Goodbye Helicopters: The Rise of Humvee Parenting

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Operation Iraqi Freedom

An article in the New York Times announced the good news: “Family time has grown.”  Evidently, recent studies indicate parents are spending less time on housekeeping and more time with their children. There is no question housekeeping has flown out the window at our house, along with the mop, the laundry, and any semblance of order. But togetherness? Clearly, we weren’t included in the study.

Just look at last weekend. Friday night I had to chaperone at my daughter’s school dance while my youngest son had baseball practice and my husband had to work late. The next morning said husband and daughter left at the first light of day to drive two hours to attend a soccer tournament. For our boys, there was soccer and tennis practice in the morning and then a baseball game in the afternoon.  Saturday night was the celebration of the opening of day of Little League, but I couldn’t go because of the school fundraiser for Haiti. Sunday was busy with soccer games and more baseball practice. By Sunday night we were actually all in the same room, sitting around the kitchen table, each on our own computers, trying to finish homework and prepare for the week ahead. Ahh, family togetherness.

But a deeper review of theresearch conducted by two economist at University of California reveals there is more bad news than good. Sure parents are spending more time with their children but -- and here’s the bad news -- they are doing it in an effort to get them into college. The economists tracked time-use studies and discovered that we aren’t using the extra hours to play catch with Bobby but rather are driving Bobby to his private coaching lesson so he can secure an athletic scholarship. According to the study, “the size of college-bound cohorts rose dramatically beginning in the early 1990s, coincident with the increase in the time spent on childcare.” Key here is that additional time was not spent on playing with the younger kids but rather on enabling the older, pre-college children. We no longer hover in over-protectiveness as we did when our children were young, now we offer our children the benefits of high mobility and multipurpose parenting -- we drive them from activity to activity and convince ourselves that is family togetherness. We’ve moved from helicopter to Humvee.

Much has been written about the negative effect on our children by all this additional attention: increased anxiety, lack of initiative, inability to handle executive tasks and so on. But the question I want to understand is, well, what about me? If the 1950s woman was trapped behind her man, is the 2010 woman trapped behind her steering wheel in an effort to support her kids?

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to see my daughter playing goalie on the soccer field. I love that my oldest son is passionate about running and tennis and that my younger son isn’t happy without a ball nearby. But, does that mean I need to spend my time watching them have fun? I’d like to take up soccer. I miss playing tennis. The fifteen or more hours I spend each week sitting in the bleachers, on the sidelines, along the court, could be spent learning a new language, reviving my long lost love of piano, taking that photography class I’ve always said I would. As I rush around to prepare for my children’s future, my present is evaporating. 

I’ve read that Slow Parenting is the answer. Parents are saying no to the myriad activities, they’re staying home and hanging with their kids.  BlogHer Sierra Black writes she has "quit everything" and is spending more time bonding with her kids. My concern with slow parenting and helicopter parenting and Humvee parenting is that they are all based on the seemingly deep-seated need to obsess over our kids. BlogHer Uncool Mom explains the issue: 

I've always wanted to arrange my daily schedule so that I "leave work" at a certain time, just like my husband, relegating most chores and office work to a certain block of time so I, too, would have time to relax, on my own or with my family.  But, like many moms, I've laughed at that notion, feeling like "moms don't have the right, " like my life (and my family's) would fall apart if I did that every day.  

Time to refocus. My new plan is to just get out of their way. I call it Benign Parenting -- won’t hurt but won’t help. So when I missed my son’s baseball game the other day because of a work conflict, I didn't stress out. Later,  we spent time together discussing the game, analyzing his strengths and weaknesses as a player, developing strategies for how he can improve the next time and contemplating the meaning of teamwork. It was the best forty-five minutes we’ve shared in a long while. This weekend, I plan to visit a local photography exhibition during his game. I can’t wait to hear how he played.

BlogHer Gina Carroll confirms that the helicopter has landed but is that because the humvee is revving up? Only time will tell...

Lenore Skenazy advocates for “free-range kids” - allowing our children more freedom to explore and make mistakes. On May 22nd, she’s calling for “Take Our Children to the Park - and Leave Them There Day.” I’m in. How about you? 

You can read more of my ranting and raving at www.prismwork.com

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