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The Helicopter Vortex

A few weeks ago my husband asked if I was going to arrange for our six year old daughter to play with her friend, Ava. It had been awhile since their last playdate. I sighed and responded that it was on my list of things to do, but I was kind of hesitating. When he asked why, I had a hard time putting it in to words. It wasn’t that I don’t love Ava, she is a great kid, and it isn’t that I don’t enjoy her mother, because she is actually a really good friend of mine. It came down to the fact that her mother is a helicopter parent and the sheer act of having a playdate with her meant that I was going to have to enter the Helicopter Vortex. I was going to have to over-parent my daughter.

Have you ever felt this before? Or ever been in a situation where you find yourself altering your parenting style to match more closely to whomever you are with? I call this the Helicopter Vortex and it is exhausting and confusing and guilt-inducing all at once. To be fair,  I have found that it doesn’t just swing one way either. I have also fallen into a few interesting Free-range Fiascos too.

Now I am totally aware that this has nothing to do with Ava’s mother, and everything to do with me, so I place no blame on others. I am making unfair assumptions that she will not longer want to be my friend if I don’t parent in her style, which is not true. But the fact remains, that whenever we are together I spend way more time escorting my daughter along the monkey bars and hovering over her every move than actually enjoying myself. I over-analyze each interaction between my daughter and myself and then end up saying and doing things that never naturally occur in our relationship. By the end of the playdate I am a self-conscious, nervous wreck, and my daughter is confused as to why she was barked at for climbing up the slide when she did it yesterday while I timed her. We both leave with a sense of frustration. And that’s just us! Who knows how idiotic I appear to Ava’s mother?

Yes, I totally suffer from the Helicopter vortex. On a daily basis I am 99.9% confident that my parenting is effective and I am comfortable that I am doing a fine job of raising my children, yet when other parents come along, I begin to question everything. I wonder if their methods are better. I worry that they won’t respect my style. I fear they will think that I am doing a poor job. All of this is completely in my head. I would not judge Ava’s mom for her parenting, so why do I fret that she would judge me?

Thank goodness, in today’s world we acknowledge that there are different parenting styles. Do you fully qualify as free range or helicopter? Some parents identify more with some of the clinical labels, such as Permissive, or Authoritarian or Indulgent or Uninvolved? Maybe you feel you fall into something alternative like Tiger Mother, or Lawnmower? I’m sure most parents would say they fall somewhere in the middle of two styles.

Personally, I would say that my parenting style falls three quarters of the way to Free Range, a little on the under-parenting side. My husband and I believe that our children should be given the freedom to make some choices on their own, and (safely) learn the consequences of some of these choices. We love for our children to play outside and in parks, even better if there are paths and woods around. I want my kids to feel the freedom of running wild (but not too wild…) They play outside unsupervised (only on our side of the street, three houses away limit). They make their own breakfast in the morning, and just this morning they jailbroke their 18 month old sister out of her crib and made her breakfast, too. My husband leans a little more to the protective side than I do, but generally we are on the same page in believing that our children need room to spread their wings and fly.

With so many styles it would be unlikely that we all parent the same, and therein lies my salvation. I feel that the swing of the motherhood pendulum is leaning towards accepting all styles and walks, and recognizing the value of different parenting methods. The helicopter vortex will not suck me in if I can become confident that my practices are the right fit for my family. I think it’s time to call Ava’s mom….

Natalie is an educator in St. Albert, Alberta. She is the mother of three energetic little girls, and one evil cat. She is passionate about adventure travel, culture and running.

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