A story has been spreading on Twitter of an Easter egg hunt gone mad, with over-involved parents actually jumping the rope at the event and scrambling to collect eggs for their kids.
“The only thing more shameful than not getting any Easter eggs,” I tweeted, “is a parent who has lost all hope that you might.”
I was the child of early helicopter parents, young for my grade and far more nerd than athlete. I consistently got picked last, or near last, for teams in P.E. It was something I had learned to live with. Then my father decided to step in. He gave my coach a bag of poker chips of two different colors so we could randomly pick teams. When my coach pulled out that bag of poker chips, my face burned with shame. He stopped using them after about a week, and I was glad to see them go.
In high school, the Key Club sold balloons as a fundraiser. You could buy them for friends or boyfriends and girlfriends as a gift for birthdays and other special occasions, and they were delivered to the person’s homeroom. One morning close to my birthday, I received a big bunch of balloons, anonymously, from a friend.
Later that day, someone from the Key Club let slip that the balloons were from my parents. For the rest of the day I had to walk around with this reminder that, not only did none of my few friends buy me balloons, but that my parents were certain I was so friendless and unfriendable that they went to these lengths to make it appear otherwise. And I was placed in the awkward position of explaining the balloons’ origin to every classmate who asked.
These days I can joke about being the kid who got picked last, or about being a loner back then. But I still feel a profound sense of shame when I remember the poker chips and the balloons. Far worse than just being bad at something is realizing that the people around you think you are so fundamentally flawed that the only solution is to compensate for you.
Helicopter parents are thieves of the worst sort. They steal hope: hope that you might grow out of it, get better with practice, or simply develop the emotional strength to handle disappointment.
What should you do instead? Let your children fail, hard as that might be. It’s not your job to do it for them. It’s your job to hug them, to wipe their tears away, to help them get better, and to let them know there’s always next year.
And it wouldn’t hurt to stop for a carton of eggs and some dye on the way home.
Image used under Creative Commons license from Brooke Novak’s Flickr photostream.