Friday, 18 September 2015

Helicopter Mother, or just a drone?

I did a naughty thing yesterday.

I was sorting laundry and suddenly realised that Littleboy 2 had merrily gone off to school clutching his swimming towel and goggles, for swim lesson, but minus the actual trunks.

At first I told myself that it would be fine, he'd borrow a pair from Lost Property (his brother has done that before) and I shouldn't interrupt my day. But I kept imagining his little face falling when he opened his bag and found the trunks weren't in there. My heart contracted, and I knew what I had to do.

So I jumped in the car, hair still wet from the shower, and zoomed down to the school to hand over the trunks, reaching the door just as his lesson was about to start.

Now this was naughty why? Well firstly, the school sent out an edict last year that parents were not to keep coming to school to hand over forgotten PE kit. It's a big school and it must happen fairly often, so I can understand it's a pain if they have to keep sending a teacher /helper to deliver missing items of clothing. (Perhaps in the future we should have drones to do it, like Amazon? Now that's an idea.)

But that's not the real reason it was bad. It was bad because, as I discuss with The Doctor all the time, I am not supposed to be the policeman of the bags. The boys are supposed to be checking their own stuff now in the morning and if something doesn't make it to school, on their own head be it. This patently doesn't happen: frankly, just getting Littleboy 2 out of bed and dressed in time for the school run is an achievement, let alone getting him to check his bag.

There have been plenty of articles in the media recently about helicopter parenting and how we are raising a generation of children who don't know how to do anything for themselves. By constantly being there for our children, making sure they're OK and helping them do their best, we're actually doing them a disservice, goes the argument. We should take a step back, let them look after themselves, like our parents' generation who just let us get on with it.

I generally agree with all of this. At my kids' age I was going to and from school by myself (on the Peak Tram in Hong Kong! I didn't know how lucky I was) and a year later travelling to boarding school on a plane. I don't ever remember much parental input in homework. I don't particularly WANT to be that mother insanely running to school with a pair of swimming trunks, and I want my children to grow up self-reliant.

But I think part of the problem now is the pressure that mothers, in particular, feel from all angles of the media to be perfect. If our kids fail at something, we get the blame. And if we aren't super-vigilant, we are terrible people -- this can range from the parents that are investigated by Social Services for letting their kids become obese, to the "free range" parents in the US who get arrested for letting their kids walk home from the park alone,  to the vilification of the McCann parents for leaving their children unattended in a holiday resort.

"Parenting," a word that didn't really exist in the 70s, is something every commentator has a view on. So of course we feel we have to be on the case 24/7, and making sure our kids don't forget their homework, lunch or swimming things, is a part of all that.

Incidentally, men don't seem to share our guilt, possibly because negligent fathering isn't a "thing" in the press.

What do you think? How do you square the whole helicopter debate?  And should I have chilled out over the trunks?


Clare Taylor said...

It's a tricky one. Would I have taken the trunks in? Probably, at this early stage in the school year, yes. They're still getting used to the schedule, still getting used the structure and, frankly, still used to just getting up. But I do agree that I (like so many parents I know) probably do too much for my kids. I'm trying to back off, to let them work out for themselves why it makes sense to remember things for themselves in a timely manner (spot the teacher-speak), but it's just so difficult to look at the forgotten kit and to visualise the sad face that's going to appear at the school gate a pick-up time knowing you have the power to lift their day from disaster to triumph - and not to use it.

So, will I take in the next piece of forgotten homework or kit? Who knows...

Thought-provoking post NVG!

Anonymous said...

It's actually not true that the word "parenting" didn't exist in the 1970s. It's been around for a minimum of 350 years, possibly longer (not checking the cite now, but I know it's at least that old).

It IS true that words like "parenting", "gifting", and "partying" all became significantly more popular in the 1970s, but that's part of a broader trend and says nothing about parenting styles then and now.


With that said, I've been there, done that. You spend your life outweighing compassion with pragmatism. If he usually remembers his stuff, it's probably better to just drop it off on the rare occasions he forgets (assuming this is no special hardship for you). If he forgets all the time, it may be time for checklists (suffering from executive function disorders as I do, I looooooove checklists!) combined with tough love.

Was Living Down Under said...

I would have probably done the same thing you did. Having said that, had you not had the flexibility to drop it off for him he would have learned from the experience. Letting my kids fail is something I have a really hard time with - and I think I bail them out more than I should.

Might be worthwhile to have a conversation about it with him. Let him know that this time you dropped it off but that you were thinking that he needs to learn to remember it, so next time, you won't drop it off and maybe there are things he should/could do to make sure he doesn't forget. So the incident isn't entirely without some learning - for you and him. And next time, he'd have had fair warning.

It's a tricky line I think.

Iota said...

