02 03 Notes from the School Psychologist: In Defense of Helicopter and Snowplow Moms…sort of. 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

In Defense of Helicopter and Snowplow Moms…sort of.


I think of my life in two phases: now and B.C. (before children). Before having my own children, I rolled my eyes at the so-called “Helicopter parents” who rescued their children from disappointments and frustration. Or, if we are keeping up with the latest judgmental term for moms, I would have rolled my eyes at the “Snowplow” moms who move all obstacles out of the way of their precious unique snowflakes.

To be sure, as a school psychologist, I have stories of extreme parental hyper-involvement that evoke the collective societal eye roll. One time, I had a mom burst into my office while I was counseling a girl. She screamed, “I was listening outside this door and my daughter is lying! I never said that!” Um…no. Or there was the time when I was doing an assessment with a middle school boy for learning differences and the mom came in my office in advance to make sure the desk was ergonomically correct. She straight plopped into the chair and measured the distance to the worktable. And I kid you not, I left to go to the restroom and when I came back, she was on a chair with some sort of Volt-o-Meter making sure that the lighting was correct.

I’ve also observed parenting being treated like an Olympic sport. I have had parents tell me they are worried about their kid’s speech evaluation getting into their file for Harvard and the kid is like 4 years old. Ummmmm…relax. And just a few weeks ago, my neighbor told me of an Easter egg hunt that was like Lord of the Babies, with parents running ahead and pushing other parents to make sure their kiddo got an egg, leaving the toddlers in the dust. Ummmmm…it’s a plastic egg. I can get you like 40,000 for a dollar at Walgreens. It’s going to be okay.

You might have your own story of a mom swooping in like a helicopter or plowing her way in her child’s life to make sure everything is perfect. And you would be right to think that she was doing too much.

And yet…now that I have my own kids, I can sort of understand the impulse. I mean, I don’t own a Volt-o-Meter, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t trip a toddler so mine could win the egg hunt, but you know what I’m saying. Once you hold your child in your arms for the first time, your worldview changes. You want to do everything to protect your child from harm—psychological and physical harm alike. In fact, recent studies show that women’s brains actually change when they become mothers. So those familiar maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain. Basically, just looking at your infant sets your amygdala on fire to protect him or her, so this might explain why when you first become a mom, you might start entertaining doing things that you used to mock other moms for doing.

I’ll be the first to admit that as a parent with a blazing amygdala, you sometimes just can’t help but let fear take over your imagination. While you are holding that precious baby bundle in your arms, you start to worry about 18 years from now, thinking, “Hmmm…maybe I should home college her so she doesn’t ever go to a party and make foolish life changing decisions. Perfect! If she is home colleged, she’ll never go on Spring Break and meet a tattooed guy named Bubba and do the Macarena on a bar with him (not that I did that of course). Hmmm…that’s cruel to keep her sheltered, so maybe I’d let her live it up at the Science Museum for a week over break”* Wait, what am I thinking?!?

To make problems worse, these days, moms are bombarded with terrifying information about everything that could hurt, maim, psychologically damage, or kill your babies.** When you watch the news, every child is suddenly your baby and OMG my baby is going to go on spring break in Aruba and never come back!!! It’s terrifying and insidious. Here is a sample of the information I learned in my Facebook feed just this week:

-Plastic thermoses will KILL YOUR BABY (eventually)!
-One kiss to your baby when she is in the hospital CAN KILL HER!
-If you don’t label your child’s car seat with her name, when you are both unconscious in a car accident, the paramedics won’t be able to identify her or know her blood type!
-If you don’t give your child a pacifier, she will DIE OF SIDS!
-Your child will walk to school by herself and NEVER COME BACK.
-If you go to Disneyland, your immune-compromised child will DIE OF THE MEASLES

Of course, I’m all for public service announcements and getting the word out there to help parents make safe choices. Finding missing kids? Um, hell yeah, of course, blast everyone’s feed, Facebook. I admit, my kids’ car seats are labeled and I can’t wait to give my second baby her first birthday vaccination present. Happy Birthday, sweetie! You get not-Measles! Obviously, I appreciate education about how to keep kids safe, but my point is that the sheer volume of products and choices you make that can possibly murder your child makes childhood seem über-perilous. And I consider myself relatively free from DSM-5 anxiety disorder diagnoses, but it’s enough to want to put your child in a bubble.

And not to be that in MY day gal, but I seem to have a fair few memories of getting disappointed, hurt, and putting myself in stupid situations and I do believe I survived relatively unscathed. I recently asked my mom if she was secretly looming around when I was riding my bike all over town without an electronic leash (cell phone) for hours and hours with my sister, and she said, “No, we trusted you.” My own mom mind immediately thought, “Yeah, but how can you trust everyone else?!?” Is the world significantly more dangerous than 30-some years ago, or do we just have information about every perilous thing at our fingertips now, clogging our Facebook feed with fear?

As a school psychologist, parenting has become a constant Me vs. Me battle, fighting the urge to over-protect my offspring. I can remember so vividly the first time my own Toddler B got hit by another child. I had dropped her off at preschool and I peered in the window to see my darling happily engaging in…wait what the heck is that kid doing to her!?! Some kid was slapping my girl repeatedly, laughing maniacally, and she was just standing there, crying, and no teacher was nearby to intervene. And here the battle happened in my mind:

School Psychologist Me: “Let your child experience discomfort, work through problems on her own, and experience hurt and disappointment in order to build adaptability and coping strategies. This incident will teach her how to self-advocate and be assertive.”

Mama Me: “OMG that kid is straight up hitting my child and laughing about it! Someone please get that little sociopath to off my baby!”

School Psychologist Me: “The teachers will take care of her and process this appropriately if I let them.”

Mama Me: “F-it. It takes a village, I’m getting that monster child off my baby!” (*lunges toward junior psychopath*)

School Psychologist Me: “Okay, the teacher has put the child in time out and we will now debrief this whole incident appropriately. The aggressor probably has some lagging social-emotional regulation skills and is in need of nurturing intervention.”

Mama Me: “WHAT? That evil little boy is crying because HE is in time out? Like he’s the victim here? I’m going to have to call his parents and tell them to keep that psycho kid away from my baby.”

Oh, it’s embarrassing to admit that Mama Me has a secret little helicopter-snow plow looming in my thoughts. But having my own kids does make me more empathetic and less judgmental of parents than I used to be. Obvi, you can still be empathetic without having kids of your own, but for me personally, that was the turning point in my career that gave me a deeper understanding of how hard it really is to parent in today’s climate. Perhaps as professionals and educators, we can encourage each other to at least pause before we roll our eyes at an anxious parent and acknowledge that our culture bombards parents with messages that fuel the little helicopters and snowplows in our minds.

* Yes! Yes! They can go to "The University of Rebecca"! My daughters could major in Maternal Resentment with a minor in Zero Independent Living Skills.
**They will ALWAYS be my babies, I don’t care how old they get.
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