Fly Away Helicopter Parents – Lawn Mower Parents Are Taking Over. I’m Both. And Neither.

Parenting is so difficult, isn’t it? At times it feels like – no matter what we do or how hard we try, we get it wrong. There’s a lot of pressure, too. Think about it – this is the most important job we will ever have. How we raise our children will help determine the kind of people they will become. It can determine their levels of success, happiness, empathy, motivation, and joy.

What kind of a parent should we strive to be?  And why? And who says, anyway?

I’m one of those folks who think back to my childhood and fondly remember roaming the streets with my friends during the long, hot, glorious summers.  My dad and grandmother basically tossed me out the door at the crack of dawn and told me to stay out until dinnertime. So, that’s what I’d do. Then, I’d eat and head back out until the street lights came on.

It was amazing.

I don’t recall being talked to about much. I think I knew right from wrong – but, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get into trouble. It certainly doesn’t mean I never got hurt, I have the scars to prove it. I don’t remember hearing stories about children being abducted. I don’t recall scary stories about stranger danger.

Boy have things changed.

Last week, a Chicago woman was in the midst of an investigation by Child Protective Services for letting her 8-year-old walk her dog around the block – alone. I did it, with and without my dog. I walked around the block, to the store, to school, to friends houses – yet, ugh, I do not let my girls do the same. Why?

I’m sorry. Yet, not really sorry at the same time.

There are many types of parenting philosophies. The most talked about lately are – Helicopter and Lawn Mower parenting styles.

Helicopter parents, as the name suggests, spend a lot of time hovering.

They always stay close to their kids, ready to swoop in and help or protect at any time(usually before it is needed). They’re proactive to say the least.

Lawnmower parents are also one step ahead of their children but they don’t wait for something to happen – they’re always smoothing their child’s path to make sure nothing gets in their way.

By the way – this doesn’t end at childhood. In fact, many helicopter and lawn mower parents actually interfere in their grown-up children’s lives. Oh. I think I might do that.

Here’s the truth.

I know that enabling my children, ensuring or trying to ensure they are stress free and happy, is not always the right thing to do. The thought of something happening to one of my kids is terrifying. Maybe I’m like this because something DID happen to one of my kids. Maybe the fact that my daughter almost died when she was just 13 leaves me more worried than I otherwise might be? Maybe it’s because as a reporter, I’ve covered many accidents and tragedies.

I don’t know the answer.

At any rate, my big girls – who are now 21 and 22 – confirm what I already knew – that I used to interfere, but now I only help when asked.  That’s good, right!? 🙂

My babies, who are now 3 and 6, think I’m perfect. We’ll let that continue in their little minds for now.

I have been working on being a good mommy for 22 years straight. Having an opportunity to sort of do it again – with younger children while now in my 40s – is a blessing. I’ve learned a great deal over those two-plus decades. I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made along the way. I’ve learned what things are important and I’ve learned NOT to sweat the small stuff.  (I’ve written more about this) 

That doesn’t mean I won’t do what it takes to help my girls. Now, I just know my limits. I absolutely pick my battles. I also let my children make mistakes and watch and wait as they learn from them. They always do.

The fact is – being rescued your entire life can leave you without much in the form of tools. It can actually impact self-esteem and prevent your child from learning coping skills, and reduce confidence.

Navigating parenthood is like walking a tightrope with a blindfold on; every step is truly a balancing act. Consider this: the tightrope is only a few feet off the ground – so if you fall, it’s actually okay. You are allowed to lift that blindfold and see what is going on. It’s okay to ask for advice – although it’s important to follow your instincts.

In my opinion – as a general rule – there is no right or wrong way to be a parent.

When it comes to being a good parent, turns out it’s just like EVERYTHING in life. It’s all about balance. It’s about moderation. It’s about finding a middle ground. It’s about doing the best you can and NOT judging yourself or others. It’s about giving yourself a break – and giving your kids one, too. It’s about not beating yourself up if you mess up. Mom fails are okay. Dad fails, too. It’s all okay.

As parents, we have the responsibility to keep our children safe, yes – but we also have to teach them how to clean up their own mess, find their own way, be who they choose to be, be good citizens who care about others – all while living in and enjoying life’s best moments.

So, am I a helicopter parent? Yes. And no. I guess sometimes I would fall into that category. I’m okay with that.

So, am I a lawn mower parent? Yes. And no. I think I’d also fall into this category sometimes. I’m okay with that, too. Because I am more than that.

I try and be the mom IN the pool with the kids or ON the swings with the kids. I try and live in their moments instead of just witnessing them. I try to explain why they should or should not do or say something instead of yelling or saying the awful and terrible, “Because I said so.”  I try and ensure that my husband and I are on the same page and work together as a united front.

I try and do all of these things – but that doesn’t mean I always succeed. But I try. I don’t worry if my baby girl insists on wearing her shoes on the wrong feet or if she really wants to wear a Halloween shirt in the spring. It’s not the end of the world if she really doesn’t want to brush her hair (no options on the teeth, though). And although I have to bite my tongue because it drives me nuts – I let them get as dirty as they want. Sand. Mud. Paint. You name it. It really is okay.

Yes, our kids need to be happy. But, so do we. We need to show them happiness and love first hand. Setting the right tone and showing the right example is what I’ve found is the best way to parent. Am I perfect? Haha – not even close. But you know what, that’s just fine with me and my kids.

Mary Friona

Mary Friona

Following my heart with my husband and four daughters. An Emmy Award winning journalist lucky enough to work in television & radio for 20 years - seeing wonderful places, meeting great people and telling their stories.

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