Thursday, August 09, 2007

the helicopter parent

We usually go to the park at least once a day.

This always provides a good opportunity for the children to burn off some energy and is an excellent opportunity to get our dog out for a walk.

When we go to the park, I need to have my eyes on our children at all times.

Because I have 3-2 year olds that run in every which direction, I tend to be a little paranoid.

I'm genuinely afraid something will happen to them.

Maybe they'll fall off the slide, topple from the climbing wall, perhaps they'll be the victim or offender of a fistful of airborne sand.

Like many other parents I know, my worse possible nightmare is that our children will be abducted. Just typing those words causes a wave of nausea to wash over me.

Because of my fears, I watch our children pretty closely. I'm also considering home schooling and am looking in to dual-citizenship for our children in Canada ... just in case the draft is reinstated and they come after our preschoolers.

You never know.

Charlie told me that I am a helicopter parent because I hover over our kids. I don't really hover, but I don't let them out of my sight and I don't like if they wander more than 20 or so feet away from me.

Today I decided it's extremely difficult to have my eyes on our children all the time when random kids come up and want to pet the dog.

And more random strangers inquire if our children are triplets and then stand with their mouths gaping when they learn that yes, they are all ours ... and so is the infant strapped on my body, that they oddly didn't notice until I pointed him out.

Then there are people that seem to know us, because they have driven by and seen us out walking. They know where we live, what our stroller fleet looks like and remind me that our children were dressed as pumpkins for Halloween in 2005 and chickens, last year.

What really surprises me is how many people at the park seem to ignore the children that they are there to watch. Perhaps they are talking to a friend, with their backs turned to their kids, or maybe they are engrossed in a book.

Or taking a nap under the shady trees.

Sometimes, I have no idea where the guardian is for a child that I see at the park. I just see children wandering aimlessly around jumping from one play structure to the next with no obvious supervision.

Today while we were at the park, there was a soccer game going on at an adjacent field. All the children whose older siblings were playing in the game, and who weren't interested in watching the game, had gathered en masse on the playground.

Within minutes of arriving, I was approached by a neighbor who taking me by the arm, insisted that I stand beneath one of the picnic coverings because surely I was hot, wearing a baby in the sun. This took me about 10 feet further from the children than I wanted to be - but since she was watching her daughter who is the same age as our trio, I thought maybe I was being a little too uptight. Very soon, she was talking to me about a cooking class she is taking at the local college.

While I stood trying to make conversation and watch our children play, I was approached by a little boy on a skateboard who asked if he could pat Molly. When I obliged, he started to tell me about his dog, a boxer named Lizzie.

In between hearing the best way to poach a salmon, I heard about Lizzie's diet of dry dog food and how she has full access to their 1/2-acre yard. Apparently, the vet thinks Lizzie is going to live for a very, very, very long time because she has good teeth and is in great shape with big muscles in her shoulders and legs.

Soon, another little girl came over and knelt down next to Molly.

A woman approached me and said she'd love to see the new baby. She's seen us walking around the neighborhood and thinks our children are adorable. She pointed out her two children - one who was playing on the swings, and her baby who was napping in a stroller at least 50 feet away.

I could never leave my baby in a stroller, 50 feet away, on a busy playground.

What if someone TOOK him?!

My eyes were busy scanning the area, looking for my offspring and also making sure that the baby in the stroller 50 feet away wasn't carted off by a guy dressed as the ice cream man.

William is on the slide.

Carolyn is playing in the sand.

I'm straining to see where Elizabeth went.

Feeling totally out of my comfort zone, I tried to politely ease myself out of the three conversations, by saying "Oops, excuse me!" and take off looking for my daughter. For some odd reason, I feel like I'm being rude but the reality is, I don't want to stand around and chit-chat when there are crazy people everywhere and obnoxious older children that are laying in wait to pounce on my babies.

Maybe I'm anti-social and over tired.

After a slightly panicked two seconds, I spotted Elizabeth trying to walk across a park bench.

I take up a seat on the park bench and ask her if she is having fun. She nods yes and then takes off running to join her brother on the slide.

