Relaxed parenting will always beat hovering over your kids, says writer Lucy Mangan
I’m not allowed to swear in this column. Which is a pity. Because a study has recently been published purporting that the parents most likely to be suffused with contentment and joy are not – as has previously been assumed – the non-childcentric among us.
Instead, it seems the mums and dads destined to be permanently wreathed in smiles are those ones who hover over their child’s work, play (and everything in between) to ensure that his or her passage through life is as free of any difficulty or stumbling block as is humanly possible.
'The happiness you get from helicopter parenting is the happiness that comes from self-indulgence'
Overprotecting our children
Cue the [bleeep] helicopter mafia swinging round in the air to swoop triumphantly down on the rest of us like a squadron of smug [bleeeeep] Budgies. Well, the psychologists may be right, but not for the reasons the Budgie brigade assume.
The happiness you get from helicopter parenting is the happiness that comes from self-indulgence.
We all want to protect our children, and the instinct to do so doesn’t limit itself to genuinely dangerous things like cars, cliffs and foaming seas. It spills over into a desire to shield them from feeling a moment’s doubt, insecurity or puzzlement – indeed, from anything that causes them to descend for a single nanosecond from the peak of paradisiacal contentment and utter safety we dream of for them.
Time for tough love
But, in our hearts, we know two things. We know such protection is impossible. And that, in the long run, it won’t do our children anything but a disservice, rendering them unable to cope with life’s vagaries or develop any of the essential skills needed to become a functioning adult.
We’ll graduate from helicopters to what an article in the Boston Globe recently christened ‘snowplow’ parenting – doing things like calling up our offsprings’ college tutor to complain they’ve upset our children with poor grades or even attending job interviews with them – thus ensuring they remain dependent on us in some way pretty much, well, forever.
This is what some primeval part of even the most unmaternal of us secretly prefer, but anti-helicopter parents fight this. Admittedly, some of us are temperamentally better suited to this than others. Personally, I find my natural sloth aids me greatly in this regard. I might have to fend off the helicopter urge when my son is of an age when he wants to take part in sports and other risky activities. But, at the moment, it’s paying off.
Helicopter parents hover on swirling updrafts of insecurity. Non-helicopters ground ourselves in determination not to let them carry us away.
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Lucy’s new book Charlie's Chocolate Factory: the Complete Story of Willy Wonka, the Golden Ticket and Roald Dahl's Greatest Creation is out on September 4th.