Last weekend in an art workshop, I had a front-row seat watching the activities of a bonified helicopter parent. On jet fuel. If you’ve read this newsletter for any time at all you know that my childrearing style is closer to boot camp than a luxury spa, but I am always fascinated to watch the choices parents make in various scenarios.
Over the course of the six-hour workshop, Helicopter Mom (HM) swooped in anytime anything was required of her teenage daughter, a girl I enjoy and talk with often in our weekly art class. During the first demonstration period of the workshop while the rest of us were rapidly scribbling notes, Sweet Girl (SG) sat preoccupied and only wrote down a word or two of the treasure that we were learning that dated back to the Renaissance. Of course there was no need for her to take copious notes, HM was in the back frantically taking dictation for her.
During the break, I struck up a discussion with SG, asking about a lecture she had attended the week before. She stumblingly told me the highlights for about three minutes before HM helpfully leaned in over my shoulder taking over the conversation, offering all the details of the lecture, sharing the handout and giving me the Facebook post of the recorded lecture. Later, in the breakroom, HM confided that she was surprised that SG had talked with me, “She’s so shy, you know!”
Next came the hands-on part. There was a great deal of physical labor to build our painting supports and many steps to follow, but SG didn’t need to worry. HM was on the job, doing all the hard work for her, reminding her not to spill rabbitskin glue on her shoes, not to forget to soak the linen well, and to cut away from herself with the single edge razor we used to remove the excess linen from the support (before HM took the razor away from SG and finished the job herself). At one point when HM was out of earshot, I asked SG for clarification of a step and her response was, “I’m usually the girl in the class that doesn’t have a clue.”
My heart broke, both for SG and for her mother who thinks she is doing a good job but is, in fact, robbing her daughter. You see, I know SG when mama isn’t around. She’s a good conversationalist, very much wants to pursue art, and is an enchanting young woman. But, HM is unknowingly robbing SG of her self-worth, keeping her from learning how to handle social situations and artistic pursuits, and ensuring that her daughter stays dependent on her to navigate life. If SG were allowed to stumble in conversation and be embarrassed, she would figure out how to say it better next time. If she got home with no notes and realized she couldn’t replicate what we learned, she’s smart enough to take notes in the future and would become better prepared for college. If she were left alone to ruin her pretty shoes and then had to pay for them herself, she’d learn to handle her tools more carefully, pay better attention, and wear clothing appropriate to the task at hand. Basically, she’d grow up, which is what teens are supposed to be in the process of doing.
I wanted my own children to fail in as many areas as possible while they were under my roof and I could help them figure out what went wrong and how they could correct their actions or make better choices. I felt it was much easier to be there to hold and console in person when their young attempts were disastrous than to be helplessly listening years later over the phone to major catastrophes in college or in life when there was nothing I could do.
Trust me. Allow the stumble.
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