If you asked a random group of parents in a room many, if not most will admit they hover. They’re often uncomfortable doing it but feel they’ve no other option. So the question is, how to stop being a hovering parent? At the basis of a lot of hovering is actually fear. Fear of condemnation by others over offering your child some freedom or doing something that goes against the collective grain.
Don’t let fear paralyze you
Fear of criticism is a powerful motivator. Do you remember a few years back the criticism faced by new parents, Will and Kate when they failed to settle little George in his carseat properly on their way back from the hospital. I thought the barrage of criticism on Twitter and Facebook unfair as all parents make mistakes and being ‘royal’ obviously means every single one of them got broadcast to the public. Talk about living under a microscope! Yes, I know Will and Kate don’t live in the real world and don’t have a mortgage or other responsibilities that us, ordinary folks have. Having said that, I’m not sure even if offered, if I’d swap the relative freedom of my life for such scrutiny, even if it did come with a free lunch and… a castle.
Conquer the fear
The criticism pointed in their direction made me think of the public sanction all parents face at one point or another and how that sanction has created legions of hovering parents. People are so critical of each other and often the people that tend to give parents the hardest time, are usually parents themselves. You see, in society, there’s a right way to bring up kids and a wrong way and the ‘right’ viewpoint is often surprisingly narrow.
Remember what you’re doing this for
That right viewpoint says you must hover, that it’s the only way to keep kids safe and that it’s your duty as a parent to oversee your child’s every move. But you know, they’re wrong. One of the reasons we have so many children with behaviour issues is that the focus in our lives has changed very subtly. Where life used to revolve around the family as a whole, featuring activity of which the children could be part, now the focus, particularly in North America is firmly on the kids and what they want. In other words, the kids are directing parents’ lives and guess what happens when are parents deprived of their own activity? Well, they simply hover. After all, they haven’t anything else to do. When the focus is on the child or children, the leadership that children are programmed to look for is immediately lost. Mum or dad aren’t running things. They’re watching the kids. So the kids are running things instead. That on its own sets up all sorts of behaviour issues and it’s something I spend my time trying to alter.
Take a book to the park
Let’s look at what happens at your average visit to the park. If you go, you’ll likely see many well intentioned parents hover around their kids. Instead, I suggest to people that when they take their child to the park, that they bring along a book! Yes, I know. Quel horror! The reason why this is so terrible is that if you go to a park, any park, what you’ll see is an increasing number of parents playing with their kids. They’re either directly intervening in their play by being their playmate or following them around closely in case anything should happen, which is indirectly intervening in their play.
Remember your child is looking to you to lead
So what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing if it’s done occasionally but then you see most often it is not. If you look at it in the leadership light that I’ve just mentioned, then you’ll see that the parent’s focus is firmly on the child. And that sends a message which is, “I’haven’t got anything better to do so I’m going to spend my time following you about.’
And that makes kids feel uncomfortable because they are no longer following you. You are no longer happy with what you are doing, you are looking to them. In such a mode, seeing as mom or dad is there anyway, the child finds it easy to start directing everything the parent does. For a game or two occasionally that’s fun, but more and more what I see on a daily basis is, parents who allow their children to dictate how they run their day, not just at the park but all day. The park is simply an example and captures a brief moment in time.
Don’t make your child your continual focus
Taking a book out and trying to read even if the parent doesn’t actually get much reading done, sends a very different message. That message to the child is, ‘I’m busy reading this book but I trust you to play nicely and entertain yourself on all the wonderful play equipment provided.’ The child is not the immediate focus and that is not a bad thing because left to their own devices, they will find entertainments that would not have even crossed their mind had you ‘played‘ with them. Toss in activities at home of which they can be part, like gardening and washing the car or doing the dishes together and you create an atmosphere where children feel part of something very important, your family, not just because you’ve told them they are an important part but because they can feel it as they contribute.
Going against the grain takes enormous courage
The trouble is, asking parents to take a book to the park is so much more difficult because of the overwhelming disapproval of other parents. There are the looks and the imperious comments. It’s the same with parents who will let their child venture further afield on their own than the norm or walk to soccer practice or take the bus. Society frequently tells us that kids need to be shrouded in a great big bubble of protectiveness and that it’s not only right but proper that mom and dad should spend their days making sure their children are the focus of all their activity. The overwhelming message is one of playdates and entertainment and keeping kids occupied, whilst all of the meaningful parts of life that really make any human being happy are being lost in the shuffle.
So what can you do to turn off your internal helicopter?
First, realize fear is at it’s base and so to change anything you have to conquer that first. Don’t try and do it all at once. Take small incremental steps. Watch for your child’s maturity and allow them to do little things within their grasp. It might be visiting their friend next door at three without you, even though you’re watching out the window. Or it might mean you reading a book for a whole ten minutes and giving your expectations that it’s time to play without you for that long. It might be hanging back on a forest walk and letting them wander further ahead than you would normally allow, or climb a tree without you hovering underneath. While you do that, take a look at where the focus is in your family and make sure it’s on the family as a whole, rather than just the individual child. That allows children to feel more free because they are no longer the continual focus of your attention.
Allow kids to be part of something larger than themselves
If you really want to know how to stop being a hovering parent, ask yourself what makes a child or anyone for that matter really happy? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not stuff. It’s not playdates or toys or trips to the zoo, it’s connection. It’s being part of something larger than yourself. It’s having a role that’s important, that makes a contribution to the whole and being recognized for that role. It’s about being free to explore their world within boundaries they can understand. It’s about knowing they have a place, a real place in time and space and your family. It’s really as simple as that.
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