Before I could join them, I am again approached by my neighbor and her daughter, who has found a balloon buried in the sand that she is trying to blow up. Her mother makes an effort to take the balloon from her toddler, but when the child has a conniption fit, decides that it's not worth the effort and allows her to continue blowing up the dirty balloon, while she fills me in on how to make a tasty hollandaise sauce.

Have you ever seen a 2-year old try to blow up a balloon?

There was spit flying everywhere.

If I wasn't repulsed enough by the child blowing up a filthy balloon that had been buried in the sand on a public playground, the saliva hurling through the air made me stand up, take five steps back, and thank my lucky stars that Henry had on a hat and I was wearing long sleeves because both of us would have been drenched.

Lizzie's owner comes back.

Now he's telling me about his riding lawnmower and how they're going to have burritos for dinner. Then his sister comes running over and says "Nuh-uh JASON. We're having TACOS."

An intense debate about whether tacos or burritos are on the menu for that evening ensues.

The mother with one baby sleeping in the stroller and one swinging on the swings, asks my neighbor and I if we wouldn't mind keeping a quick eye on her two children while she runs in and uses the restroom.

The soccer game is wrapping up and several more children are flooding on to the playground.

I can feel my stress level start to rise.

I want to grab and throw away the slobbery balloon from the toddler while telling her "ALL GONE YUCKY BALLOON!!"

I want to tell the bickering Lizzie owners that if they don't stop their fighting they'll have egg salad for dinner and they'll like it.

Instead, I decide that this helicopter parent is getting the heli out of there. But only after I move the baby from 50 feet away closer to where my neighbor is sitting, so she can see him when his mother returns from the restroom.

Maybe it's just me, but if I couldn't hold it ... I'd rather squeeze myself and our four children in to a park bathroom, the kind with no stall door and metal commodes, than leave them unattended with someone whose name I don't know.

I walk up to each of our three children and say it's time to go have dinner and take a bubble bath. Not surprisingly, I'm completely ignored.

I gather up their shoes that they have thrown off and tell them again it's time to leave. I walk away and inform them "Bye, bye. I'm going home!" Still, I'm ignored.

I load the shoes in to the wagon, attach Molly's leash to the side and walk back to my children.

Before I even reach Carolyn, she starts screaming "NO! NO!" NO!" I pick her up anyway, and with her kicking and screaming, load her in to the wagon.

Then I go after Elizabeth.

And William.

All of them are kicking and screaming. They are grabbing on to whatever they can - the swings, the slide, a tree. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but it seemed that everyone on the playground stopped talking, stopped playing, stopped breathing ... and had their eyes on me and my out-of-control children who clearly didn't want to leave.

Not even when I tempted them with juice boxes and chocolate teddy grahams - a true rarity.

It was at that very moment I had an epiphany.

Maybe I am too uptight. I doubt that anyone, especially a stranger, would be able to make off with one of our children without me noticing. Perhaps next time, I'll take a tip from some of the other parents and see if I can get caught up on some reading.

Or at least catch a snooze in the shade.


  1. vety the nuts mom8/9/07, 2:11 PM

    Hello, my name is Vety and I am a helicopter parent.....and damn proud of it.

    That is amazing, you really do attract people! The tacos and salmon, and crazy lady who wen to the bathroom was just hilarious! It says a lot that they're that trusting though, they have a faith in humanity that I tend to lose when I see all the horrifying stories on the news.

    What do you do when they're kicking and screaming? My mother insists that I'm just being mean when I let them cry, but she cringes when people watch the boys have a tantrum.

  2. You are NOT too uptight. You are being a good mother and supervising your children (heaven forbid, you actually acknowledge their presence and talk with them; unlike the cooking Mom and Lizzie's poor owner). It's a huge PET PEEVE of mine--ignored, unsupervised playground littles. I don't hover but I DO supervise, but with my youngest at 3-1/2 I don't worry too much about him falling and such. I DO worry abduction though; call me paranoid -- better safe than sorry!

