The Helicopter Parent

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So, the Winter Olympics just wrapped up, and let me say, holy shitballs, people - those athletes are amazing. They train for their entire lives and sometimes go home champions and sometimes just go home with stories. However, if you want to see some everyday Olympic caliber amazingness, watch a parent change the sheets on a bunk bed, or wrestle a toddler into a pull-up - sorry, Shaun White - I’m just sayin’, I haven’t even had time to train for this shit, but here I am making magic happen.

A fascinating event that some parents tackle with Olympic level focus, training, and voracious dedication is Other Parent Judgment. Listening to some of these Olympians (aka parents), you’ll hear all kinds of technical terms like “Attachment Parent”, “Free-Range Parent”, “Tiger-Parent”, and my personal favorite, “Helicopter Parent” being thrown around. Our everyday Olympians are experts on these terms much as I heard Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski call out a “Triple Toe Loop” or “Double Sow Cow” (or whatever the hell it’s called) like it was nothing. Now Johnny and Tara earned their licks to be critiquing the figure skaters but the question I have for the parent-athletes is: Where does this desire to label come from? Is it ingrained in them much as the desire for a gold is etched into the being of Mikaela Shiffrin? Or does it come from somewhere else? Somewhere less admirable?

Here’s the thing - parenting is hard. It’s really hard and having other parents, or even better grandparents, or even better than that non-parents judging our every move is so not helpful.

I could go on and on about all of the parenting labels that parents put on themselves as well as are bestowed upon us by others whether deserving or not. But I won’t. I will however address the one that I have been guilty of throwing around like an insult until I came to understand it better: The Helicopter Parent.

You know what I’m talking about - the mom who follows little Jimmy all over the playground equipment making sure he’s safe. The dad who won’t let the kids ride anywhere with their grandparents because the carseats haven’t been checked by the fire station. The mama who makes sure you’ve triple washed your hands and then still asks you to use hand sanitizer one more time before holding the baby, even though it’s August and flu season was over months ago. We’ve taken comfort in labeling these parents helicopters - hovering about their little person constantly so as to protect them from every scrape, bruise, unkind word, and unpleasant smell.

However, when we take a step back, we need to realize what we’re actually witnessing is something deeper. It’s not just care and concern for the tiny person these parents are in charge of keeping alive, but it’s quite possibly, and most likely, a perinatal mood disorder called postpartum anxiety.

The mama’s too anxious to just relax and chat at the playground, not because she’s uptight, but because her brain actually won’t let her. Daddy can’t enjoy a day at the pool with the kiddos because his mind won’t stop racing to the terrible “what ifs”. Leaving the baby with a sitter can be the single most stressful moment for these parents not because they’re worried that the baby might not get a nutritious meal or to bed on time but because they're terrified the sitter might strap the baby in the carseat and leave town. They can’t help it. Their mind won’t stop and it’s not their choice, it’s also not their fault.

Parents get to come at this lifelong Olympic event any way they want. So here’s what I suggest: as fellow parents we take a step back. As with everything in life, we have no idea what’s happening in someone else’s world. If you see a daddy hovering over his daughter all around the zoo, it’s not your place to label him. Have compassion, show him kindness, and know this parenting thing is not the same for any of us. I take solace in the fact that when I was suffering from postpartum depression I didn’t have to wear an armband to show I was not doing great. On the other had, it would have been extremely helpful if I had worn one so then people would maybe have had more compassion for me or at least more patience.

Let’s do this for one another - as a parenting community - as a tribe. Respect our fellow little-person-keeper-alivers and save the commentary for Johnny and Tara. Your fellow Olympians may be gold medalist mac-n-cheese makers while you don’t make the podium in that event, but they can’t hold a candle to you in bedtime story telling. We’re all aspiring to be the best at something (read magical bandaid application). We all have dreams, people.

Now, can we talk about Johnny’s hair?