It's not easy letting our kids fail and succeed on their own. But it's necessary.

But Is It Safe? Abandoning Helicopter Parenting So Kids Can Grow Up

It's not easy letting our kids fail and succeed on their own. But it's necessary.

By Kathryn Streeter

I’m a safety mom. For starters, speed is not my middle name. During a past ski trip, the fact that I consistently arrived back at the chairlift last underscored this reality. My concern about staying safe informed my behavior. I checked my speed while descending the mountain.

Though cautionary words were on the tip of my tongue, I didn’t prohibit my teens from their downhill flight. I didn’t want to harden their resolve.

A person who thrives is being who they were meant to be. That’s exactly what my goal is for my kids, and probably yours touches on this theme in some way, too. We want our kids to mature into independent young adults who can make wise choices.

Implicit in this desired end-result is that along the way, parents must let go.

Choices must be real, prohibiting parental rescue-missions when decisions made will be met with unwelcome consequences.

Releasing generally doesn’t come naturally, and the learning curve for mothering tweens-to-teens has been steeper than I’d expected. I find myself helplessly speeding down the mountain to keep up with my burgeoning young adults, doing the silent scream: “Watch out for the trees!”

From the backseat on a road-trip, our then-sassy preschooler lashed out, asking for a new family, new parents. She had aspirations we couldn’t meet, and she was moving on. We swung into the nearest gas station and, pointing to a minivan overflowing with a large family at the next pump, told her to go ahead, give it a try. Her exasperation with us evaporated when we gave our consent for her to pursue her dreams. We called her bluff; naturally, she wasn’t ready to make decisions for herself.

At 4, free-choice was an illusion. Not so today. Releasing teens to make decisions helps teach life-long lessons early about taking responsibility for their actions. In practice, though, I’ve found my convictions tested.

Schoolwork was a big power struggle around our home, an area where I heard myself giving nonstop directives and reminders. By 6th grade, it was time to back off and allow our kids to experience the thrill of merited success in school with limited parental intervention. At this age, I’m enabling qualities of dependence and laziness if I oversee assignment deadlines. I knew a hands-off approach was the right one, yet it pained me when they innocently forgot their homework.

But when I forget and coddle, I hurt them. I’ve kept myself at the center, serving their every need and ultimately, the goal of independence is undermined. In daily life, it’s easier to fall back into prior patterns, acting as protector and provider. It’s harder to stay in the shadows and watch our kids successfully dodge one bad decision only to perform a painful face-plant. But how else do you learn?

The golden sphere of enrichment activities is a common pitfall for parents because it’s hard to resist micromanaging. Colleges want well-rounded kids, so parents are apt to sit at the controls of this key area of their kids’ life. We once knew an influential couple in Washington, DC who required their youth to take a stringed musical instrument and a foreign language. My eyes lit up because it sounded like an insurance plan to turn out accomplished, polished children. Luckily, I listened to my husband’s horse-sense; we didn’t take this approach. In retrospect, it was a sound decision for us.

Today our daughter, a natural linguist, is an advanced French student completely of her own choosing. When she was little, she elected to take piano lessons but after a few years tearfully confessed she loved her teacher, not the piano. With our blessing, she quit and later picked up the guitar for fun. Today, her story includes a foreign language and music. Had we forced things, she’d possibly have resented us and done less.

We want to choose enrichment activities for our kids, yet how they choose to occupy themselves fosters organic interests. With no encouragement or family history touching the subject, our son has invested hours in educating himself about supercars, affording him an impressive knowledge base. He’s motivated from within, and as parents, we can’t take credit for it. We can’t know now if this will play any part in his future, and that’s not the point.

Given lots of space for exploration when it came to electives and hobbies allowed our children to flourish and feel they ‘owned’ their interest; they weren’t being coerced or simply satisfying what we put in motion for them.

Handing over general decision-making authority to our teens guarantees temporary discomfort for parents. But it’s likely that holding on in an effort to stay safe will only hamper growth and potential happiness. In fact, the act of releasing our youth may be the only way to insure a flourishing future for my kid and yours.

I am a safety mom. Sometimes, I snow-plow. Sometimes, I hover. But by opening my trembling fists, I say yes to letting my kids grow up and find their way, even at uncomfortable speeds.

Perhaps you should try it, too.


About Kathryn Streeter

Kathryn Streeter’s writing has appeared in publications including Mamalode, Club Mid, Scary Mommy and BLUNTmoms. Her essay is forthcoming in the anthology, “Feisty After 45.” Connect with Kathryn on her website, on Twitter @streeterkathryn and Instagram @kathrynstreeter.