As an engaged and involved parent, I often bristle when I hear other parents (usually moms) described in terms of “helicopter,” “tiger,” “soccer,” or “pageant,” because all have a decidedly negative connotation.There have certainly been more than enough television shows that support, and even encourage, the most extreme of these behaviors.
Many of our sitcoms make fun of the over-scheduled parent (again, usually the mom) who shuttles multiple children to multiple activities, implying that when she does it all for everyone else, she should be mocked because she is make-up less and driving a mini-van.
And there are now a wide variety of “reality” shows (I use the term loosely because these shows feel more scripted than anything on television these days) where, again, moms push and promote their daughters to be dazzling dancers or beauty queens, seemingly before these children know what it is exactly to be either, even though they are supposedly doing it because “they want to.”
And while I’m not as extreme as these women are, nor do I feel it is fair that our culture reduces and ridicules their behavior, I certainly do understand the desire to want the very best for one’s children and to encourage and support their talents and skills in order to help them thrive.
Like many parents, I’ve enrolled my children in art classes because they show an interest in the arts, or soccer because playing a team sport builds character and being physically fit is a good thing. I’ve also spent numerous weekends away from home chaperoning a debate team field trip because an extra driver was needed.
But I also know parents who seem to live in their cars and whose family seems to spend all of its time supporting the basketball/baseball/soccer/hockey player in the family, who “might” be able to get a college scholarship because they are the next big thing.
When does being engaged and supportive cross the line and become obsessive and damaging?
Recently a young woman successfully took her parents to court and was granted a restraining order because she felt that her parents believed they hard a right to control her life because they were paying her college tuition. Certainly the details of this case reveal a long, complicated family relationship, where these parents were focused on making sure their talented daughter’s talent was appreciated and noticed, but somewhere, they, in her opinion, crossed a line.
But it makes me wonder, why couldn’t this be handled without the courts? Why make this family dispute public? Doesn’t that damage their fractured relationship even more? The cynic in me answers, isn’t this the ultimate form of reality television, where this young, budding actress is now the story du jour, even if it costs her a relationship with her parents? Those 15 minutes of fame might come at too high a cost, but a cost so many seem willing to pay.
So how does a parent know when being helpful has turned into being harmful? Are there warning signs? And if it does happen, how do you step back and heal from the fractures that might have been created?