"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 2, 2013
The Anti-Helicopter Mom
by Emily S. Jorgensen

Upon the second week of my first daughter’s entrance to kindergarten I got a call from the Principal’s office. Yes, my KINDERGARTENER had been called into the office because she had apparently hit a teacher’s aide.

I felt completely embarrassed, incredulous, protective and a bit angry. What the heck happened?

Apparently, the children were being taken one by one into the hallway for some sort of evaluation, and my daughter didn’t understand what was going on. She didn’t know why this “stranger” whom she had never met was physically pulling her out of the classroom. My daughter felt threatened and struck out at this “stranger.”

It was very difficult to avoid taking this incident personally. Here we were at the beginning of my daughter’s entrance into the world of schooling that would be her main activity for 13 more years at least, and she/I/we had already failed.

I know, it sounds melodramatic.

But, isn’t that how we parents often feel? We feel that when our children mess up or fail, we must somehow be partly to blame.

In my last ward there was an older mother—all her children had grown up and mostly left the home—whose son was a heroin addict. This has caused her no end of grief and pain. She is always afraid of getting that awful call—the one that says her son is dead in a ditch somewhere.

I remember her expressing in Relief Society one day how she wondered if other people thought she had failed somehow as his mother; that she was to blame for the terrible turn his life had taken.

She is a good woman, a strong woman. She serves faithfully in the Church. She taught piano lessons for all the neighborhood children. She is opinionated and intelligent. And, I am sure she is not to blame for the vast majority of her son’s issues.

But, this is often the course of our thinking—both about ourselves and others. We tend to think that, as the parent, everything our child does is a reflection on us.

It is true: we are our children’s first and best teachers. They likely learn more from us than from anyone else. Also, God has charged us with the duty to rear them up in righteousness.

But, and this is a big BUT, they are not us. They are not even an extension of us. There is a line between what we have given them and what they choose to do with it.

When we blur that line—when we take everything they do personally, it can feel very threatening to us.

In my experience, taking our children’s choices personally often results in either being overly harsh and critical, or in “helicopter” parenting—parents that always hover with the intent to prevent a child from ever making mistakes.

Taking a child’s mistakes personally leads to thoughts like “how could you do this to me?” and being angry for a child’s mistake instead of calmly explaining the consequence of their mistake and enforcing that consequence without disparaging comments or ridicule.

In reality, when we are overly critical of a child, or expect perfection OR ELSE, this is really a reflection of our own insecurities. We are worried we are not perfect enough—our example has not been enough, our parenting knowledge is not enough; we have failed them somehow. That is why they are messing up.

Maybe our example hasn’t been enough; maybe our parenting knowledge is slim and hard-won; maybe we have failed them. However, we cannot take our guilt out on them.

One of the best things that ever happened to me as a parent was my first daughter’s kindergarten teacher. (Not the aide she hit. Sigh.) As my daughter continued to have some difficulties adjusting to school life, this wonderful teacher treated her with more patience, forbearance, and love than I was using at the time.

I saw this, and I realized that I needed to take my ego out of the equation. I was being too hard on my daughter. She was just 5 years old for crying out loud!

This wonderful teacher arranged a meeting between us parents, herself, and the district school psychologist. I admit, at first, I felt rather threatened by this gesture.

The psychologist helped me see my daughter’s behavior in perspective. Nothing was wrong with her. She just has a hard time with change (she comes by that honestly—my husband is the same way!). She needs boundaries spelled out for her in very plain language—she doesn’t really “get” passive cues.

Between this meeting and the teacher’s continued love, I saw that I too could relax and love my daughter. We didn’t have to “fix” everything about her overnight. She has time to learn and grow into a wonderful person.

That process is going to include mistakes. She is going to disappoint me sometimes, but I hope to never disappoint her by taking her mistakes as though they are a personal threat to me. I hope to let her experience her failures, knowing I love her anyway.

I have faith that being an anti-helicopter mom will work best in the end. That might mean some smirches on her report card, watching her do things that embarrass me, and taking a deep breath once in a while to remind myself that love for her, not fear of what her choices mean about me, is the answer.

As the words of John say, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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