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Book Bag: Are You a Helicopter Mom?

Dena Higley worked hard to have it all: a daytime drama writing career, long marriage and four great kids. In Momaholic: Crazy Confessions of a Helicopter Parent (Thomas Nelson) Higley says it all fell apart, causing her to look at what she was doing right — and wrong. We talked to her.

How do you know you’re a helicopter mom?

Here’s how: Are you involved in every aspect your child’s life? Do you do everything for your child? I just had a 23-year-old college graduate ask me where he could get a watch fixed. He didn’t know because mommy always took care of stuff like that for him. When they go to a birthday party, do you hand them a beautifully-wrapped gift as they get out of the car and they have no idea what’s inside because you’ve shopped for them? An HP mom is more of a personal assistant than a parent. Are you room mom and PTA president and snack mom for the baseball team? Is there anywhere your child can go to escape you for a few hours in the day?

What are the warning signs?

You’re constantly displeased with your child. They aren’t getting good enough grades so you do their homework for them. They aren’t performing well enough in their sport, so you hire a private coach — even though you can’t afford it. You drag them kicking and screaming into the car to get them to activities they have no interest in doing. Simultaneously, you constantly seek your child’s approval. You want them to like you. These two parenting skills are at polar opposites of the spectrum. They cannot exist at the same time but women try to make it happen all the time. I know some kids who have begun wetting the bed again in junior high because they don’t know who they are and they don’t know how to please their parents and teachers. There will be more raised voices in the household. A helicopter mother is constantly on edge. One missed orthodontist appointment can send a mom into a rage.

What’s wrong with being a helicopter mom?

No one is happy in her home. While you’d think a helicopter mom would carve out family time, she never does. She schedules too many activities, lessons and tutoring time. Kids can’t handle the stress which is why drugs are an epidemic. Parents work so hard to get their kids in the right college that when the kids get there they can’t function without mommy and daddy. The dropout rate is higher than ever. Even if your kid makes it through college, most grads move back home – 85% according to TIME.

What steps can you take?

Take your cue from your child. Are they old enough to clean their own room? Can they start helping prepare meals? Cooking and cleaning up after a meal, even with boys, is a great bonding time for mother and child. Do they have a cell phone? If they do they can certainly start entering in their own schedule. And they’ll take pride in knowing when their soccer practice starts. Take them to the grocery store and together plan out a healthy eating style that they enjoy. Give them some freedom to go out with friends — even if this idea makes you nervous. As they grow older, loosen the leash. Basically start to get out of their face much as possible. Go through magazines together with your daughter and talk about what’s inappropriate attire and what is classy and elegant. Then you won’t argue about what she wears on dates later on. Trust them. And realize that they are their own person and you are your own person. Learn boundaries. Learn what co-dependence is and stay away from it at all costs.

What happened to you?

I had a complete nervous breakdown when my oldest daughter refused to follow the script I had set out for her life. I got into therapy and learned to be my own person and to allow my children to fail. I showed them the world. If they want to work at a fast food restaurant and that makes them happy then they don’t have to study and go to college. But if they want choices as adults they have to buckle down and work hard now. But it’s their choice. And because it’s their choice, the nagging has stopped. The yelling has stopped. There is peace in our house. There is peace in my heart. Of course there are still antics and mistakes made. Life is messy. Families are messy. But there is still peace in my heart and peace in my home.

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