Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Helicopter Parenting

I hear this phrase a lot nowadays, though it's mostly associated with older kids whose parents integrate themselves into every facet of their kids' lives, to the point that their kids never take any initiative to do things for themselves because their parents are always there to do it for them. Parents should be advocates for their kids, of course, but not to the degree that they discourage their kids from doing the tough stuff or where they support their kids in a situation where they shouldn't be supported (like when they have a showdown with a teacher and the kid is truly the problem). It's definitely a fine line, or at least, I'm sure it's finer when you're in the midst of a situation. But does the term apply to little kids? Toddlers? I'm sure to some degree it does. It may manifest itself in managing your kids' interactions with other people or what they eat or how they play. I tend to feel like I'm on the border of helicoptering, but I'm just not sure where the line is between helping Jacob along and doing too much.

Today was one of those days when I felt defeated by parenthood. My office picnic was today, and it all started out innocently enough. I headed to Jacob's daycare a little before 1pm to pick him up and take him to the picnic. Craig had to work, so it was just me and the little man. I knew the pickup time was right in the middle of his nap. I even considered letting him stay at daycare today, because he's got a cold and I hated the thought of disrupting his sleep yet again. It's been a rough week or two of sleeping, between late weekend nights, odd naptimes, sickness, and an apparently developing fear of the dark. He finally got a good night's sleep last night despite a nasty cold, and I half-considered just leaving him at daycare so he could have a normal day and a full nap. However, peer pressure did me in and I figured having a nice day with mommy was just as good as a good nap. And at first, it all seemed to be going well. I got to daycare and he was asleep, and I managed to get him up, in the car, and strapped in without waking him up. He slept the whole trip across town (probably 25 min.), and only woke up once we got there. He was in a good mood once he woke up, but the second he started looking around, I knew I was in trouble. The park we were at had sports fields surrounding it, and Jacob noticed the soccer nets immediately. He wouldn't stop talking about it, in fact, and it only got worse. Jacob squirmed all over the place, trying to get out of my arms and run for the exits so he could go play baseball or soccer or whatever. Shortly after we got there it was time to eat, but I knew he already had lunch at daycare so I figured he wouldn't be very interested. He snacked, but his attention span was short. I spent most of the day fighting him, actually. He wanted to play baseball, but there was no ball to be found so I tried to direct him to the bouncy house (a little one). While he was fighting me on that, some bigger kids started playing in the inflatable. Just then he decided he wanted to, too, but the kids were playing pretty rough so I tried directing him elsewhere. Ugh. Eventually he got to play in that, but then it was off to other things. We finally ended up on the playground. It was like every other playground out there, with a big apparatus full of various slides and climbing areas. He liked playing on the bridge (though he was very tentative on it) and did go down one slide (with me--he was afraid the slide was hot), but he lost interest in that soon enough. He carried around a baseball bat (not his) most of the time we were there. And you know, I consciously didn't bring his full assortment of equipment because I figured 1) I'm only one person and I didn't want to carry that much stuff) and 2) I figured there'd be enough other stuff going on that he wouldn't need it. But no, he was as focused on sports as ever. He was constantly running away from me, too. Needless to say, it was exhausting and frustrating. And I hardly got a chance to talk to anyone from my office, because I was constantly running after him and making sure he wasn't getting into any trouble.

After dessert, we headed back to the playground. A lot of kids were playing on it by then, and Jacob joined in. Most kids were a little bigger than him, but there was one that was smaller. Jacob insisted on taking the baseball bat with him, and while he was up on one of the platforms at the end of the bridge, the littler kid tried to take it from him. Jacob pulled it back and happened to step back in the process. Well, this happened to be one of the areas that didn't have anything penning him in--one side was just an open spot from which to jump from, I guess, about four feet up. Why they make those things like that, I don't know. I understand that these things are generally for older kids, but this one had a couple little slides and some other things that would appeal to younger kids, so why they make some of them so easy for kids to walk off of, I don't know. I was a couple feet away when it happened and couldn't get to him in time. He fell off the platform in a heap. I can't remember quite how he landed, but I think it was mostly on his back and side, with most of his body hitting the ground at the same time. It was a big drop and I pretty much had a mini-heart attack when it happened. Worst. Feeling. Ever. I rushed over to him and scooped him up. The way he fell it didn't appear he would have broken any bones, but you never know. He was crying hysterically (and believe me, I wanted to be, too) and I rushed him over to a shady area to assess the situation. I could see one little bloody spot on his cheek, and then took off his sunglasses to find a slightly worse one where they dug into his face a bit. But that was all I could find. He was crying too hard to find out if anything else hurt, so eventually I just took him into the lodge to clean him up, change his diaper and give him a good once-over. I figured a cold drink and some air conditioning might help, too. He cried for quite a while, but as usual, once he stopped, he was almost immediately back to normal. He was a little whinier for the rest of the time there, and the running and battling continued. At least it was good evidence that he wasn't hurt badly, since he seemed completely back to normal. We tried to keep things low key for the rest of the time, though. I was pretty relieved to get out of there and get home.

