Ask Sassy: Free-range mom vs. helicopter mom

In Kids, Motherhood by Guest Writer2 Comments

bubble wrapDear Sassy:

One of my kids’ friends’ moms is very overprotective — she is the definition of a helicopter parent. I on the other hand am not quite free-range, but almost. It has gotten to the point I don’t even like to do anything with them anymore or I hesitate to set up a play date because she is constantly worried and telling the kids to not do things.

Kids are going to be kids, they are going to make mistakes, fall down and even come home with a broken arm. What do I do when her leash is too tight and it affects my kids, keeping them from having a good time and experiencing things and just being kids? Am I too trusting of the world and their surroundings, should I be a little more protective?

Dear Almost Free Range:

No way! Your instincts are there for a reason. You should listen to them!

Since you seem levelheaded about appropriate childcare boundaries, I’m going to assume your kids are a little bit older. Only time and fatigue can effectively beat the constant anxiety out of a mother. And you never know — Helicopter Mom, or HM, might have a reason for her overprotective ways. Maybe her child suffered an injury before you knew them, or maybe she’s wound herself up so tight that only Xanax can undo that knot. Either way, she’s starting to rub off on you in this department, and we can’t have that.

She’s going to learn that no matter what she does, her kid is going to fall and scrape his palms, or bang his noggin on a low shelf, or draw on his face with a permanent marker at some point in his young life.

As much as we try not to admit it, we all make judgments about OPP: other people’s parenting. Whenever I see one of my kids’ friends’ parents let them drink soda, I have to remind myself not to raise my eyebrows with disdained surprise. And when my kid says “Mom, why can’t I have soda, too?” I simply say “Because soda is poison, honey,” loud enough for the other mom to hear, and I leave it at that.

If you’re not comfortable sharing your opinion about this mom’s helicoptering in a similar snarky fashion, let’s turn to your two main choices. Actually, there are three:

1. Break up with her

Your time is precious and limited. Would you rather spend it sitting perched on the edge of HM’s non-flammable couch watching her follow the kids around with bubble wrap and a stern talking-to, or hanging out at your own house where maybe not every corner is encased in protective foam? If the kids are still so young that all of their friends are essentially interchangeable, then you have some control over this and you can load up your play date calendar with other families whose style aligns more closely with yours.

1a. Switch to drop-off play dates

If the kids are all BFF’s, then they are probably old enough to move to the next level: the drop-off play date. The angels will sing and the clouds will part and your children will have all the fun they can have playing with their friend and you will have some hours of free time and none of the headache. You will offer to reciprocate by hosting, but HM might not be able to let her kid out of her sight. Her loss.

2. Suck it up and do it for the children

If the kids are too young for a drop-off play date, but they really do enjoy being with this other child, this is your option. You can grin and bear this other mom’s anxiety issues while reminding yourself that it’s impolite to strangle people even when they are simply driving you crazy. Tell yourself that it’s her problem, not yours. This, of course, may require heroic self-control on your part, but doesn’t so much of motherhood? Of life?

If you’re at her house, then the kids all have to play by her rules and you’ll have to silently recite a mantra in order to withstand the hand-wringing and hovering. But at your house, a little more freedom (also, fun) is allowed. If someone falls off the swing and gets a lump on the head, you’ll whip out an ice pack and a lollipop, instead of freaking out and calling 911. (Unless of course her kid isn’t allowed sugary treats — but that’s a topic for another post.)

HM is going to learn that no matter what she does, her kid is going to fall and scrape his palms, or bang his noggin on a low shelf, or draw on his face with a permanent marker at some point in his young life. (Baby oil helps get that off. Don’t ask me how I know.) You have an opportunity to show by example that incidents like these do not mean the end of the world. Your relaxed demeanor will rub off on her and she’ll chill out a little bit and be more pleasant company, which is good for you, for her, and for the kids.

Send in your parenting question, relationship dilemma, or your snafu with social etiquette and it may get answered in a future column. Sassy is here to help! Submit your question for Ask Sassy here!

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  1. I can only tolerate so much of that type of parenting. I think dropping off is the best idea if your kid really wants to play with these children. Knew a woman like that, at least I was comforted knowing that my kid was SUPER SAFE since she barely let her two out of the house 😉

  2. I agree with Jessica. I was around an HM once. She was so extreme that it made me feel terribly sad for her kids. It’s your job to make sure your kids experience the world fully, in all its glory and all its pain. Otherwise how will they ever make it through the tough times?

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