IMG_3671, slice with birds
“Give the ones you love, roots to grow and wings to fly.”  Pictured is a slice of an original painting by my adult children, a Christmas gift they made for us. (I didn’t ask for it.  I didn’t tell them what to put on it.  And I didn’t direct its creation in any way.  I do, however, LOVE IT!)

Roots AND wings – cliché, I know – but it was the first parenting motto I internalized. Choosing the framed calligraphic watercolor to  hang on the wall was easy. Putting into action the underlying principals was hard.

Roots, it turns out, are my strength. But, as my children’s wings grew so did my anxiety. I worried each time one of my children sought to acquire a new feather, and stressed even more as they tentatively ventured beyond the nest.

The act of helicoptering started small – a quick ‘copter hover to affirm circumstances. A emergency landing that swept for safety. All fully justified.

Then one day, I crossed over the wall for a quick non-emergency landing. Easy touch and go. Successful. Hardly noticed.

Well, touchdowns are like potato chips … it’s hard to stop at one. Kids need guidance, but where was that boundary?

While raising children, I experienced the stresses of wearing hats on many sides of the traditional mommy wars:

  • a full-time corporate working mom
  • a full-time PhD student & part-time working mom
  • a part-time PhD student & full-time academic working mom
  • a full-time, tenure track academic working mom
  • a part-time independent technical consultant working mom
  • a full-time stay-at-home mom, and
  • both a ‘single’ full-time working mom and a ‘single’ full-time stay-at-home mom (always married to the same person but ‘single’ for short stretches while my husband traveled frequently and worked several partial year stretches full-time in another state)

I tried on many mom hats, but each sported a fringe of guilt and loss of control. I believe that for a short time, ‘coptering helped restore a sense of control.

Mommy (and daddy) wars continue to rage and ‘helicopter parenting’ or ‘over helping’ is among the battlegrounds. But, the term ‘helicopter parent’ is often used as a catchall. It appears to me that parents tend to ‘copter in many areas – education, medical, social life, sports, activities, etc – and those areas vary by parent and child. One parent’s helicopter intervention is another’s version of good parenting. One child’s critical intervention is another’s unnecessary intrusion.

The trick is know where the line is drawn for an individual child-parent relationship, to know where your boundaries are and where they shift. It’s not always easy to spot those boundaries in the throes of parenting.

Without knowing it, I crossed the line. More than once. But I quickly realized that the more I hovered, the more it seemed events required my intervention. Then I saw myself hover over the border a few times. If there was any chance of curbing the urge, I had to stand up and admit I was flying too close. I believe now that  hovering was a way to ensure control during the most chaotic times. It was, in part, an addictive and rewarding act. I had to stop.

Now in my second decade of recovery, like any addict, over helping remains an ongoing journey. Today, my children are fully independent, married adults, yet I still occasionally fight the urge and have to make myself step back

And, for me, hovering tendencies are not limited to my children. An urge to hover, or over help, extends to friends, co-workers, parents, sometimes complete strangers passing by in the street. “Did you know your tag is flipped outside your shirt?”

Sometimes I have to stop in the middle of pre-flight procedures to remind myself that my adult children, my in-law children, my grandchildren, my parents, my friends, that gal on the street, the charity where I volunteer, they all must grow wings of their own.

I believe that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. I’m BeckyB and I’m a recovering ‘copter mom, ‘copter daughter, ‘copter grandma, ‘copter friend, ‘copter co-worker, ‘copter human.  Join me on my continuing journey of recovery. 

Ready to take the first step?  The CopterDetox the 12 step Program

Originally published 2016. Updated 2018.