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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Helicopter Parenting

Several articles have emerged noting increased concerns by “experts” about the negative impact that China’s one child policy may have on future generations, society as a whole, and the children raised by their doting parents. Most Chinese parents comply and/or conform to this governmental decree generating evidence that the statute will have negative psychological and sociological repercussions on that nation sometime down the road. For example, too many parents are fostering “narcissistic” and self centered offspring since they have only one child to “worry over”. China runs the risk of generating populations with severe shortages of females.
Lest America gets too smug about our freedom to be able to have as many children as we wish, it should be noted that most American parents willingly subscribe to the same philosophy that less children is better. And that is even more significant –we willingly take on the emerging problems linked to low birth rates. In fact, most Americans tend to have fewer children than required to replace themselves; we only have a “higher than European or Chinese” birth rate because of the higher birth rates among our new immigrants – legal and illegal. So, it follows that America runs the risk of raising youthful personalities who tend toward narcissism and self centeredness. It also follows that today’s parents may drift toward helicopter parenting – a parenting type that is overly indulgent, worried, involved, controlling, meddling, interfering, and pushy – as they choose to have fewer children to “worry over”.
Schools are beginning to realize this sociological phenomenon as well. Pastors, teachers, and school principals alike complain that too many parents are overly concerned about the popularity of child/ self and not as much concerned about being responsible parents who “effectively” parent. In fact, too many parents readily fit the mold of helicopter parents – they excessively concern themselves over their children’s affairs that measure external performance or affect social “standings” - like grades, test scores, position on the athletic team - rather than spending energy into forming the whole (the character and integrity ) of the child. Unfortunately, the helicopter parent isn’t limited to grade school matters; in fact this type of parenting does not change much even though the offspring mature. These types of parents march in droves to schools – colleges as well as grammar schools - to complain about the difficulty of their student’s courses and corresponding low grades; or they complain when their student sits too long on the bench during athletic events or fails to secure a starting position; some complain when their students failed to secure a top ten position or entrance into the National Honor Society, even though the students failed to rightfully earned these tributes. These same parents are too frequently bamboozled into believing their students’ untruthfulness over teachers’, peers’ or other parents’ truthful complaints and concerns. These types of parents believe that the world revolves around their child. Unfortunately the helicopter parent is able to wield a certain degree of power at different levels; after all, the “squeaky wheel is what gets the grease”. But the power that these parents wield is not respected or respectful of others.
Recently, our parish pastor told me that the problem is so great that someone needs to write a good book about effective parenting – one that exhorts parents to love parenting and how to parent well while admonishing those who fail to parent and/or avoid parenting at all costs.
On the other hand, too many parents are lumped into the helicopter parent category when they express genuine concerns about their student’s grades, performance, or behaviors. We know of a family who expressed legitimate concerns about their son’s lackluster academic performance only to be embarrassed into “letting go”. Two semesters and $40,000 later, the son flunked out of college due to the development of a drug problem. Had the college proffered up the information they had at their fingertips, an earlier intervention or positive solution may have been found. Most parents know their child better than teachers, coaches, and other people; we are frequently the first to sense a problem sooner than in loco parentis adults. In fact, one professor reminds parents that her own “hovering” saved her college son’s life. Nobody else had recognized the symptoms behind his emerging mental illness.
Yes it is true, that all parents need to be their children’s advocates but not at the expense of instilling narcissism or ego-centrism in their own child. While parents should encourage their students to “find their potential” we must always remind our students that their talents are God-given and not self-directed. As in all areas of life, balance is the name of the game. Watching over the infusion of character in all aspects of our kids’ lives including their spiritual, mental, physical, cognitive, emotional, and social life is important. Neglect or unnecessary concerns with regard to only a few developmental areas will result in the ridiculous hovering and over-parenting that is never effective.
Do we all hover at different times? Probably, but it is much easier to hover when we don’t have enough to worry about; conversely it is more difficult to hover when there is plenty to worry about!
Recently one young woman proclaimed to me that few women can effectively parent seven children in today’s world– there is simply too much to worry about. After badgering her for further explanation, she ended up concluding that maybe she needed to research her statement more. But her attitude is so typical of the social indoctrination that has been willingly “adopted” by our modern society which has unnecessarily over-medicalized natural processes including birth, birth regulation, menopause, fertility cycles, etc. It comes in part from modern day sociologists who suggest that motherhood and breastfeeding are just two more ways that allow males to have dominance over females! Or those who suggest that motherhood is so much more difficult today because new mothers are expected to be super heroes who have to go through pregnancy without drinking a drop of liquor, smoking cigarettes, maintaining low weights, have to use car seats for any other kids, all the while trying to break through glass ceilings. These writers forget that previous generations of mothers had to combine pregnancy and mothering efforts with gardening (by necessity), sewing (by necessity), cooking (no eating out for these hard working moms), and no babysitters or nannies for these moms, etc. And they also forget what real life is all about. For example, a recent article quoted Angelina Jolie as saying that having children and sacrificing for them is what has taught her the meaning of authentic love! Sounds to me like she is beginning to get the gist behind theology of the body and the family.
Let me conclude with one final story. Friends of ours have a single daughter – needless to say the mother worries constantly about her young adult more than I have time for with regard to my four adult and three emerging adult children and their spouses and children. By the way, we now have eleven grandchildren and life is busy and fun! One day I asked this mother to “babysit” our two youngest children; sure enough, that was the day Patrick fell down while riding his bike and got a bit “beat up”. This friend called to ask whether she should run Patrick to the emergency room. After asking a few questions, I was satisfied that he would be fine; I also told her we would be home within the hour as planned – needless to say we did not rush home! After arriving home at the expected time, we felt the brunt of her admonishment for being too casual about the whole accident. After all, we did not rush home or allow her to take Patrick to the hospital. She worried that he might have internal bruising or a broken bone. I told her that a broken bone was impossible since he was walking about without crying. I also reminded her we had quite a bit of experience with broken legs. Her look told me clearly that she wasn’t surprised to hear why!
This story paints the gulf that exists between those of us with many kids and varied experiences and those with few of either. It is the classic difference between those who “power parent” vs. “helicopter parent”. Time management theories plainly lead to the conclusion that parents of a large family have less chance of being and/or staying helicopter parents. While we all may overly parent our first several children, the chances that that flaw will linger dwindles as we get busier and busier with four, five, and six children and more. But I offer this advice to parents – all of us need to create balance between real concern and advocacy vs. over parenting or over casualness with regard to the precious ones that God has given us for a little while. And what a blessing they are. Take the time to consider whether your worries about your little ones just are one more sign that God is calling you to make room for one more!

Image and Likeness

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. This means that we ought to be able to see God's genius in His creation - and so we can with our limited intellect.

For instance the other day, we saw two beautiful full rainbows in the sky- the second one was not merely a reflection of the other. It was its own rainbow but a perfect duplicate copy.

We have had opportunity to witness great compassion in others. This is a taste of God's compassion. We have all been introduced to a person we think of as a genius - again they foreshadow the great genius of the Almighty. We have met people with incredible artistic talents - musical, painters, writers, or others. Again they represent the beauty and artistry of what we will see in Heaven. Then there is the immense universe complete with stars, planets, meteorites, comets, and more. They were put there to remind us of the immensity of God. Other times we glimpse the enormity of suffering. This is to remind us of God's suffering as well when we reject His infinite love.

It isn't a coincidence that all of life is some sort of imagery or reflection of God and His Greatness. Recently we were blessed with two new grandchildren. These new babies really do reflect God's purity and innocence.

If only I could always go through life seeing how all of life is related to God's handiwork.