Resisting the Urge to Helicopter
June 17th, 2017
I try not to be a “helicopter” parent – hovering over my children, making choices for them, constantly interceding on their behalf to smooth their path through life, and generally crippling their ability to become independent, functioning adults. It’s actually pretty hard and requires constant vigilance as I am a Solver of Problems and Doer of Things. Sitting back and letting my kids solve their own (developmentally-appropriate) problems is all kinds of tricky.
Just when I think I’m doing a good job, something sneaks up on me. Lately I’ve had to take a step back from overinvesting in one of my children’s extracurricular activities.
My oldest daughter has played softball for the last couple summers. She enjoys the camaraderie of the team, her bright pink bat, and the snow cones she gets from the concession stand after the game. She likes weeding the outfield and doing the warmup drills with her teammates. Batting, on the other hand, is a struggle. And by “struggle” I mean I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen her connect with the ball in two years of watching her play.
After her first practice this season, she was pretty upset about her batting woes and I naturally went into Solve the Problem Mode. I polled my friends, watched YouTube videos about batting techniques, arranged for extra one-on-one time with her coach, and bought whiffle balls and beach balls and practice sticks. I hauled her regularly into the backyard to practice and voiced many encouraging things like “oh, so close!” and “great swing, just start sooner!”
But after a few weeks, it slowly dawned on me that something was wrong. I noticed that I was the one driving all the effort – not her. And eventually I realized that my daughter didn’t actually want to get better. Oh, she definitely wanted to BE better, but she was not intrinsically motivated to put in the time and effort needed to get there.
So I stopped trying to convince her to practice with me. I take her to her games, cheer from the bleachers, compliment her fielding attempts, and tell her how very proud I am that she tries her best. But I don’t try to talk her into extra batting practice. I gave her the opportunity to quit and she chose to stick with it (which makes me quite proud, actually), so now it’s up to her.
I’m poised in the wings, ready to lend a hand if asked, but she’s going to need to ask. And if she doesn’t ask for help, I’m going to need to be okay with that. She’s old enough now that I shouldn’t be more invested in her sport than she is.
I’m not exactly sure when that shift occurred. When kids are first involved in extracurricular activities, it’s always the parent driving that involvement to a certain extent. We suggest that they try dance lessons or soccer or martial arts. We round up friends to be on the same team. We promise them ice cream at the end of the game and cajole them stick it out through the end of the season.
But eventually, the responsibility has to shift and our kids need to take ownership of their own hobbies and participation. With my son, it meant I had to let him give up dance in favor of basketball, which broke my heart because I loved to watch him dance. With my daughter, it meant biting back the urge to say – ‘are you SURE you wouldn’t rather take gymnastics this summer?’ – when she announced her desire to stick with softball after that first painful practice. But it also means letting her own her investment in the sport and sometimes that includes watching her struggle without constantly trying to fix the problem for her.