So, now, let's examine the situation. I know that I tend to helicopter a bit under normal circumstances. I'd rather help feed Jacob something messy, rather than have to deal with clothing changes and stain removal. I know he can feed himself with varying degrees of success, but in certain circumstances (like away from home or with foods that can be tough to chew), I tend to be a little more hands-on. I tend to spend a lot of time running after Jacob, because he gets into trouble far too easily and tends to be a little clumsy. Sometimes I see other parents letting their little kids run amok, and I feel like I'm one of "those parents" that never lets their kid do anything on their own. I'm totally the parent that's up on the playground equipment and sliding down the slide with him, or holding his hand down every flight of stairs, or hovering when he climbs on something. When we were at the spray park, I was never more than a couple feet away because things were wet and Jacob doesn't know his own limits. But other people were letting their little kids run free and I totally felt like an overprotective hoverer. Kids fall, kids get hurt, and kids heal. I get it. And if I don't let him run and fall, he'll never learn. But what if he runs and falls and REALLY gets hurt? Today was immensely scary. And it happened to be one of the few moments I was letting him run and play on his own. And look what happened. Part of me feels validated, that this proved that I have a reason to constantly hover, and the other part of me feels like a schmuck because I didn't follow my instincts and protect my child. He could have broken bones or gotten a concussion, and I should have been there to stop it. I suppose every kid is different, and I'm well aware that Jacob is clumsy. As athletic as he is when he's swinging a bat or lacrosse stick, or kicking or throwing a ball, he can't walk through obstacles at all. He never watches where he's walking or stepping. He'll look one way and walk another, or step on every toy in his path, or walk into opening doors or get thrown off balance by a crack in the sidewalk. And inevitably, he crashes into something. I must have kissed at least five boo-boos on Sunday alone, and I don't think that's counting the nasty brushburn he got on his chin when he fell while running. We were at a family reunion (weekend update to come soon) and I was retrieving stuff from the car while my mom was playing with him. When I got back he had a nasty scrape on his chin but was already happily running around again. When I got to daycare yesterday, he was getting iced down after losing his balance in the hallway and bumping his head. Then today happened. So maybe I should just accept that I know my kid best and his clumsiness dictates that I stick close by. We don't exactly have playdates with kids his own age very often, so I'm not even sure at what age it's normal to let your kid go a bit. And I swear that in almost every scenario we're in, there's never a kid his age. There's always ones just a little older or a little younger, and at this age even a few months makes a big difference. The big ones are just a little more coordinated and daring, and the younger ones worry me because Jacob can be a little hardcore with his sports and those kids would never know what hit them if Jacob's baseball swing went a little off-target. The whole thing just makes me uncomfortable.

So, yeah, today sorta sucked. I constantly felt like I was chasing down and trying to direct Jacob out of trouble (or at least, prevent him from bothering other people), and then the one time I tried to lay off, he fell and could have seriously hurt himself. It was an exhausting day and I didn't get to hang out with my co-workers at all. Oh, and then Craig had to work late. Any other day would have been one thing, but I was so mentally exhausted from all of this that I was desperately in need of some me-time to decompress (i.e., blog about it). Fortunately, Jacob ate his dinner pretty well and I filled the evening with a wagon ride and some low key outdoor play. He hasn't been wanting to take wagon rides lately, but I managed to convince him tonight. I found it sad that it was the first time all summer (actually, first time since we moved) that I had been able to take him on a wagon ride or walk of any kind. It's only almost August. Ugh. Where has this summer gone? Anyway, Jacob's face looks like he's gone a couple rounds with a baby Mike Tyson, and I'm still not feeling any better about the events of today. I keep hearing how boys are so much harder at this age, how girls just sit and play and boys never stop moving. It's no wonder I keep longing for baby #2 in hopes that it's a girl. Dolls and tea parties I can do...but this boy stuff? I'm not so sure I'm cut out for it. Not much choice, of course, but right now, it's really, really hard.

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