Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Air conditioners and helicopters
It’s 83 degrees in my house, and though I’m not super huge pregnant yet, I’m not very comfortable either. So if my writing is a little off, it’s because I’m suffering from heat exhaustion or just general discontentment due to the humidity radiating through my home.
This is one of those topics that has been creeping up on me for a while, but I really haven’t known how to write about. Everyone has different parenting styles, but I guess when you’re a parent the differences are just more noticeable because you start observing other parents more. I have heard the term helicopter parent and have used it to describe certain parents I know, but Dennis and I are not hovering helicopters. At least, that’s our opinion.
It started when we took Wren to a play area. There is a height requirement at the play area, but it is not enforced whatsoever, so you have little 19 pound Wren running around with a 5th grade boy who is leaping the play area toys in single bounds. It’s a little unnerving, but the social interaction is good and Wren likes it. Dennis and I just keep a close eye on Wren and we stand where she is playing moving with her as she navigates through the different areas. After a few visits I noticed a some things: we were the only parents standing; we were the only parents not on our blackberries, probably because we don’t have or desire blackberries unless they are the fruit version; taking a kid from the play area without a parent noticing would be super easy; for most parents, play area time is break time whereas for Dennis and I it’s an Olympic hurtling sport to make sure we keep up with our child and she doesn’t get trampled by other people. Does that make us helicopter parents?
This incident was followed up by our first visit to the splash park. Dennis wore his swim trunks, Wren wore her bathing suit, and I wore a pair of shorts with a tank that did not completely cover my pregnant belly. Dennis assured me it was a cute look. We were going to a splash park so I assumed we needed to be ready to splash right along with our child. However, after 10 minutes there the startling realizations started to hit me again: no other parents were splashing; no other parents wore bathing suits; all the moms were wearing summer dresses, oversized hats, and heels with their makeup perfectly in tact; my child would be screaming and mortified if she was able to process the comparisons between me and super mommies. But again, Wren was the tiniest one there, though not the youngest. Sometimes she would get caught with all the splashing aimed right at her and it was good to have one of us there to help her out. She ran and played on her own, but we were there for back up and she liked having us around. I know one day that may not be the case, so I’m soaking it up while I can.
Finally, we went to an event where we regularly go to that provides childcare so Dennis and I can participate together. Wren had been to this childcare set up before and was fine with it, but she did not want to go this time and almost worked herself into a hyperventilating fit every time I attempted to let her go. Dennis and I did not leave her at the nursery and we came home perplexed because we really feel like attending these events regularly, but we couldn’t leave Wren crying. We don’t leave Wren crying(more on that later). We knew this behavior was abnormal for Wren; I leave her at day care during the school year, and I have never left her crying. She doesn’t cry when I drop her off. In fact, she waves me out the door half rolling her eyes if I try to stay and chat up the teachers for too long. So for her to cry, something wasn’t right. We had just weaned, she was cutting a tooth, she had been home with me for a couple of weeks. It could have been a variety of things, but we weren’t comfortable leaving her there. For all those who say if we’d have left she would have stopped crying when we were gone, think again. Some kids do that. Wren might even be a kid who does that. But I have discovered a nasty little secret that no one tells you: some kids don’t. I have walked into Wren’s daycare and been accosted by a little girl crying so hard she was almost sick. Her little arms wrapped around my legs and she called me mommy. When I checked the sign in log to see how long ago she was dropped off, it was about 30 minutes and the daycare workers said she hadn’t stopped crying since. It happened almost every day. They were doing everything they could, but she was hysterical. I never regretted not leaving Wren crying after that, and I didn't regret it even before this incident.
Dennis being the fixer came up with a solution. We’d talk to the daycare director and see if one of us could sit in there with her until she was okay being left alone. If one of us had to sit there the whole time, so be it. Eventually she’d be okay with it, and we’d be there with her no matter how long it took. I loved the idea, but I anticipated the eye rolls that were going to come with it when we tried to explain it to other people. See, being unashamed attachment parents has caused us to be confused with helicopter parents before. I was asked if I was planning on breastfeeding my child when she was in college. I was told that the fact that Dennis and I didn’t look for at least a weekly opportunity to leave her with someone else meant we were dysfunctional. I’ve been told that the fact that she has not spent the night at someone else’s house yet means we are not preparing her for adult life. Here’s the really great thing: I have faith in the way we are raising our daughter, and there is tons of research to support that attachment parenting actually creates more independent children and adults. You’re not scared to take chances if you know you have someone to catch you. It’s not an insult to anyone else’s way of parenting. It’s just a fact that this isn’t some hippy commune belief that carries no validity. It works, it’s research supported, and pretty much every other country on the planet does it.
Anyway, the daycare worker was more than fine with it. We explained the weaning, teething, this just isn’t Wren behavior information and she was amazing. So Dennis sat in the floor with her, and I was about to walk out the door to go to the event when a woman I had never seen said, “Oh, so you’re daughter has attachment issues?” I should have just smiled and walked out. However, I am idiotically honest. If you ask, you get the full story. So here’s how the conversation went:
Me: “No, actually, she just weaned, is teething, and realized that she has a new sibling coming along. It’s just been a lot of change the last couple of weeks.”
Her: “Yeah, my daughter has attachment issues like your daughter. That’s why I love my foster kids. I can leave them anywhere and they don’t care. They’re used to abandonment.”
Me: (stunned look on my face) “Yeah, well, my daughter doesn’t have attachment issues. She goes to daycare most of the year just fine. We’re in a transitional period.”
Her: “Honestly, you need to just start leaving her places. Don’t let anything be predictable for her. Change everything you can on her without any notice. That’ll toughen her up. Oh, and don’t go to her when she cries. Let her figure it out on her own. Responding to crying is the worst.”
Me: (horrified) “My daughter’s fine. Good luck with your kids. Bye.”
Less than five minutes later, Dennis joined me and Wren was happy in the nursery room playing on a riding cow toy when we went to pick her up. She didn’t cry the rest of the time she was there. Plus, she went back the next time and Dennis was out in less than five minutes again. She wasn’t upset, she trusted us to be there as long as she needed, and she realized she didn’t really need us that long if there was a riding cow toy involved. We knew what was normal for our child and what wasn't and we responded to her need. Is that helicopter parenting?
My definition of a helicopter parent is the parent who is going on job interviews with their child at age 25(or ever really). It’s those parents who call college professors when their child’s grade slips. Granted, I only have a 19 month old so I can’t say for sure, but I am pretty confident that I will not be doing this. I will teach her to problem solve by being an example, and I will teach her trust by being someone she can trust. If this makes me a helicopter parent in the eyes of some people, bring on the propeller. We’re pretty content at our house except for the sweltering heat.