    DO NOT sell yourself short; you are doing a great job!

  3. Oh Jenn-
    I agree seems to be watching their childen these days.
    When I am out with my 5' tall, 9-year old niece I NEVER leave her side, much to her mortification. It's almost scarier when they are older, because kids LOOK older these days. She is already wearing a bra (and needs it) I don't want some idiot thinking she is older than she is and saying or doing something inappropriate.....she is 9-years old. So I follow her everywhere when she is in my care.
    I am a hovering Aunt. And thank goodness for us hover-ers!
    Linda (Chicago)

  4. I confess to being a bench mom these days, and sometimes I even bring a magazine. My boys are not "runners", and I want them to have a little freedom from me and one another as they happily run all over the equipment. I supervise, but don't hover, and lament the fact that the distance kids are allowed to go from us is down 85% from the 1980's, when I grew up. Stranger abduction has not gone up during that time either, it's as unbelievably rare as it's ever been*. I can imagine that having triplets would require a level of supervision that would constitute hovering with one child, though. I think I have a good balance of trust and good judgment, and frankly, I've earned my time on the bench. That said, we've all got to do what feels right for us. I think you're an amazing mom who also has good judgment about what she can tolerate. Those of us who make different choices aren't necessarily less concerned about their childrens' wellbeing, though - we just may have a different take on what that is exactly.
    I've written quite a bit about this topic here: and here:

  5. First all, I am auntie as well and I was watching my 2 year old niece at LAX a few years ago... she was into the walk, walk, walking stage and I took her to an unpopulated seating area and watched her every second... for an INSTANT I turned away and when I looked back she was GONE G.O.N.E. I still feel that sinking feeling when I remember it 20 years ago. Fortunately she stood up... she was leaned over a chair and I missed her in her little blue coveralls with pink flowers. I never told my sister of my horror but as paranoid as I was before that I was worse after it. You have my blessing Jen to watch after those precious children as much as you feel necessary. You would never forgive yourself if something happened. Eventually they will have more life experience and you will gradually let go... but for now.. nahhhhhhhhh huh! Their only 33 months... their babies :::sniff::: Hugs

  6. Jen in this day and world you can NEVER be too careful and Charlie will kill me for making you more paranoid but here's what happened in Small Town USA yesterday. We were on our local radio station (AM) on Monday morning and an article about it and Kyle, autism, fragile x, Autism Speaks, Team Aruba and us appeared in our local newspaper on Tuesday. Well a got a very disturbing phone call with a male stranger asking in a very strange but evil tone: "Where's Kyle? Where's Kyle?" Talk about your heart stopping! A co-worker called law enforcement and I reported it. I then made a bee-line for the office phone to call my mom in order to make sure they were fine.......and to hear Kyle's voice....of course he was fine, but in that split second it was the worst feeling of my life!!! The officer called the # back & left a message for them to call him but I still wasn't satisfied so I called several close friends to see if they knew anyone by the names on the cell voice mail and then paid $15 to to see if I could get more info. The officer called me this morning and has spoken to the owner of the phone who said his son had his cell yesterday and would take care of it. So we'll see. The police are still working on it. Don't ever worry about being over-protected because I am still keeping my guard up. All this because we were trying to do some good with the business card I made to inform others of autism and fragile x. (check out Kyle's blog for the latest).
    Love, B

  7. It drives me ABSOLUTELY CRAZY to see unsupervised little ones out in public.
    I may have been perceived as over protective but now, with 2 teenagers, I do not regret my hovering style when they were younger.
    We live in a very small town, but bad things happen in small towns too.
    By the way, I told my husband the other day that I'm craving O'Henry bars. He said "DON'T make those. I can't quit eating them." I have to make sure I DON'T have one of the ingredients in the house so I won't cave to temptation.

  8. Hover craft here too. When the park is too crowded we don't stay very long. i don't care what anyone thinkds. And we are have a tiny park a block away that we go to. And when I have to go to the bathroom they all come with me - or we go home!

