Helicopter parenting is a well-used term in parent-related media of late. It is also referred to as lawnmower parenting, over parenting or bulldoze parenting. We all know the general consensus is ‘don’t do it’ but as a single mother, this is sometimes easier said than done.
So who exactly are these lowly-regarded helicopter parents? Well, Carolyn Daitch, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders refers to them as ‘a style of parents who are over focused on their children’. Dig a little further and you’ll find them described as over-controlling, over-protective and interfering. They basically hover unhealthily close to their offspring to the detriment of their upbringing.
Of course, put like this, it’s definitely not the parenting style we want to adopt. Yet it’s a superfine line between caring for our children and giving them the space they need to become independent young adults.
Firstly, let’s look at ‘why’ parents adapt this helicopter parenting method. (According to an article on Parents.com, there are four main reasons.) Then we can see how these reasons relate to traits and emotions that burn particularly strongly in single mothers.
THE FEAR OF NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES
No parent wants to watch their child fail. Whether it’s flunking a test, losing a sports game or not being invited to an all-important party. It’s tempting to interfere so everything runs smoothly and prevent anything bad happening. Yet, the subsequent emotions of negative events are valuable life lessons for children. It is how they learn to deal with undesirable feelings, helping them accept failure and learning how to overcome it.
How a single mother may feel:
‘My child has already been forced to deal with emotions and heart-ache way above their years. If there is anything I can do to prevent them having to take on more negativity, then I will do it. I’m worried that after everything he/she has already been through they may not be able to cope. My desire to protect and to make their life perfect is in overdrive.’
THE NEED TO OVERCOMPENSATE
Naturally all parents try to do their best by their children but it isn’t always possible to get it right. And if they don’t get it perfectly right they feel the need to excessively recompense in other areas. This need to overcompensate may also come from an unhappy or unfulfilled upbringing of the parent, creating the desire to ensure their children don’t suffer similarly.
How a single mother may feel:
‘My child has been forced to grow-up in an unconventional environment and is already on the back foot compared to other children in regular families. I feel guilty as I’m partly to blame for what they’ve been through. I must make-up for this by doing everything I can to ensure that my child is happy, safe and successful.’
ANXIETY ABOUT THE BIG WIDE WORLD
As children grow, parents are faced with the reality that one day they will make their own way in the world. This can cause understandable anxiety. Worries about employment rates, the economy and the general safety of the world are all commonplace for parents. Of course, it’s important to guide and support our children. However, if taken too far, parents can become over-controlling in the attempt to pre-empt and protect their children from life’s natural downturns.
How a single mum may feel:
‘I am personally responsible for how my child deals independently with the world. It is my job to ensure that he/she is fully prepared. I will do whatever it takes to make sure he/she makes the right decisions to avoid failure, heart ache or disappointment. I have seen how easily our paths in life can change.. I am determined not to allow my child to go through this.’
‘THE OTHER PARENTS’ PEER PRESSURE
Everyone parents differently. Yet with no defined right or wrong way, it’s not uncommon for parents to feel unsure about their methods. Many opt for a more relaxed ‘I’m here if you need me’ style. Yet they may feel pressure from helicopter parents, resulting in guilt for not being more involved in their children’s lives. The result: Jump into the pilot seat and do the same.
How a single mum may feel:
‘As a single mother I already feel that other parents think I’m not as good as them. If I don’t step-up and show how involved I am in my child’s life, this will fuel their thoughts. I’m also worried if I don’t get more involved and help, while everyone else is, then my child will get left behind. Plus I’d hate for my child to think I don’t have time for him/her and that their friends have more attentive parents.’
These four simple points give single mums plenty of reasons to fall into the helicopter parenting trap. Maybe the only saving grace is that most single mothers don’t have the time or energy to hover continually over their children. And, due to their busy lives, may in fact encourage their children to become independent faster.
Engaged parenting is perfect, but overstep the mark and become a helicopter solo pilot, sorry I mean single parent, and the outcome can be problematic. This includes children lacking confidence, having immature coping abilities, lack of life skills and heightened anxiety.
So how can single mums avoid helicopter parenting?
To start, ditch the guilt. Single mums makes wonderful parents. Many hugely successful people were raised in single parent families. Have confidence and recognise there’s no such thing as the perfect family and your child will thrive in the one you provide. Most importantly, relax the reigns a little. Allow your child to experience life’s downturns and to feel the consequences. Then, when they do, help them to recognise their feelings, to learn from them and to understand it’s perfectly OK to make mistakes.
I hope this helps single mums to acknowledge whether they are a little close to the rotating blades of helicopter parenting. And if so, then to see the perfectly acceptable reasons why. It will hopefully even encourage a few adjustments that could take some pressure off and further strengthen the beautiful relationship that exists between a single mother and their child.