This Mother’s Day I dragged two big plastic totes out of my closet. They held photographs, tangible proof of the last eighteen years that I have been a mother. The other proof is in my mind, so when I close my eyes, the memories come flooding back. They are memories of countless trips to the park and the grocery store, where we would hold on tight to each other’s hands so that no one got lost. If I concentrate I can still hear their high pitched voices as they ask endless questions about everything. This Mother’s Day my girls and I went to the mall. We didn’t hold hands and at one point we split up because we wanted to go to different stores. Then we went to the movies. My daughters told me to go get us seats while they bought the tickets and popcorn. As I sat between them, my eighteen and fourteen year old, I felt that I must be the luckiest person alive. Life just didn’t get any better. But then my younger one reached out to hold my hand. After a while I reached out to hold my older one’s hand. We watched the movie like that and I realized that nothing had changed even though everything was different. My girls are all grown up and independent. As they discover their world, I stand on the sidelines watching them make important decisions on their own. When I look at old photographs, I see birthdays and recitals and trips all documented to preserve the important memories. But I know that the most precious ones will live in my mind forever. All I have to do is close my eyes.
As parents we often have to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the fine line between good parenting and over parenting. How do we know when enough is enough? Is there a magic age when we can say that we have done all that we could for our children and that the time has come to step back?
I thought I was a helicopter parent. I hovered in preschool, in elementary school and would have continued to hover in high school if I had not walked into that invisible wall as my oldest daughter went off to her first day. It wasn’t an actual wall that stopped me…it was a look of sheer horror and embarrassment on my daughter’s face as she realized that I was stepping out of the car and following her. That look stopped me in my tracks. I realized that I had gone as far as I could. I stood outside her school like an abandoned child for a few minutes, before it hit me. This was it. No more greeting the teacher as the kids walked in and hanging around the classroom if they needed parent helpers. Apparently, once your kids hit high school, parent helpers are synonymous with the plague. I realized that I needed to get a life of my own, hence the desire to start a career as a writer. Also, I had some time to transition since I had another child and her teachers to harrass for a few more years.
Which brings me to the article about helicopter parenting. Apparently it is a real affliction. It seems that there are parents out there who haven’t heard of the invisible wall I was talking about. And if they did, they may have just crashed through it anyway. I’m not judging because I know I’m just as guilty of hovering, but I do draw the line at calling my children’s prospective employers or future university profs. But extreme hovering tactics aside, when do we let go? Do we deprive our children the benefit of our experiences and failures and allow them room to make their own mistakes? Is it hyper-parenting to want to spare your child the disappoinments that you have faced and give them an edge? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that it is a daily struggle to decide when to step in or back off. After all, it is our children’s future that’s at stake.