The Problem with Helicopter Parenting

Helicopter parenting“Helicopter parenting” has become a familiar term, referring to the tendency of parents to “hover” over their children, micromanaging every aspect of their lives in order to “help” them succeed.

Some degree of “hovering” is necessary, especially when children are very young. You really do need to monitor them to keep them safe.  The problem I see is that parents often don’t know when or how it’s appropriate to pull back from this style of interaction.

When you are always pointing out how children can do better or constantly helping them make choices about every little thing, you are essentially teaching them that they don’t have the capacity to successfully engage in these activities themselves. The result:  Children who don’t develop confidence in their own ability to deal with life.  They essentially step into a passive stance, always looking outward for answers, and never developing deep trust in themselves.

Struggle, pain, frustration, mistakes, confusion…these are not considered to be positives in American society.  Yet, it is precisely through facing adversity that a person develops self-confidence, a sense of competence, and true feelings of self-worth.  As much as it feels kind to protect children from experiences that may cause them distress, in reality we are robbing them of the opportunity to struggle, overcome, and learn they can really handle what life throws at them.

Our job as parents is to be tuned in, but that does not necessarily mean being intrusive.  Sometimes, “tuning in” means understanding that it’s time for us to pull back and give our children space to struggle (within their capacity, of course).  If you can truly allow this process, you’ll be giving your kids the best chance of becoming strong, competent, vibrant human beings who have the courage and skills to face life.

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Mommy Not So Dearest

How could you not love your mother?  Shouldn’t you want to be close to her?  Isn’t it bad to want her out of your life?

So many of my clients struggle when it is the person who is “supposed” to love them the most that actually fails them.  Mothers have traditionally been revered by most cultures for their supposedly loving, gentle, and sacrificing nature.  If you happen to have a mother like this, that is absolutely wonderful because such a connection will definitely help you in life. What if you don’t have this advantage?  Then the challenge may, in fact, turn from embracing your mother , as the culture suggests, to thriving in spite of her harmful presence.

There is a prevalent cultural myth that the people with whom we share a genetic link (our “blood”) are the ones with whom we form the strongest bonds.  So, since your mother actually carried you and brought you into this world, she should have the strongest attachment to you, right?  The reality is that having a biological relationship with someone is a starting point for a potential connection, but is never a guarantee that the bond will be a strong or healthy one.  In fact, sometimes our strongest bond are with those who do not share any of our genetic heritage at all, such as a spouse, adopted child, friends, or even pets.

Whom you love and who loves you comes down to the day-to-day interactions you have with that person, independent of the formal role they play in your life.  Do they help you when you are in need?  Do they respond in a caring manner when you are hurting?  Do they value, respect, and support you?  Are they a psychologically healthy person?

In reality, if your mother consistently relates in a loving manner, you will develop a positive connection with her.  If she treats you terribly, you may still want her love, but the bond will be damaged by her behavior.  The conflict between the cultural message that says you should love your mother and the difficulty in loving someone who repeatedly hurts you can lead to tremendous guilt and shame.  The thought that you may even need to distance yourself from your mother to keep yourself emotionally healthy can seem unfathomable.  And yet, relationships can be extremely complex.  Sometimes we get love from the ones who are supposed to love us.  Other times, that affection comes from people we never dreamed would mean so much to us.

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The Goose Story


The Goose StoryThis fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying alone in “V” formation, you might be interested to know what science has discovered about why they fly that way.

It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following.

By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to do it alone, and quickly gets into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.

 If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going.

When the lead goose gets tired, he or she rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It pays to take turns doing hard jobs, whether it’s people or geese flying south.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What do we say when we honk from behind?

Finally, when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gun shots and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him.

They stay with him until he is either able to fly or until he is dead, and they then launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with the group.

 If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

~ Source Unknown

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Every person reading this post has faced some hardship  in life such as rejection, divorce, unemployment, death of a loved one,  loneliness, or an illness.  When life puts you in touch with your tremendous vulnerability, it is natural to experience fear and to have a sense of trepidation as you move forward.  After all, you understand clearly that simply living your life exposes you to risk.

Persistent fear is insidious and raises self-doubt, slowly seeping away your courage and shrinking your ability to fully engage life.  Left unchecked, fear can hold you hostage, convincing you not to take any risks because something bad might happen.

Should you succumb to the fear and stay safe, or find the courage to take another risk?  To me, the answer to this question depends on your answer to two others:

1.  Is it really safer not to take risks?  Think of the life experiences you miss when fear is in the driver’s seat of your life.

2.  Do you trust your ability to handle whatever life has in store for you?  Look back at what you have already survived, and reflect on what that tells you about your capacity to handle adversity.

Although risk can certainly be managed to some degree, there is no way to remove fear. Courage is the willingness to keep walking on life’s journey, even while fear lurks in the shadows.  Courage is ultimately about placing confidence in your capacity to persist in the face of whatever your life may have in store for you.

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It Is Always Now

In the following video, author Sam Harris, highlights the importance of embracing our mortality so we can shift our focus to what matters most–NOW.

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The Paradox of Choice

Do you every feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices you make on a daily basis?  You are not the only one.  In the following TED talk, psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses how choices can sometimes lead to paralysis, not freedom.  Dr. Schwartz is also author of the book, The Paradox of Choice.

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Why Me?

sad web largeSince I work with people facing life’s hardships, it is not unusual for me to hear the question, “Why me?” when a death, injury, or tragedy happens.  In fact, when I was a psychologist on a rehabilitation medicine floor where people were admitted after serious accidents or sudden life-changing medical events, this question was constantly being asked.

After all, if you are a 19-years-old who just broke his neck after diving into a swimming pool, you really might wonder, “Why me?”  Similarly, if you are driving down the highway and your car is hit by a drunk driver, killing one of your children, you might rightfully ask, “Why me?”  Or, if you have always been conscientious about your health and then suddenly have a stroke, you might also feel compelled to ask, “Why me?”

What I have learned is that none of us is immune to the sorrows and tragedies of life.  At some point, every single one of us sustains loss and experiences suffering.  Following such an event, we often have a strong need to make sense of what has happened, so we ask, “Why me?”  Sometimes we assume the answer is linked to our goodness or badness:  “I got hurt because I was being really mean to my mom.”  The minute you understand that “good” people suffer as well, it’s harder to automatically connect tragedy or hardship to your own behavior.

The reality is that we are living beings, and as such, we are vulnerable.  We are part of nature, but sometimes forget that although nature is beautiful, it can also be extremely brutal.  Joy, sorrow, success, disappointment, blessing, or hardship–these are all an integral part of life’s complex tapestry.  We are challenged to humbly understand and accept the reality that we sometimes have little control over what happens in our lives.

So, perhaps the question each one us really needs to contemplate is: “Why NOT me?”

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