I try not to helicopter parent. I’m not necessarily successful – I mean, I also try not to yell, as, like, a best practice, but after the 18th time I’ve calmly asked my daughter to put her socks on, I typically lose it and raise my voice – but I do try.
I let Ruby and Georgia work out their own friend problems, even though it hurts to watch them struggle.
I let Ruby walk around the neighborhood to friends’ houses and to the store as long as she checks in with me regularly.
I let Ruby cook and bake if she wants to and encourage her to use sharp knives and the electric mixer and the hot oven, and I let Georgia help with less risky tasks.
As an introvert, I am only too happy to let Ruby go to play dates, sleepovers, and birthday parties alone and handle her own social affairs, and I am eagerly looking forward to Georgia achieving that milestone, too.
But I care a lot about academics, so I have the longest way to go when it comes to homework and tests. I don’t actually see anything wrong with helping either of the girls study – we practice spelling words, run flash cards, take online practice quizzes – but I am probably (definitely) guilty of overstepping on homework sometimes.
I’ve never done it for them, but I’ve absolutely offered suggestions, told them to redo it if it’s wrong or sloppy, and reminded them of what they have to do if they’re in danger of forgetting. I know I should let them fail or succeed on their own terms, but it’s not easy for someone as Type A as I am.
I’m getting better with Ruby – now a sixth grader, she doesn’t really need much nudging now in terms of keeping track of assignments or doing them properly – but I hover over Georgia, at first gently saying, “Is that a B or a D? Look again. Remember: B: First the bat and then the ball, and D: first the doorknob and then the door,” and “Is that really your best work? Keep trying!” and then progressing to the point that I actually walk away so I don’t literally hold her hand while she’s writing.
But my biggest challenge so far in my efforts to stay free of helicoptering is the middle school parent portal.
I can’t have any semblance of restraint when I have that amount of information at my fingertips – with just a click, I can see Ruby’s grades in more or less real time, as well as her homework assignments.
“Oh, God, I never even remember it’s there,” the other moms say. “How often do you check it? I maybe look like once a month.”
“Uh … like weekly, I guess?” I say, trying to look chill. “I guess I try to check it on Monday just to see what’s coming down the pike for the week.”
This is a lie.
I check it every morning when I get to my desk, just like I check the news and the weather, and I check it again before I go home from work so I can see what homework hell awaits me that night.
It’s satisfying to reassure myself that Ruby’s grades are good, to see that her studying paid off or even sometimes to see that I was right and that she did need to work harder on that assignment.
But it can make me too eager to step in to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem.
“Hi, sorry to be that mom,” I emailed her French teacher, “but I saw Ruby had a 0 for class participation and I was wondering if she just isn’t speaking up or if she’s not speaking in French or exactly what the problem is so I can help her work to fix it.”
The teacher, God love her, was patient with me. “It’s fine,” she said. “I’m glad you’re so on top of things! But I only gave them all 0s to remind them to turn in their self-evaluations. I just wanted to get their attention. As soon as she turns it in, I’ll change the grade.”
I also learned early on that I could quickly take the wind out of Ruby’s sails without even meaning to.
“Guess what!” she said excitedly, getting into my car after school.
“You made a 100 on your science quiz!” I said. “I saw it on Whipple Hill!”
“Oh,” she said, clearly deflated. “Yeah. I was hoping to surprise you.”
It’s a mixed blessing, one that I don’t know quite how to handle yet.
I don’t want to helicopter. But the technology makes it so easy.
I trust them with independence, autonomy, and sharp knives.
But I don’t trust myself with the parent portal.
Be honest: Do you have one? Do you check it? How often?