At Work

How to Avoid the Temptation of “Helicopter Parenting”

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My mother-in-law is pretty tough. She is the only girl in a family of six.

When my son Parker was born, she told me to throw away all the parenting books. “Toss them out,” she said.

As a new parent, this terrified me.

When you’re a new parent, you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s easy to be driven by fear.

What if my child chokes?

What if they don’t walk early?

What if I have to send them to daycare?

The list goes on and on.

Scripture tells us not to worry because Christ is bigger than all these things.

Still, it’s easy to see why we might be fearful.

We’re bringing another human into the world. We want to raise them to be the best person they can be and to live into what God wants for them.

And we want to protect them.

The Seduction of Fear

Protecting our children is a tall order.

Fear and anxiety are natural responses as we seek to protect our kids, but they are responses we need to guard ourselves against.

The digital age makes this much, much harder.

  • Countless books, blogs, doctors, and other parents are at the ready to tell us how they think we should parent our kids. Who do we trust? Do we second guess ourselves?
  • Social media gives us a glimpse into how others parent their kids, or at least how we think they parent their kids. This reinforces our own fear and self-doubt when we see pictures of someone else’s son or daughter walking at eight months, well ahead of their peers.

The cycle of fear is dangerous. It leads to overcompensation. It seduces us, wrongly allowing us to think we can be in complete control.

This overcompensation is known as “helicopter parenting,” and the helicopter will ultimately crash.

We can’t know where our child is at every moment. We can’t protect them from every possible danger.

How will they grow?

How will we nurture our children through the trials we know are coming if we spend our parenting years protecting them from every possible threat?

God Is in Charge

I raise these questions because, in the course of answering the call to family in my own parental vocation, I fall victim to these fears all the time.

I constantly have to catch myself and remember I am not in charge of my children’s lives. God is.

He knows who they are and what they will be better than I ever will.

And, incredibly, he loves them more than I ever could. That’s comforting.

In spite of the power of God’s sovereignty over the lives of my children, I still want to climb into the helicopter and hover.

Should I Get My Kid a Helmet?

When Parker was learning to stand as an infant, he fell often and didn’t always fall on a soft surface. He had a constant bruise in the middle of his forehead.

One evening I suggested to my husband that we get a helmet for Parker.

To this day I can’t believe I uttered those words.

What I missed in my desire to protect Parker was the desire for him to stand so he could learn to walk. If Parker never fell, he would never learn.

Learning is critical for all of us. If we overprotect ourselves from every possible danger, how will we ever learn?

Worst-Case-First Thinking

Author Lenore Skenazy calls this “worst-case-first thinking.” It pervades our culture.

It has led school districts to remove soap from bathrooms to ensure no child ingests it.

It has led local communities to remove tree stumps from parks so no child accidentally trips.

It leads us to believe that if we turn our heads for even a minute at the grocery store, our children will be immediately abducted.

If we put our children in bubbles and try to protect them from every possible harm, we will stunt their spiritual, physical, and mental growth.

We will stifle growth opportunities that build character and perseverance.

I’m reminded of a piece of wisdom from Finding Nemo.

Nemo’s father, Marlin, is distraught over losing his son in the big, dark ocean.

At one point he shouts, “I don’t want anything to happen to him!”

The kind-hearted, gullible fish Dori wisely responds, “Well, if nothing ever happened to him then nothing would ever happen to him.”

Getting Out of the Helicopter

Scripture gives us the best wisdom for raising our children. Proverbs 22:6 exhorts,

Start children off in the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Our vocation as parents is to cultivate our children and help them grow into the people God created them to be.

We are to “start them off,” not insulate them from every possible danger.

The idea that we are even capable of doing this is arrogant. We can’t, and shouldn’t, prevent every possible bad thing from befalling them.

Scripture gives us hope to entrust our children to the Lord, even when that seems scary.

In doing this, we free them.

For this reason, we all need to get out of our helicopters.

Editor’s Note: On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This post was previously published on Nov. 20, 2015.

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  • Pete Smith

    The ancient practice of infant baptism goes a long way to curtail helicopter parenting. In the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the first question in the covenant of baptism is this: “Do you believe this child is a possession of God entrusted to your care?” When parents affirm this, they acknowledge that God is in control.

  • Manya Shochet

    We overcame this temptation by having 5 children, which generally kept us too busy to helicopter. They are all adults now, and all are, thank G-d, fine.

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