  9. i work in higher ed and the term helocopter parent is something we have used for the past few years. it is AMAZING to see how much parents get involved at the college level. we have an office of parents programs and they have gotten some crazy calls. one being something along the lines of..."yes, my daughter is not answering her phone, can you send someone to her dorm room to check on her?". this is a school of over 26,000 students.
    it never stops i guess.

  10. Jen, what do you do when you need to sit down and nurse? I have a 2 1/2 year old and a 3 month old, and we often go to the park together. I don't climb on the playground equipment to follow my son, I don't think I'd fit down the slide. I do stand or sit near the equipment, keeping my eyes as much as I can on my toddler. But, sometimes I need to sit and nurse the baby. Usually, my son will stay on one piece of equipment, but sometimes he moves on to the next thing. I will move if I can't actually see him. But, if he's within my sight and the sound of my voice, I let him play while I nurse. Is this considered unattended? I think there are times that moms have to survive and trust that other moms will understand and help them if they need to pee! And I don't think watching my child makes it impossible for me to converse with someone. If my child needs help or some kind of intervention, I quit talking and go over to him, but I don't need to be right next to him constantly. For me, within eyesight and sound of voice is good enough. I do the best I can, and I would guess so are the other moms out there whose children are "unattended".

  11. I think it must be impossible to be a helicopter parent when you have three 2yr olds. You can only hover over one at a time. I admire you for even taking them all to the park alone, with a dog!

    There is only one park I will go to alone with my three kids- it is fenced on three sides, stands a long way back from the road, and is almost always empty. Thus I can catch my two older kids if one makes a break for the road, I can see them at all times, and I can see anyone approaching a long time before they get near. The baby is safe in her pram, but she is never more than 15m from me.

    I can also load them kicking and screaming, one at a time into the car with no-one watching ;)
    All planned out really.
    I wouldn't leave my kids in the "care" of someone I didn't know either.
    You go with your maternal instincts Jenna

    Rebecca D

  12. Have you ever heard of John McClellan? Exactlly why I am and plan on being for many years, a helicopter parent.

  13. You are EXACTLY like me and I only have 1 child! This is normally why we try to go to the park early in the morning when its sometimes quieter. I avoid the park all together when there is a birthday party or some other event so the fact that you went there was a soccer game going on then I say bravo to you.

  14. Amen! Amen! Sista! Keeps eyes, ears, fingers and toes on 'em at all times! As Reiner says: He waited long enough for those beauties! He's not going to let anything happen to them!

    And Look at me! I am still not able to let my 18 yr old go!! Infact James' bestfriend signed up for the army and I offered to drive him to Canada or shoot him in the foot which ever one's easier!!!!

    Okay well, maybe it is a genetic thing -in which case your doomed - but there are worse things; like eating a whole bag of reese peanut butter cups! (oops - yep, you've got problems....)

    You would be a great homeschooler by the way; GO for it!

    Love, Your cousin;
    Marg HoverCraft ;-)

  15. so funny! I love, "decided to get the heli out of here."

    My 15yo brother got separated from us in the Museum of Natural History this last week when they were visiting, When he didn't get back to where we were waiting for an hour, my mom was FREAKING out. The security guard told her, "Relax, lady. He's FIFTEEN. Probably just chasing skirts." That didn't help my mom one bit. And she was only slightly consoled when I pointed out a fact similar to your epiphany - someone trying to carry off her 6 foot tall 15-year-old baby would probably not go unnoticed. I'm sure he'd make almost as good a scene as 2yo triplets being whisked away for juice boxes and teddy grahams. :)

  16. Sweetpea,
    I personally think being within seeing and hearing distance is good. I, personally NEVER climbed on the equipment and followed my kids from station to station. I think "unattended" means there is no parent visible no matter how much you look for one. Unfortunately, I've seen that a few times at our mall and I think it's frightening. And I agree that supervising our children doesn't mean we can't socialize with others - that was one of the perks of play places for me. And that's why moms are so good at multi-tasking.

