How To Stop Being A Hovering Parent
If you asked a random group of parents in a room, many, if not most, would admit they hover. They’re often uncomfortable doing it but feel they have no other option. So the question is, “How to stop being a hovering parent?” A lot of hovering is actually motivated by fear. Fear of condemnation by others over offering your child some freedom or doing something that goes against the collective grain.
How to stop being a hovering parent: Don’t let fear paralyze you.
Fear of criticism is a powerful motivator. Since Megan Markle is in the news so much, I recall Will and Kate, when they were new parents, failing to properly settle little George in his carseat on their way home from the hospital. I thought the barrage of criticism on Twitter and Facebook was 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 ordinary folks have. Having said that, I’m not sure if, even if offered, I’d swap the relative freedom of my life for such scrutiny, even if it did come with a free lunch and a castle.
How to stop being a hovering parent: Conquer your own fears.
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 one another, and often the people who give parents the hardest time are also parents. You see, in society, there’s a right way to raise kids and a wrong way, and the “right” viewpoint is often surprisingly narrow.
How to stop being a hovering parent: 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 of our lives has changed very subtly. Where life used to revolve around the family as a whole, featuring activities 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 the parents’ lives, and guess what happens when parents are 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. Mom 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 hovering around their kids. Instead, I suggest to people that when they take their child to the park, 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 as 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 at them. In this mode, because mom or dad are already present, the child finds it easy to begin 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 are 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 (not your phone, it’s different) 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 entertainment 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.
You’ll note that I mentioned avoiding your phone. That’s because a phone is too often used as a mechanism simply to avoid interacting with children at all and that’s not a message we want to send either.
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, 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, while 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 that fear is at its base, and to change anything, you have to conquer that first. Don’t try to 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 that they’re 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 telling 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 letting them 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 constant 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 really as simple as that.
To learn how Annie can help you with your parenting, please visit her services page.
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