Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Attachment Parents & Helicopter Parents: Not Necessarily One In The Same

I love attachment parenting.  I love cuddling with my four year old when she's having a bad day.  I love sleeping next to my 8 week old at night.  I'm terrified of SIDS.  I'm also terrified something bad will happen to my kids, even if it's just a scraped knee. 

But I'm not so terrified that I don't let them out of my sight.

A not-so-new and not-so-fun trend in parenting is Helicopter Parenting.  Imagine a parent hovering over their child constantly, even into the college years, taking care of every problem the child ever has.  That is helicopter parenting.  And it's something I am against entirely, possibly more than I am against letting babies "cry it out".

At least with cry it out (which I desperately hate) parents are giving their children breathing room.  The helicopters don't.  It starts with never leaving baby alone, even for a second, because they might roll off the blanket on the floor onto the actual floor, pick up a stray piece of dirt or cat hair, put it in their mouth, possibly even swallow it, get incredibly sick, and/or die.  It ends with parents sitting in on post-college job interviews with their kids and then calling the company to yell at them for not hiring sweet little Johnnykins.  After all, mommy was there during the interview and saw how wonderfully Johnnykinsybabywabysweetiepie did answering those questions (after turning to mom to figure out how to answer first of course). 

These things really happen.  There are parents that end up at job interviews with their 22 year old "kids".  And it starts out of fear.  I'm no stranger to fear.  I have severe (albeit treated) OCD.  I'm terrified that my kids will die if I don't use exactly 9 squares of toilet paper.  I feel the most comfortable when my children sleep in my bed with me so I know that if anything happens I will be right next to them.  But I know that a lot of my fears are irrational. 

As Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids often points out, crime is actually DOWN since most parents were kids (I'm a bit younger than a lot of parents so I'm not sure if those statistics fit me).  And it's common knowledge that most child abductions and child sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the child KNOWS.  Yet we live in a world of fear.  Parents accompany their kids outside to play and stay within two feet of them at all times in their own back yards.  Parents drive their kids to school so that they aren't subjected to peer pressure, bullying, or the male driver (because all men are child molesters) on the bus.  Parents don't let their children play with their friends across the street because obviously a 10 year old has no concept of how dangerous cars are and will dart right out into traffic if mommy or daddy isn't paying constant, vigilant, attention.

How does this relate to crunchy, attachment parenting parents?  When you think about attachment parenting and some of the crunchier practices that often go right along with it, it's a fairly easy gateway to helicopter parenting.  Making sure children aren't exposed to toxins, breastfeeding to prevent illness, babywearing, and co sleeping can all lead to overprotective parenting.  You keep your children so close as babies and toddlers it's hard to stop when they get older. 

The reason children are born, grow, and get older is to eventually turn into adults.  The reason we (well I hope this is the reason) choose attachment parenting is to develop a good relationship with our children, to make sure they feel secure and safe, and so that they (hopefully) grow into well adjusted, productive, happy adults.  While being close to your children is important in their upbringing, so is letting them have freedom to make mistakes.  Mistakes are a big part of how we, as humans, learn and grow.  The great part about attachment parenting is that, because of the good relationship you worked so hard to have with your children, they will come to you when they make those mistakes and get themselves in over their heads.  But they need to be free to make those mistakes first.

Even in my constant OCD fueled fear, I know that my children are people, not possessions to be protected and locked away like a precious piece of jewelry in a museum.  While they are precious and infinitely valuable to me, they are still people.  We, as parents, and especially as attachment parents, need to know where to draw the line at our attachment.  The umbilical cord gets cut for a reason. 

My oldest child is a beautiful, creative, brilliant, and very adventurous four year old girl named Aria.  Aria is very much the poster child for attachment parenting.  We used the methods of attachment parenting with her, not because it was a trendy thing to do (in fact, we didn't know attachment parenting existed until she was about three), but because those particular methods worked for us.  In the midst of a very ugly battle with post partum depression, co sleeping and babywearing made me feel close to my baby and thus made me feel better.  For the longest time I couldn't stand to sleep without her at night or be separated from her at work. 

However, as most children inevitably do, she began to grow up.  We moved into an amazing neighborhood full of children of all ages, and she, of course, wanted to play with them.  The fully fenced in back yard that we were so excited about having, so she could play safely without us constantly watching over her, lay dormant (until Plankton the Jackabee and a pumpkin garden entered our lives, but that's another post) while she played with the neighbor kids in the front yard, near the (gasp) street.  She soon made friends with the kids across the street, so, with a little street crossing education, she began to play in their yards as well. 

Now my (not so little) baby girl wakes up in the morning, and instead of waking us up, she gets herself dressed (she has a great sense of style too), let's the dog out, grabs a snack, let's the dog back in, and goes on her little way, outside and across the street to play with her friends. 

She's four years old.

If my four year old can handle this huge chunk of independence, I'm fairly certain 22 year old Johnnykins can make it through a job interview alone.  The difference between an independent child like mine and an extremely dependent adult-child like Johnykins comes down to one thing.  It's not personality (Aria is painfully shy at times), and it's not intelligence (although she does have that- from her momma of course).  It's simply the fact that I, as a parent, have allowed and encouraged my daughter to stake out her own independence, even when what I really wanted to do was hold her on my lap and watch Barney like we did in the old days, and poor little Johnnykins' mom, did not. 

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