Hard to say if you were right or wrong, because this is a one-off. Parenting is an on-going thing. There is something particularly vulnerable about not having swimming trunks, somehow, so that probably pulled at your heart strings more than if it had been a PE shirt. I think you have to pick your lesson-enforcing moments. Yes, there will be occasions where you want him to feel the consequences of not having remembered all his stuff, but maybe this wasn't that occasion.

I think you're so right about the pressure to be the perfect parent and the way that is a moving target. If we meet their needs, we're over-protective. If we don't meet their needs so that they learn responsibility, we're negligent. Honestly, it's quite a relief when they get a bit older, and no-one knows what you're up to. I miss the school gate, but I also quite like just being able to consult 2 or 3 trusted friends with older children when I want advice on teens, rather than that feeling of watching and being watched that seems to go with being a parent of younger kids.

I didn't get the drones "like Amazon" reference. Are Amazon delivering by drone, these days?

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - yes, Amazon have said they are going to deliver via drone (not sure if they actually are doing it yet.).

Expat mum said...

It depends on the child. As Iota said, this was (so far) a one-off thing and it could have been particularly humiliating for him. (I once had to do gym in my knickers and I thank god it was an all girls school.)
The way I look at it is, if your husband had phoned and said he'd left something important and would you be able to take it to him, would you have said no "to teach him a lesson?" Sometimes we extend compassion to grown ups and treat children differently.
If this becomes a repeat problem then obviously you can't be running into school every day so yo'd have to alter the check-list routine, or perhaps your son is just one of those children for whom this will always be a problem.) I have one of those.)

Muddling Along said...

I think at this stage in the term I'd probably have taken the trunks in - it's still early days and we're all working out way through how it all works (and we discovered homework that hadn't been written in the homework book yesterday morning and I let Bigger do it over breakfast rather than send it in not completed...)

It's so hard and yes, Fathers failing to sort out stuff never seems to get the same stream of disappointed emails from school (or at least Mr M didn't get them when at home and I still do despite not being at home)

Metropolitan Mum said...

I am a trunk-bringer! I try to remind them to look after their own bags, but have so far not succeeded. At some point they'll get there... I hope :) (Just imagined myself grey haired in one of these motorised wheelchairs, zooming into their office with a lunch box in hand, haha)

Circles in the Sand said...

I love the drone idea! That's brilliant. My boys are so far from being able to pack their own bags it's ridiculous! Between having me and Catherine the Great doing it all for them, they wouldn't have a clue. I'm still at the stage where I spend 10 minutes arguing with Son2 over putting his shirt on (he will only wear the shirt with 5 buttons, not 4!) .... After this, I don't think I could cope with them being on bag duty! I've taken stuff in a few times, and have been called by Son2's school to bring in a forgotten item - they just assume I'm a stay at home mum with no other commitments! Got called in once when Son1 misplaced his lunchbox at school - he must have looked so panicked at the thought he'd be hungry all day they called me at work. That one pulled at the heart strings too! Luckily M was around and went in - and found it as he walked in, by the side of the playground! I did think they could have sorted that out without such a palaver.

Anonymous said...

Ooh this is one I struggle with too NVG, my mum left when I was 9 so I had to be really independent from a young age, as you did too by the sounds of things. My girls are the opposite as I have always been here. I still have to remind my nearly 12 year old to brush her teeth and hair every morning, it drives me mad! I was recounting this to a friend who has much older children, saying I'm torn between picking up after her all the time or leaving her to fend for herself and she said she always did do a lot for her children as at some point they will have to do it themselves, hers did when they went to Uni, and they manage and get on in life. I think it's a myth that all
Children are incapable due to over parenting. Yes, I see Molly coddled kids, just as there were at my school, I also see kids who are under immense pressure from parents to succeed from a very young age. When they fly the nest, or go to secondary school everything changes and they have to get on with it whether they like it or not, as my daughter is finding!! Basically, I believe that if your child is loved they will succeed in life, and whether you took a pair of trunks in will not matter one jot. At some point they will spread their wings and take responsibility. They are little for such a short time, it's nice to be able to look after them.
I just thought I'd pop down, old school blogger aconfusedtakethatfan xx great blog post. I think you did a lovely thing and I know I would have loved my mum doing that for me xx

Mwa said...

My children's school is awful in that they will phone me up all the time when the children have forgotten something. I agree with you that they should learn to deal with consequences themselves, but it's hard not to go when they phone. I did on one occasion say no. It was about a book that one of them had left at home, and I just thought they could look with someone else. But I have gone for lunches left on the table, PE kit, etc. It drives me crazy! Still, I think if you want to go, you should, because on some occasions it's just the kind thing to do. I've gone back with something without being phoned as well, just because I knew the child in question would be really upset otherwise. Then it makes sense to me.

nappy valley girl said...

Thanks for all your comments - some really helpful thoughts here (Potty I love your "lifting their day from disaster to triumph).

And lovely to see ConfusedTakeThatFan back here after years and years - are you going to start blogging again?