The thing about parenting is you never know whether you’re doing it “right.” That’s because:
1) What the heck is “right”?
2) How do we know what effect we’ve had on our kids at all? (If you have more than one, you’ll notice they’re not the same, even though they all had you as a parent.)
And 3) When and how do we measure our kids’ success?
After all, if we were measuring the parenting prowess of Mrs. Van Gogh when her son was a young painter, we might say: “What a disaster! Vinnie’s broke, and he just sliced off his ear. You sure did a number on him!”
But if we waited a few years (or 100), we all would want copies of “How to Raise a Genius,” by Mama Van Gogh.
All of which is to preface this note I got the other day at my website, Free-Range Kids, where I advocate for parents taking a step back and not helicoptering their kids:
Dear Lenore: I hate to say this but I think the helicopter mommies are right. Now that I am seeing kids in college who grew up this way, I have to admit they are pretty darn perfect. They are getting into the best schools, they are well-behaved, they are kind and smart and lovely, they are getting great jobs (oh yes, with their parents’ help, but hey it’s working for them!) and they never seem to get into trouble.
I thought I was doing the right thing by letting my kids take the subway at age 10 and go to Europe alone at 16, but I don’t feel like those real-world things are helping them do well in areas where society seems to care most — you know, things like SAT scores and where they go to college. Sigh. And of course the helicoptered kids do eventually learn to take the subway, even if it’s a few years later than mine did.
“Wondering” is, of course, already on the road to despair because whenever we compare our kids with anyone else’s, we never know the whole story, which is generally not so simple (or rosy) as it looks.
But it sounds as if at this particular moment, “wondering” is wishing she’d hovered over every book report and forbade every afternoon at the park, because she imagines her kids would be very different if she had. But from where I sit (and this is why we can’t compare kids!), there’s still no saying what her kids would have been like. Successful? Resentful? Grateful? Suicidal? We have no idea.
And what if instead of looking at the local helicoptered kids, “wondering” had picked up a copy of Richard Branson’s autobiography, “Losing My Virginity”? On the first page, the mega-mogul writes about his mom’s making him walk a mile home when he was four. When he turned 12, she asked him to bike over to his uncle’s, 50 miles away. The confidence she had in him bred the confidence he developed in himself. He considers it the bedrock of his success.
This doesn’t mean helicoptered kids won’t be successful, too. Most kids of all stripes eventually are, even if at times they are floundering. (We all flounder!) Free-range kids have no reason to be less polite or hardworking than helicoptered kids, because my philosophy isn’t about neglecting or never disciplining them. It’s just about letting them know that we believe in them and that failing isn’t the end. It’s part of the process.
Which, come to think of it, is a good thing for us parents to remember, too.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.” She is a syndicated columnist and appears in The Logan Daily News on a weekly basis. Her views do not necessarily reflect that of the newspaper.