My friends said, “Are you gonna let him grow up? Are you going to get out of his face? How’s he going to find out how to do these things himself?” At graduation, I had a conversation with myself: This really has to stop.

Once you’re self aware and conscious of it, and you see other people who are helicopter moms, it’s much easier to move out of it.

It’s something that never goes away. It’s truly a recovery—not so much as an addiction but as a lifestyle.

‘Tiger Mom’ eases up with third child

Heather Dauber, Frankfort, mom of 14-year-old, 12-year-old and 4-year-old who upset the applecart

At the risk of sounding like a helicopter parent, what I expect of the kids is that they take piano lessons, do Kumon and get their religious education. I think a helicopter mom is somebody that intervenes on the behalf of their child—even if you’re not present, you’re always there—something that I wouldn’t espouse to be.

I am definitely always aware of what they’re doing and where they’re at, but I’m also very aware that they need to make their own mistakes.

When I had my third child, I couldn’t control every contingency anymore. I had to be pushed a little bit beyond my comfort zone to say: I am nursing a child, I can’t be out in the front yard. Leave the front door open. Don’t go in the street. And I had to start developing trust. They like that I treated them like they were older.

We just kept building from there. It’s nice when you have a couple of trusted moms you feel make good decisions, and if some of the things you’re considering they’ve done too, it gives you the comfort to say, “This must be a natural progression for us.”

I feel a sense of relief they’re doing something that’s good for them. It eases up mental energy for me.

Emotional grip hard to release

Jing Niu, Elmhurst, mom of 12-year-old moving beyond the clinging

Because she’s an only child and not very outgoing, I feel like I need to be with her all the time. I think Chinese moms like to stay with their kids all the time, too.

She started preschool when she was 3 and every morning when I dropped her off, I felt like I needed to stay. Sometimes I watched her for a little bit. It’s hard to let her go for a long time, even when she’s going to elementary school.

I teach in a Montessori school, which promotes independence. At the time I went to the Montessori training, I realized: Oh no, my daughter is not that independent. I should let her learn those skills, and she needs to be by herself more.

Just a couple months ago I dropped her and her friends off at the pool and questioned staying. In my head I was struggling. What if this happens? What if that happens? After five minutes, I drove away.

She’s definitely ready for more. I am getting there.

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