Recently, I have been mulling over that question all parents ask of themselves: am I doing it right? This not-so-weird thought came about after my youngest son had to make a castle for his half-term homework. He made this:
He didn’t spent a lot of time on it. It was created in two sittings, each lasting about half an hour. The only help I gave him was in finding the sellotape and the tin foil for the moat. He was very pleased when it was completed and he took it into school the next day.
The following day I happened to be in school and I saw the display of all the castles of his classmates. These were not castles, they were works of art. They were truly very impressive. There was colour, glitter, turrets, windows and all sorts of other embellishments. I was amazed and awed. Next to these works of art the above castle looked, frankly, a little floppy and a bit sad. I questioned myself: should I have helped him more? Should I have encouraged him to use paint, stickers, better-quality cardboard? Should I have done the cutting out for him? He’s only six after all.
I asked Facebook. The consensus seemed to be that, no, it is best to let the six year old make his own castle. It wasn’t my homework, it was his. So for a day or so I basked in the glory of knowing that there are more arguments in favour of hands-off parenting (or in my case, lazy parenting) than there are in hands-on (helicopter) parenting.
However, on the next day I looked in his bookbag. To my horror I found at least a months’ worth of spelling practice sheets that he hadn’t filled out. I hadn’t noticed them before (I don’t delve into his bookbag very often except to take out his reading book). I asked him how he’d done on his last spelling test. ‘Two out of six,’ he told me with a sad face. That familiar wave of parental guilt gushed through me. How did I react? Badly. I got cross. I reprimanded for not having practiced his spellings and for not telling me he had these spelling sheets. I made him sit and retrospectively practice four weeks’ worth of spellings. He did this quite happily. However, was that the right thing to do? Probably not. Here is a case where hands-off (or in my case lazy) parenting does not pay off well and the more hands-on and attentive parent will smile smugly at me. He’s too young to be responsible for doing his homework without being told regularly that he should be doing it. I should have spotted these spelling sheets and sat with him while he practiced every week. I hadn’t done this. Parenting fail.
So, my weird thought now is, how do I find the right balance between being a helicopter parent and being a racing car parent, racing around in my own circles not noticing when he goes of on a tangent from his own little circle?
I’m not sure. I think the only way to go is by trail and error and just hope for the best. Sometimes circling ahead is the best way, other times, circling elsewhere is better. Is there a happy medium? There is such a thing as being a submarine parent – not too close, but not too far away. Aware, but not obviously so.
Since we’re on the topic of helicopter parenting. My favourite example of this extreme came a couple of weeks ago on my first day at the University of Wolverhampton. A tutor was ushering some first year undergraduate students in to the building and just as he was about to close the main door, he turned to a clingy middle-aged couple and said: ‘You can go now, she’ll be fine, she can cope by herself here’.
Helicopter parents are not Bad People. They mean well. They just want the best for their children. They want them to succeed where they might not have. Or they might want to give them opportunities that they did not have. If I had more time I probably would be standing next to my three boys cheering them all on in the race of life. However, I would be surprised if I end up as that parent at the door of the university in 12 years time clinging to my youngest for dear life, fearing his failure in higher education. He can get the train and find his own way there. Good luck, Toby!