When I first came across the writings of Janet Lansbury, my children were already five years old. Initially, I had two thoughts. I knew her advice made perfect sense. I also knew I had done everything wrong. I hadn’t trusted them to find their own way. I had not provided them the best environment for emotional expression. Instead I had been a full-blown helicopter parent.
But to be fair, when I became a parent, I had a full deck of cards stacked against me because I grew up in an abusive household. While none of us want to be exactly like our parents, I did not have a default parenting method to fall back on. So I swung the pendulum to the other side and became the exact opposite of my parents. I became overprotective.
I justified it though. It seemed like the entire world was hovering. Helicopter parents were all over social media. It was considered an acceptable, even responsible, parenting method. I told myself I was fine. I am no different from anyone else. But I intuitively knew something was wrong.
So I worked to build my self-awareness. And I started to see the patterns. My incessant need to hover was directly related to the fears created by my own childhood trauma. I was protecting my kids from the evil in the world (as I saw it). But I didn’t know there was another way. I needed to look at it differently. If I focused on building their self-worth, they would be armed against that evil. I would not have to be hovering over them. They would not only know what to do, but would repel the predators with their self-confidence.
So during the first nine years of my children’s lives, I have learned some valuable lessons about what hovering does to children.
- Children learn they can’t figure stuff out without parental help
- Children forget who they are.
- Children lose their ability to be curious and play.
- Children learn that the world is dangerous.
- Children don’t learn how to say no to you … or to their peers.
For the past few years, I have been working to make changes to my hovering. It is still a work in progress. Honestly, some of the amazing RIE videos have even made me cringe. But I must have respect for my journey as I grow in parenting. And my reality of past abuse is a hurdle that must be overcome gradually with an understanding for my own comfort level. Otherwise, my parental intuition will be clouded with anxiety, and I will inevitably make bad decisions. But slowly, I have learned how to step back my hovering and let my children step out into the world.
If you are a closeted hoverer (or not so closeted), maybe some of these approaches will work for you.
- Build your patience. Recognize that children are not going to do tasks as well or as fast as you can. Add some extra time to those transition times when things get stressful, so that your kids can do everything for themselves. Patience comes with our own awareness. When you feel yourself losing patience while they are hard at work on a task that takes you two seconds, focus on your breathing. Try to breathe at least twenty times before interfering in the process.
- Ask your children lots of questions. This serves two purposes. It gets them back for all the questions they ask you. No, but seriously, it teaches them that you are interested in what they think and who they are. If they ask what you like, ask them what they like. Sometimes, I will refuse to answer until they answer, so they are not tempted to use my response as their own.
- Let your children play. Homework is not the only way children learn. Let them play the craziest games. They don’t have to make sense to you. My kids like to play a made-up game that combines Harry Potter, Pokemon and Minecraft. It takes some bizarre turns. But they are learning, they are expressing themselves, and they are gaining confidence in their own creativity.
- Research age-appropriate methods for allowing your kids to be out of your sight for a few moments. Trips to the public bathroom, playing in the backyard without you and the dreaded sleepover are all milestones that can help. Of course, make sure there are no blaring safety issues. But have discussions with your children about safety and build their confidence to fight back and tell uncomfortable secrets. Tell them the truth that most dangerous adults are not strangers in white vans at playgrounds. They are people the children already know. Your children can handle that discussion (probably better than you can), and it will do much more than hovering can do.
- Allow your children to tell you no. While your children are still primarily focused on their relationship with their parent, it is critical that they be allowed to say no and choose their own way. Of course, this won’t work all the time, but when they can make a choice, let them. If they can learn to respectfully say no to you, they will be able to say no to peers later in life.
Don’t accept hovering as a harmless fad in parenting. Don’t justify it because the world can be a dangerous place. Don’t allow the fact that hovering is commonplace to deter you from making changes. We are responsible for building a generation of confident children, and that won’t happen by hovering. Check your triggers, stay self aware, and let your children step out in to the world and express who they are. Believe me, one day they will thank you for it. And so will the generations to come.
Elisabeth Corey is a survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking and sex abuse. Her education in social work and personal experiences as a survivor inform her intimate discussion about the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of trauma recovery, which she discusses on her blog at BeatingTrauma.com and in her new book One Voice: Uniting our Internal Family for Love, Peace and Purpose. She guides other survivors as they navigate life and parenting with private sessions, workshops, and a forum. Elisabeth has recently announced a parenting workshop to help survivors bring awareness to their trauma-induced habits. Sign up at http://beatingtrauma.com/the-7-habits-of-parents-with-complex-trauma/ . She also works with media and organizations through her workshops, writing, and speaking. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.