Monday, February 8, 2010

Helicopter parenting

Back in the days when Kate was a toddler, and Leo not even thought off, and we lived in London, I marveled over the amount of organized activities some SAHM's would schedule for their children. There was singing, music group, toddler tumble, baby swim, story telling and pottery class in abundance. Every day, another thing they needed to get to in time, and that always seemed to clash with nap times and feeding routines.

I would bump in to a mother friend on my way to the play ground and she would be busy maneuvering her stroller on to the bus, rushing to get from playgroup to baby ballet, "I don't have time to chat right now, let's meet for coffee next week." We'd never make it to coffee.

As I was studying for my MA and Kate was at nursery 2 full days a week, the days we had at home together, I simply didn't have the energy to have to be somewhere at a certain time. I needed to take the day as it came. We would hang out with friends in the play ground for hours, go for long walks and find pine cones in the park, weather permitting, or just have a four hour long play date which consisted of Kate and her friends turning the apartment up side down while me and the other mothers would drink endless pots of tea, read gossip magazines and talk about how sleep deprived we were. And I admit, we would scoff at the poor mother's who had signed up to a life with screaming kids on the public transport, constantly going somewhere, never ever standing still long enough to take a deep breath.

Then I moved to California. Kate started Pre-K. And if I thought mother's over-subscribed their kids in London, I was in for a huge reality check. Suddenly, baby swim and toddler music seemed like free play compared to Mandarin lessons, yoga classes, Violin and Arithmetic for pre school Einsteins which were all norm rather than exception. And that's not counting the weekend activities which were all out doors, and sports based. Soccer practice twice a week, and two games on Saturday. And then off for some light mountain hiking. By the way, this is 4-year old's we're talking about.

I have always felt that we are doing our children a disservice by over-scheduling organized activities. Along with activities comes and enormous amount of pressure to perform and become better (well, best) of your peers. The activities are not for fun - they are competitive and strenuous and will leave children feeling that if they are not the best, they are simple not good enough. But apart from physically exhausting our kids and turning them in to self conscious wrecks , we are also taking away the ability to figure out who they are, and what the world is all about. And most of all: we are not letting them be bored.
All kids needs to be bored. They need to learn to become creative with play and time. They need to develop their imagination. And they don't need a mother who drives them from swimming to hockey in five minutes flat, they need a mother who sits next to them on a sofa and talks about dragons, and dolphins and why the earth might be flat after all.

According to a new book by American therapist David Code, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, this problem is now recognized as "helicopter parenting", which "creates anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children." He has a simple formula for happier kids: take the focus away from your children and move it on to your marriage instead. Because another side-effect of helicopter parenting are less time to spend with our spouse leads to empty and unhappy marriages. This could be one reason why divorce rates in the US are sky rocketing right now.

So cut down on the activities! Start to actually spend time with your little one's. Listen to what they have to say. Get down on their level and see how they experience the world, and still have time over to give your husband a hug.

1 comment:

  1. I work in a daycare in the USA and can TOTALLY understand what you are referring to. I wish more American mom's would look to their husbands late at night instead of hyper focusing on their kid's schedule for the upcoming day. Mom's need to realize that a packed schedule doesn't make you a good parent.