Jason sat on the edge of my couch, his head in his hands, weeping. He had graduated from a top college on the Eastern Coast with solid grades and a gritty year abroad. On paper his capabilities were strong. However, 6 months into his first job, Human Resources had sent him to me to assess motivational and planning issues; standard executive functioning issues. He was exhausted, befuddled and needed something he could not name.
Raising children can be the most amazing, frustrating, exciting, crazy, awe inspiring, agonizing fabulous vocation in the world as we know it. This tiny life is suddenly in our hands, in our care. Many parents have the hope that they will not make the same mistakes their parents made. Some hope they will be able to replicate the childhood they had. Others set the bar very high and hope to give their child a very different childhood experience from the one that created them.
Hovering. Helicopter Parenting. These words describe a parenting style in which the parent “helps” the child by organizing the child’s social schedule, manages the child’s “free” time with enrichment activities, offers a crushing amount of unsolicited opinions, hires tutors for the child to mange high expectations and eventually does the child’s homework so that the child gets a good grade or doesn’t have excessive stress.
As parents engage in this parenting style, they rarely say to themselves: “Let me do what I can to stifle my child’s sense of self; I want a child who cannot structure a day, execute a project, manage anxiety or forge solid working relationships with co-workers.” Usually, the hope is to attend to their child the way they were not attended to. The hope is to be sure their child doesn’t experience undue stress or discomfort. The hope is to make sure the child knows that the parent loves them and will always be there for him or her. Sometimes the parenting style is used to make the parent look good or to help the parent remain in the social group the parent wants or needs to be in.
Aron had executive functioning issues. Or, equally accurate: he needed to learn, in his early twenties, what kids were learning naturally in middle school and high school. He had never learned how to make his own schedule and keep to it. He hadn’t learned how to budget time to complete various stages of projects. He struggled with co-workers and the distribution of work. He needed a supervising agent to tell him what the next goal was.
Aron’s case is extreme. He had a lot of unlearning and learning to do in order to catch up to his peers. Other kids experience this steep learning curve when they go to college or move out of the family home and leave their helicoptering parent behind [as much as possible]. Cell phones and texting can make this very difficult. We also had to work with his parents, his father in particular, on managing their reaction to his anxiety as he mastered some of these goals.
Loving on Life’s terms means giving a child enough guidance and support that they can accomplish the learning they need to accomplish without doing it for them. Children must learn how to manage anxiety, learn through trial and error, handle down time without screens or being entertained, think for themselves.