September 8, 2009

Helicopter Moms: Trying to land

(Editor's note: Sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're tackling motherhood in the 21st century -- or being tackled by it. This is the latest in a series of reflections by UPI writers.)

CHICAGO, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- My kids were reading over my shoulder this morning. They wanted to know: What's a helicopter mom?

I tried to explain: It's a mom who hovers over her kids all the time, trying to do everything for them, constantly meddling, calling their teachers and stuff like that.

Cool, my oldest daughter said.

She's old enough to be considered a tween but nowhere near ready to be one yet. She's happy to have me meddling in her life and would be thrilled if I was calling her teachers and doing her homework for her.

My girls are still at an age where Mom is the center of their world. They fight over who gets to sit next to me on the couch, grasp for extra hugs at bedtime and tell me they still aren't too big to be carried -- even though they really are.

They complain because I have to work. I could understand, except that I work from home, I'm with them all the time and they've never spent a day with a nanny or in daycare. I think they have it pretty good.

When I go to college, will you come with me? my oldest frequently asks.

Of course I will, especially if you go somewhere cool like England or Boston, or even California, I tell her.

Really? she asks, suspiciously.

Absolutely, I say.

I know, however, that when the time comes, she won't really want me there. And, as my daughter likes to say, That's a good thing, although I have to admit the thought of a pied-a-terre in Cambridge has fueled a daydream or two.

The phrase I often hear thrown around by teachers, usually when talking about any classroom other than their own, is: You need to be your child's advocate. I like that one because it gives parents permission to hover without the nickname. Despite the derision with which it was coined, I know there are plenty of parents who aspire to helicoptering mantle -- kind of like yuppies who hate the name but covet the BMW.

Can we come up with a new term for involved parents, something new to which we can aspire? How about submarine mom, lurking in the depths but ready to surface at a moment's notice. Or perhaps, missile defense mom -- stationed at a distance, ready to launch a counter-attack when necessary.

As a parent, there is a fine line between advocating and hovering. Often, my attempts at advocating fall flat. When I told one teacher not to let my very bright daughter get away with anything less than her very best effort, the teacher cracked down so hard I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling her to back off a bit.

Nine times out of 10, I've found my daughters do better when I make them fight their own battles. I do admit, however, to sometimes coaching them on the script.