The Helicopter Mom

Hello, to all you wonderful moms out there. First of all, let me be the first to apologize for the late posting. I better get my act together, or I am going to have to change my big selling point on my portfolio to, “misses the deadline sometimes.” This week I wanted to talk about helicopter momming or being a smother mother. It is easy to fall into the habit of hovering around our special children, especially after a significant meltdown. Remember when I said last week that I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop? That feeling that causes moms to hover could be the reason that the proverbial other shoe drops. Helicopter momming is not healthy. It was not until after D day, (the dreaded Disneyland Day) that I realized that by hovering, I was turning myself into a stressor for my child. While researching the negative effects of helicopter parenting, I found a Forbes article, and I felt attacked. I felt like Forbes called me out without even realizing it. “You’re not even helping from an authentic place. Studies show that this intrusive “helicopter” behavior is driven by parental anxiety, rather than good intentions, as so many parents claim” Forbes. In my case, I was not following my child into adulthood, but I was holding him back from a great experience. As much as I wanted to believe that I was only thinking about Jonathan’s well-being. I was really hesitant because of my own anxiety; I was being selfish. When it was all said and done, I realized I was being a smother mother.

The Pocket Vetoed Permission Slip

Two weeks before the incident, my family is now calling the “Valentine’s Day Affair,” I received a permission slip for a field trip—to Disneyland. I had my reservations about it, so I set it to the corner of my desk and ignored it. I figured it was not a “no” outright. At best, it was a pocket veto. (Don’t act like you’ve never done it). Jonathan would forget about it, I would feign absentmindedness, and would not have to worry about my baby at Disneyland with all that stimulation, activity, and germs. I mean, what about the Coronavirus? Four days after the permission slip settled into no man’s land on my desk, I got a text from his teacher. She was asking me straight out if Jonathan was going on the field trip. I could not say “no,” I would be a monster mom. How bad could it be? Truthfully, I had always wanted to take my children on “The Haunted Mansion.” Riding that ride with my uncle and my cousins is one of the few memories I have of living on the west coast. Interestingly enough, it is also one of the happiest memories I have of not just living on the west coast, but of my entire childhood. I gave myself a little pep talk and decided that he and I can do it together. I sucked it up and told her yes.

Voted Off the Disneyland Trip

After the "Valentine’s Day affair," things started to calm down, and Disneyland was all Jonathan could talk about. He was so excited. He had fixated on this trip. I was worried because he was rocking and twiddling his fingers again. I thought maybe letting him go was a mistake. I wondered if I should reconsider, after all, the tickets had not been paid for yet. His step-dad stepped in (you see what I did there) like he always does. He reminded me that he was more worried about me going than about Jonathan. I have a spinal injury and require a mobility device to walk. He did not believe that I would be able to walk around an amusement park, much less walk around an amusement park, and chaperone five other children besides my own. I tried to be reasonable, but who better to watch my child than me? I insisted on my way. My fiancé stood his ground. For every reason I had to go, he had a reason for me not to. I would say things like, “what if Jonathan has an episode? What if he gets sick on the rides, what if he gets lost, he won’t be able to ask for help, he does not have our number? He won’t have time to nap, what if he gets upset?” Was I annoying? Yes! Thinking about it now, I can’t help but think, “Geez! Sometimes I annoy myself.” My patient and wonderful fiancé would counter with, “he’ll be fine. Your mom will be there. The teacher will call. They will not lose him. He won’t come home with the Coronavirus.”

That made me feel better, but deep down, I think I was insistent upon going because I had this vision of gifting my children with the same beautiful childhood memory I had. I remember riding on “The Haunted Mansion” ride with mom, uncle, and cousins, and being absolutely delighted at all the ghosts dancing in the ballroom. The best part was at the end with the ghosts in the mirrors. I think what I loved the most about that memory was that we all went on together. The sounds I remember most vividly were the sounds of laughter. We would try to scare each other and laugh when one of us succeeded. I have never been able to do this with my children. The desire to do this with them has always been overshadowed by the fear that a pleasant experience for me, my eldest son, and my youngest daughter would be a terrifying experience for my autistic son. The prospect of the trip gave me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was afraid that allowing him to go to such a busy park would be a mistake. On the other hand, if he was able to handle it, I wanted to be the one to take him. I wanted to see the joy on his face when his favorite Disney characters walked by. If he was going to go, I felt like I should be the one to take him. If I could not go, I would have to add “Juleen’s big Disney dreams with the children” to the list of things my new disability has taken from me. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach. I felt like I was staring down the wrong end of a gun and handing over my wallet. The feeling is akin to having to pay for something that is not your fault, but you have no choice because the consequences of not paying for it are worse than just paying for it. It was not going to be that easy to talk me out of it. So, I fought for it. I pleaded and made my case to my fiancé, he did not budge, my mother came home and just like that, I was voted off the trip to Disneyland. I would have to worry about Jonathan and suffer from FOMO from the comfort of my home. All while my son went to Disneyland for the first time with my mother and not his own.

D-day (Disney Day)

Dreaded Disney Day was fast approaching. It had become Jonathan’s daily habit to read the teacher’s trip necessity list. I think if I never hear the words “facemasks, hand sanitizer, change of clothes, and a bottle of water” ever again, in my entire life, it will be too soon. He would tell me the time, the items on the list, and how many days until Disney. I felt like it was a Doomsday countdown. I am being facetious, but it was tantamount to that episode of “Hey Arnold,” when Helga rode by Arnold’s window and yelled out how many hours left until she beats him.

The night before Disney, he was pacing back and forth from my mother’s room to my desk. He was reminding me of what needed to be in the bag he was taking. I took the bag and checked it with him. He put it in my mother’s room and walked away. Then he would turn to get it again, and we would check it again. Finally, I asked him if he was alright? Is he feeling nervous about the trip? I reminded him that he does not have to go if he does not want to. He stopped fussing over his bag and asked me, “you don’t want me to go? You don’t want me to go? You don’t want me to go.” He just kept repeating this, and he seemed so agitated at the idea that his mother did not want him to go to Disneyland. I explained to him that I wanted him to go and have fun, I was just worried about him. The only thing he understood was how I was feeling. It took some doing, but I finally convinced him that I was fine with him going to Disney, and all was right in the world. Except, all was not right with me. It is not a good feeling when you realize that the largest stressor in your child’s life is you. For the rest of the countdown, I put on a good face, stopped bugging him, and checked that bag about a million times.

That morning I said goodbye to my baby and mother. I told him to have fun. I picked up a few writing projects to take my mind off my worries. My mind kept wandering, “was he okay? What was he doing?” I kept checking the fifth grade GroupMe as the room mom was posting pictures. I was looking for my son in those pictures like it was the 90’s, and he was Waldo. Every now and then, I would stop writing, check GroupMe, call my mom, write, repeat. Later that evening, after I had already put my other two children to bed, my mom answered the phone. She filled me in on how much fun Jonathan was having. Despite not taking a nap, he was doing great. Then she hung up on me. I felt relieved and somewhat silly for worrying as much as I did. He really was just fine. I thought my heart was in the right place, but my anxiety and overprotection of my son almost ruined his first trip to Disneyland. Ironically, that is the experience that I dreamed of giving my children for years. My fear made me behave irrationally and selfishly, and it turned me into a smother mother. You live, and you learn, I guess.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: DON’T BE A HELICOPTER MOM. The children are fine! As usual ladies you are doing great!

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