Friday, March 1, 2013

Helicopter Parenting

We've all seen them and read about them -- the dreaded "helicopter parents" who cannot help but hover around their children.  They intervene in the smallest crisis and try to direct everything from their child's teachers, to their child's friends, to their child's activities. 

As a parent of a special needs child, I feel guilty of this even when I loathe this type of behavior.  I know I jump in too often when I am with Joe and someone is talking to him in a way that I know is too laden with generalities or idioms.  I tell myself I am merely being a translator and yet isn't the best way to learn a foreign language to go to a place where that is the only language spoken and be forced to communicate? Nonetheless, it is almost impossible for me to sit by when someone asks him a question that I know he just doesn't get and I feel like a simple rewording will make it all go smoother.

Jumping in to translate when it is family, a store clerk or even a doctor is one thing but one issue that I am forever stressing about is Joe's driving.  What happens if he has an accident or gets pulled over by a police officer and they don't communicate in a way that Joe understands?

Joe drives himself to and from school every day.  The first time he drove away from the house (to go to the grocery store) I sat next to the phone until he returned.  I still have not been able to jump into the shower or put myself completely out of reach of a phone when I know he will be driving.  Is that helicopter parenting or just being careful?

Joe is a good driver.  I know he will never text and drive -- heck, he won't even answer his cell phone when it rings in the car -- because that is the rule.  He doesn't take a drink from his soda unless he is at a stop light.  He doesn't speed.  In fact, if he has a failing while driving it is that he is too cautious.  It is a bit like riding in the car with a little old lady instead of a teenaged boy!

At the same time, he is a new driver.  This morning was the first time he drove alone under really snowy circumstances.  He has driven on snow with me in the car but as anyone who has driven in snow can attest, things can happen fast.  Joe's biggest failing is that he likes to plan.  You cannot always plan what will happen when you drive.  If you could there wouldn't be accidents!

So this morning I asked him to text me when he got to school to let me know he got there safely.  This is the first time that I have asked this of him. 

His response?  "I will if I remember."  Painful honesty from an autistic teenager!

Of course, this is actually completely typical as I have been reminded repeatedly by my mother that I did something similar to her.  When I was 17, I had a part time job at a local discount store and naturally had a shift when it was snowing.  My mother asked me to please call her when I got to work.  "Oh sure, Mom, no problem!"

Naturally, being a teenager, I got there fine (we are invincible when we are teenagers or so we believe) and forgot all about reassuring my mother.  So she called and talked to one of my co-workers and then chewed me out when I got home.

DH and I were exchanging e-mails this morning while Joe was driving and we were wondering if I had made the right call.  Helicopter parenting?  Perhaps.  Although a true helicopter would have insisted on riding in the car while her child drove or perhaps followed him.

After 35 minutes (when it normally takes me 15-20 minutes to drive to school), I finally got a text.  "I made it with some slipping." 

So this turned out to be a good learning experience for both of us.  I didn't hover and he had the opportunity to drive in slightly tricky circumstances without assistance from mom or dad.  Sometimes that balance is as tricky as a slippery road for a new driver ....


  1. I think the people who term us "Hawk, Helicopter, clingy" Don't understand the amount of energy, attention and watching we had to do at ever stage of our childrens development.

    It's not a switch you can turn off after many years of being the one who was so careful to *guide* every step to the best outcome.

    I see myself doing this overprotective, worry, wait by the phone for hours.. thing for at least the next 20 years..but I do hide it a bit ;)

    We just have to learn to let go in stages and no matter what happens in life, we have to eventually pat ourselves on the back and "KNOW" it is all in the benefit of our children.