We use the term helicopter fathers and calendar mothers to refer to parents who fully expect to control the lives of their children, and from A to Z wish to organize. In principle, they act from good intentions, but at the same time it is undisputed that they nip every trace of potential freedom of their offspring in the bud.
These kinds of parents constantly ask whether the homework has already been done, whether the son and daughter have prepared well enough for the upcoming test or presentation, whether they have rehearsed enough for music or dance lessons, etc. In short: where they come from come, what they are doing now, and what they are going to do later . Just about every minute, every moment, is packed with activities, or else at least earmarked, reserved, and marked as ‘free play time’.
As glorified parental agents, they watch closely and strictly over the ins and outs of the child: from school achievements via passions (and hobbies) to social obligations – thus creating a dynamic of one-sided dependence. With the guaranteed result that it becomes extra difficult for the recipients of such stifling care – the children – to learn to take responsibility themselves, for their time schedule, their appointments and their interests.
Helicopter fathers and agenda mothers who leave their children empty (sucked)
By this perhaps well-intentioned but oppressive overprotection, by taking everything off their hands in advance, and supposedly offering a safe ‘bubble’, or fabricating the ‘perfect scheme’, we do indeed stimulate the educational, cultural, sporting or social development of our children, but we also deprive them of the opportunity to really get to know themselves – from the inside, on their own initiative and movement – to learn to regulate their emotions autonomously, and to discover their authentic needs and unique aspirations.
The relationship between parent and child is ruined by this claustrophobic ‘glass bell jar’, because the child almost feels like a member doll, a puppet of the extremely dominant involvement of his parents. Instead of protecting them from all harm and doom, children internalize this anxiety and concern as, or until, self-undermining insecurity. Moreover, these heavily patronized children are systematically over-stimulated; leaving them unable to tolerate an ounce of frustration or boredom. After all, they have become accustomed to, and conditioned, to play the passive role by default, as participants in the (day) program imposed by their parents.
These parents, as ‘architects’ and non-stop motivational mentors of their very own growth brilliance, register every millimeter of progress, improvement or exemplary behavior of their (oh so talented) child.
The term dates back to 1969, when Haim Ginnott, in his book Between Parent and Teen, wrote: “ My mother hovered above me as if she were a helicopter” . This phenomenon has since spread widely, to the point where many parents almost automatically (and incorrectly) blame teachers for their child’s poor grades.
Helicopter and Diary Parents:
- Make decisions for the child in every domain: from school to hobbies to boyfriends and girlfriends.
- Constantly looking over their shoulder, trying to satisfy their children in every possible way, and pacify them in advance.
- Either deal with the conflicts of and for their children, or else offer them ready-made solutions.
- By default, speaking in the plural: ‘We will have to spend so much time studying this book!, ‘Look how much homework they have assigned us!’ etc.
That obsessive need to constantly keep everything under control also proves debilitating for the parents, who eventually exhaust themselves. They stare completely cross-eyed, or even blindly, at the ‘perfect picture’, in which the apple of their eye is overloaded with care, attention, love, and absolutely nothing is lacking. With which they want and hope to protect their children – at all costs – from the mistakes they have made themselves, at their age.
Sooner or later, reality breaks through the silver screen, and the castle in the air slowly begins to fade and evaporate. This mutual stranglehold of a relationship, oppressed both parent and child. Both become frustrated and overwrought, resulting in disastrous emotional problems and psychological complexes.
Overprotective parenting degenerates into depression and anxiety disorders
According to various scientific studies, this style – that of (neurotic) perfectionist upbringing – has very damaging implications in the short, medium, and long term: from chronic stress and depression to pathological nervousness. This is a price that not only the children pay, but also the parents themselves.
This inner collapse is an instinctive response to distressing scarcity of the following three basic emotional needs: the sense or experience of autonomy, of competence, and of belonging and exchange with others (with peers—particularly during the formative teen years). Anything that hinders the emotional and psychosocial growth of the child therefore has disastrous consequences, both on a personal and interpersonal level.
Children should and deserve – of course – to be brought up with genuine involvement and affection, but certainly also with common sense, and everything in the right measure, and proportions. We should not at any time, and in any situation, poke our noses (unsolicited) into their private affairs, and should not take responsibility for their own obligations. Because whoever does – as a parent – saddles his growing children with distressed feelings of dependence, incompetence and uselessness; the exact opposite of what we actually intended, right?
Illustrations by Karin Taylor and Claudia Tremblay.