  17. I AM the epiphany of uptight. I have left the park more times than I can count when there were just too many other kids there and I couldn't track the trio. I stand back and count....1..2...3...4. I find by standing back I can keep all of them in my line of vision. I also do the "dress them alike" thing because it's easier to track. But if I'm not in my comfort zone, I'm outta there.

    You are doing a great job!

  18. Funny writing. I know exactly what you mean. Of course in the house in Maynard, I did not get a chance to get out that much---but I tried. Then People would stop and comment on the DOG! What about my beautiful children?
    Another reason is that people would open our door, and put their kids in and go off some place knowing that I would watch them. Ho hum---you have to have eyes in the back of your head and use your GUT feeling all the time.

  19. Jen- After I read through all the comments, I have to say that we have to do what we do because we have sooooooo many little ones the same age. When my kids were 18 months old and I had three of them climbing up the playground equipment, I absolutely followed them up.

    Now at 3 1/2 I can sit on the bench as long as I can see them. But I still follow Austin up if he is with us. He's going up the 20 foot slide after them and what can I do? Just let him? I had an older child push him off once and he went flying down head first on a big slide. I left right then and there.

    You won't find anyone more social and likes to talk than me, but I've had to stop mid-sentence lots and lots and lots and lots of times. I've gone to the park with several sets of triplets and their moms on playdates and there were many times where us moms didn't even get to talk to each other because we were tracking kids.

    But now that the kids are older, it's getting much better. I'll probably be a size 6 in no time. :)

  20. Mrs. Carrot8/11/07, 1:24 AM

    Ok! I confess, me too! I can remember going to the park with our infant triplets in the runabout stroller (hooked up to monitors), our 3yr old either walking or in a smaller stroller and our 6yr old by my side. Wheee!! Stress!! Forget about multi-tasking! I was already doing it! No time to chat about your manicure or why your husband hates meatloaf!! Lol!! Then they were ages 3(3 of them), 6, & 9. Every which direction they went! I had to either chase along with them or step back and try to count and have a heart attack(!). I can't stand it when other moms completely disappear! Unfortunately you find that it happens all to often. It makes me wonder where instinct went? Now they are all going into preteens and teens. It a whole new ballpark of issues!
    You're doing great! Keep it up!

    Mrs. Carrot

  21. Jen ----

    I totally agree with you, however, I would do not call myself a helicopter parent, I call myself a self proclaimed "psyco mom." My little man will be 2 in a few weeks and I don't even go to the gas station without my husband in tow.

    Our rule is you hold hands or you ride (stroller/cart), there is NO EXCEPTIONS.

    My hubby would never admit but he is "psyco dad." He NEVER leaves our child's side and I mean that litterally (except to go to Sunday School and church services). We both needed to work and my husband took a job at our son's daycare as a Pre-K teacher! With rare exception, the only time we are not all together under the same roof is while I am at work and the rare occassion one of the grandparents has him. Since my mom is also a "psyco mom" she occassionally takes our son around town.

    Even before our son, I was the "psyco aunt" and my brother's wife is a little like the lady at the park, however, she does tote all three of her kids in the bathroom. Their oldest is almost 12 and she makes her go in the bathroom, however, she does not have to go in the stall, but her feet have to stay firmly planted at the door of the stall, the almost two year old and they 8 year old must go in.

    Honestly you don't know who to trust these days and I don't trust anyone with my son or my brother's three, forget the fact that they are all blonde with blue eyes, they are kids and GOD GAVE THEM PARENTS FOR PROTECTION!!!!!

  22. LOL! love this post, I was feelin all the anxiety. Poached salmon:) I am not a heli mom but I tell you I have a thirteen year old BOY and I am more afraid for him now then ever before. IT seems teenagers are in great danger from the internet to public bathroom etc. I am not a fear monger but I sure let the public know I am watching my child.

  23. I got nervous just reading that story. I am always a nut case with my eyes glued to my kids, and everyone else's kids who are not being watched. I can't believe that you were asked to watch some other kids while the Mom went to the bathroom...Im with you on that one, take them with and squeeze in or hold it! You are a trooper out there with all of them! You go Mama!