“No fly zone”

Parenting metaphors often develop a life of their own after being coined. I doubt Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay had any idea of how popular the term “helicopter parenting” would become, when they used it in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. I have to admit I never read the book myself, but it is perfectly clear to me what a helicopter parent is. I’ve had several direct encounters, and although there’s always a certain humour to it, the laughter often gets stuck in my throat when I realize people are actually serious.

The helicopter parent suffers from an acute distrust in their child’s ability to cope, and is at the same time very anxious about the threats of the outside world. There is also a lack of boundaries between where the parent ends the child begins, making the child’s and parent’s emotions blend into one big, boiling emotional soup. The helicopter parent over-compensates for everything that went wrong in their own childhood: not being seen enough by their own parents; not getting ahead academically; not being popular enough; not discovering and developing their hidden talents in time. I sometimes feel deeply for the hovering helicopter parent, but I’m desperately aware of the danger of being caught up in all the movement, even as a by-stander.

The Danish psychologist Bent Hougaard has a similar metaphor, which has become very popular in Scandinavia: “Curling parents”. After last year’s Winter Olympics, the term may even be ready for export to the rest of the world, judging by the TV audience curling reached.

It’s in reference to the sport of curling, where players sweep the ice to remove obstacles in front of the gliding stone. Likewise, curling parents try to remove all the obstacles in the way of their children.


As funny as the image is, once again I ask myself, how can I enjoy my own and my children’s life, if all I do is sweep frantically the whole time?

I catch myself attempting to sweep myself sometimes, but my innate laziness has no doubt kept me from going overboard.

Last week I came across a new parenting metaphor at the Children and Nature network’s website, a metaphor that tries to meet the need of parental control, while at the same time distancing itself from the by now infamous group of hovering helicopter parents:

There, Bethe Almeras promotes a “new” kind of parenting style, “the hummingbird parent” as she writes, “In the range from helicopter to neglect — I probably fall a bit more toward helicopter. In fact, I call myself a hummingbird parent. I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).”

It’s been a while since I last saw a humming-bird, but the idea of having to flap my wings 200 times per minute, exhausted me even as I read it. A humming-bird wouldn’t be very suited to save anyone from anything, let alone train our offspring to protect themselves from danger and be competent to deal with the world.

It’s probably too late for me to become a parenting prophet, but as I look at my two teenagers, I realize that the one thing I want for them is a no-fly zone.

Let me explain: When my (then) 11-year-old was unhappy with the friendship dynamics in her class, and asked several times a week if she could change schools, any kind of flapping sound would have made her more confused. That phase eventually passed, and she learnt a tremendous lot from having to deal with emotions like that herself.

When my (then) 16-year-old wanted to travel on her own with a friend for a few days, the helicopter instinct (that was hidden in me) almost had me suggest I’d go with them. Instead it became a great learning experience about keeping your stuff under control (almost lost her i-pod), about packing lightly (3 days of travelling with an enormous weight almost killed her back) and the value of money (“I can’t believe how much it costs to eat, mom”).

If I were to pick my own metaphor for parenting, I think I’d like to be  an oak-tree mom. I’d like to define myself as well grounded in my own experience, remembering my own childhood in a way that helps me see my daughters’ experience from a different angle.

I’d like to be tall, so I can see beyond the current situation, both forwards and backwards. Being tall also gives my daughters a point of reference when they wander off, they can see me, and I can see them from a great distance. I can’t flutter off to help them in no time to save them. But just being there is help.

I’d also like to think that I’m a resting place, something to hold on to when it storms, and something to rest under in the shade on a sunny day, while they tell their stories, and I tell mine.

And I believe that all the energy I save from not flapping, must make oak-tree-parenting more sustainable than the alternatives.

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~ by Hege on September 27, 2010.

One Response to ““No fly zone””

  1. What i find difficult is to find a blog that can capture me for a minute but you definitely add value. Bravo.

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