There are so many modern parenting guides for raising successful (and intelligent, moral, creative, vegan, eco-friendly, bilingual, and musical) children, that trying to navigate the child-care section at the bookstore—let alone parenting itself—can be confusing.
The sheer number of parenting books highlights our concern for our kids’ well-being. But our well-intentioned desire to shape our children’s future has developed into major anxiety about their safety, happiness, and ability to succeed. This anxiety is the heart of over-parenting, or helicopter parenting.
Many of us second guess every move we make as parents. Since “parenting” wasn’t even used as a verb until the 1970s, there’s not a clear script for effective parenting. So today’s parents are trying to piece together a job description from scratch, while also preparing their kids for an increasingly competitive world.
But the more we anxiously try to make sure our kids become thriving adults, the more we’re communicating anxiety and passing it down to them. That means our obsession with doing everything right actually has the opposite effect on kids than we intend. Children of helicopter parents are more anxious, depressed, and emotionally dependent on their parents than kids that aren’t coddled.
But, perhaps ironically, much of the analysis on the negative effects of helicopter parenting focuses on the children. What about the parents? The fact is that helicopter parenting is detrimental to us, too. Here’s how over-parenting makes you miserable, and ways to take back your life to the benefit of your whole family.
3 Ways Being a Helicopter Parent is Bad for You
Helicopter parenting makes you 1) depressed, 2) stressed, and 3) unhappy. A 2012 report in the Journal Of Child And Family Studies found that mothers with an “intensive parenting attitude” were more stressed and depressed than mothers who were more laissez faire. Keep in mind that laissez faire doesn’t mean not caring and not keeping kids safe, healthy and happy.
The study also found that mothers who believe parenting is “difficult” or that parents’ lives should revolve around their children also reported less satisfaction with their own lives.
And since studies show mothers spend more time with their kids than they did in 1965, when women largely weren’t in the workforce—your intense parenting schedule is probably leaving you exhausted, too. While mothers still tend to spend more time with their children than fathers, a helicopter parenting-attitude would likely have similar emotional effects for men.
How did we end up here? The connection between anxiety and over-parenting
Ours fears generate anxiety. Because we want to protect our children from harm and ugliness in the world, we project our worst fears onto them. But “over time, parents can become hypervigilant for any signs of trouble in an attempt to cut it off at the pass,” Kara Fitzpatrick, a clinical psychologist and expert in adolescent health at Stanford University, explains.
“In general, when we’re anxious, we try to avoid strong negative emotions, like disappointment and upset. As a result, our anxiety can cause us to work hard to make certain our children never experience those negative emotions. Of course, this ignores the fact that everyone experiences upsetting feelings, and that they’re an opportunity to learn emotional resilience,” Fitzpatrick says.
Many helicopter parents try to protect their children from disappointment and struggle by setting them up for college and career success. Remember the craze around Tiger Moms? The book struck a nerve among many parents suggesting their fear was true: that they weren’t doing enough to make their kids successful.
But as shuffling kids to multiple extra-curriculars and doing homework over dinner becomes the new norm, we’re diverting more of our resources from ourselves and pouring them into our kids. And it’s not to the parents’ or children’s benefit.
Fitzpatrick argues that over-planning for the hard skills children will need in the future is futile. “In my generation, parents wanted their children to be stockbrokers, lawyers and doctors. Parents of today want their children to be engineers. We can’t tell what the skills of tomorrow are. Instead we should focus on developing adaptive, creative, resilient children who can meet the demands of their future.”
3 ways to take back your life (for your whole family’s sake)
Make time for relationships with friends or your partner.
Research shows that people with strong relationships are significantly happier, less stressed, and live longer. Feeling connected with people gives us a greater sense of identity and the comforting feeling of belonging to a community. Fostering relationships is important, and science shows they can’t be replaced with small talk at PTA meetings. People with the highest levels of wellbeing have more meaningful conversations, according to a 2010 study in Psychological Science.
Being social will also show your kids what it’s like to be a highly functioning adult. “Children learn about relationships, social problem-solving, and friendship skills from every available source—including parents. Letting your child see the importance of different relationships—with all the messy, funny, tough and touching results—will help them learn how to navigate their own relationships,” Fitzpatrick says.
Seize windows of freedom joyfully, without guilt.
By finding time purely for yourself, you’ll be calmer, happier, and less overwhelmed. This may mean accepting that not everything on your to-do list needs to get done, which will free up some time for you to schedule solo pursuits.
These could be anything from going to the gym before you drop your kids off at school or reading for thirty minutes without interruption. Instead of just dropping your child off at dance class, connect with your curious and playful side by taking a separate class at the same time. Experiment with different activities to see what makes you feel most rejuvenated or rewarded.
There are also huge parenting benefits. “Taking care of ourselves is of the greatest importance. The way we care for ourselves as parents is a clear message we send to our children. Children deserve to see that a life worth living takes investment in ourselves and our passions. If we pride ourselves only on their successes, we transfer the burden of caring from ourselves to them. They become responsible for our happiness, our success and our value,” Fitzpatrick explains.
Follow your own passions so your kids learn to follow theirs.
Fitzpatrick’s advice: “If you love art, reading, or gardening, take time to pursue those activities. A shared hobby is great for connection, so involve your kid to see if they develop an interest, too. Your child may not learn to love these very things, but they will learn how to take pride in what they do, spend time supporting skills that they value, and that the pursuit of knowledge never stops.”
Building our own emotional resilience is critical for our own happiness and can also help us be calmer, even-tempered parents—parents who can take a step back and let kids develop independence. Letting go of your fears for your children’s safety and success can be difficult. Find the support and anxiety management tools you need by trying Lantern free for 7 days.