Let’s Talk Helicoptering

I was sent this video about six months ago, and with the topic of motherhood and parenting this month on the blog, I thought it appropriate to bring it out into the conversation. It features Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success who was in town speaking at St. John’s School here in Houston.

And, wow.

Lythcott-Haims is a former Dean of Freshman at Stanford University. You will not believe the stories she tells involving the level of involvement some college parents invest in their kid’s lives. She shares a very unique perspective in that she was witness to the evolution of “helicoptering” which she says began early to mid 1990s, when she and her colleagues were highly amused and perplexed by, for example, parents selecting their kids’ college course load. Fast forward to today and this overparenting is the norm. Additionally, as a parent she’s squarely in it and admits to succumbing to it.

Here she is giving a Tedx talk to an audience of high school students, an abbreviated version of the link above which is tailored to parents.

Listening to Lythcott-Haims speak is eye-opening to say the least. As I listened, I kept finding myself thinking about my own childhood. What happened to the days when your mother said things like “Be home before dark.”  and “If you are bored, go play outside with the garden hose or use your imagination.”  OR “Please wear shoes today.”

Ah, the gift of simpler times. Now, mind you — I grew up in a sprawling suburbia outside of Houston, Texas in the 70s and 80s. It was an emerging mecca of half dirt roads and half civilization. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I guess the reasons are so vast and complicated as to how we, as parents,  have gotten to be where we are today, but one thing is for sure — our kids have lost their ability to just be kids. And this, more than anything else, makes me sad.

Let’s be clear, though. Lythcott-Haims’ book is very much skewed towards the 1% and to families whose kids are exceptionally smart and on the fast track of getting into the most elite high schools and colleges. Overparenting could be described as a trend or phenomenon of this demographic, and the term “first world problem” certainly comes to mind. Nevertheless, I have one of those kids and I see him struggle with the hyper-competitiveness and amped up pressures daily. But I also have the gift of having another beautiful child with special needs, which provides me with a unique perspective.

My daughter is far from this track, but she is the one who experiences the simple joys of just being a kid more than anyone I know. In my family, I am blessed to experience an extreme dichotomy of my children’s realities every single day and I am grateful for it. That gap in realities keeps me grounded in the space between. You know, that place where you aren’t allowed to go too far in one direction or too far in the other.

So as quickly as I see myself asking my son to take one more AP class, I find myself comforting my daughter over a spelling test where she just was not able to get one answer right. I quickly come back to the middle – – to that the magical space we all seek.

Enjoy Julie Lythcott-Haims’ talk when you have some time to spare, the book and her take on helicopter parenting. If anything, it will bring a forth a self-awareness about your own parenting and how you were parented (I know it did in me), and hopefully, some beautiful truths and answers will be discovered.


I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions on overparenting in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this post, I’d be thrilled if you’d share it. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to Join the Collective! ♥ Elaine

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