by Chris Reed
Parenting is a tricky business. Just when you think you’ve found the answer to something, in comes a curveball to muck it all up. For me, that recent curveball was the phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting.” I like to think of myself as a pretty laid back dad. It’s not that I don’t care what my kids do, but I’m definitely willing to let them explore the world and learn on their own.
I have to admit I’ve even chuckled to myself while watching other parents follow their kids around the playground, petrified at every turn. It amuses me because I used to be that parent. What’s not so funny? Although I thought I had put those days behind me, after a recent experience I’m not so sure.
Our kids were playing on a backyard seesaw, while I inconspicuously watched from the street. At one point I saw my son wandering dangerously close to the “see” portion of the seesaw and couldn’t help but yell out, “Hey, stay away from the ends while people are on that thing!” I didn’t even notice I had said it. I also didn’t notice I had crept across the lawn and was standing a foot away from the backyard gate.
After a few more nervous sighs, my neighbour exclaimed, “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.” That’s when I stopped in my tracks. It was official; I had become the parent I was chuckling about at the playground. I laughed it off with her, but I wasn’t laughing on the inside. Instead, I started thinking about the times in previous months when I had been a little too hands-on, and I was able to pinpoint the exact moment I had reverted to my old watchdog self.
It happened when my six-year-old son was playing with his friends at a local play facility. He got a little too aggressive and took a four-foot drop out of a bouncy castle onto his head. He was lucky to escape with scrapes and bruises, but things could have been much worse. And I haven’t been able to shake it since.
It used to be easy to keep an eye on the kids at the park. A lot of times I would join them on the structures, not to hold their hands but because I really like playing at the park and it makes me feel young. But now my son is at the age when he is going over to other kids’ houses to play, without me. This development is conjuring up some of the old anxieties I thought I had banished.
We’re quick to label different parenting methods these days, and then we assign labels to those labels without recognizing it’s a big world; different things work for different people. There is a balance that works for every family and every child. If you have a hyperactive child, maybe you keep a closer eye than you would with a child who is less rambunctious. Neither of these children or parenting approaches is better or worse than the other; they are simply different.
As I watched my son’s butt go flying a foot off the seesaw’s metal seat that day, I had a feeling of unease in knowing that the only thing I could do to save him from imminent disaster was to tell him to get off that deathtrap. I didn’t do it but there was definitely a struggle within the confines of my brain. In my battle for fatherly world dominance, I have realized that while I want my kids to pave their own way in this world, it doesn’t mean I’m going to turn a blind eye to the paths they choose, and I’m totally okay with that.