helicopter parentAbout six months ago, my then 18-month-old son was dropped by his insurance.  No warning letter, no notice to me – just dropped.  So he spent a few months in the no insurance zone.  As luck would have it, there was a trip to the ER that happened while in said zone.

It’s a Friday night.  He is having a hard time falling asleep, so I take him out of his crib to put some lighter pajamas on.  His new found freedom is just too exciting.  He begins running around, trips on a toy and smashes his face right into the corner of an end table.  There is blood and instant bruising.  We aren’t sure if he needs a stitch or not, so we play it safe and head to the ER.

Emergency rooms in downtown Brooklyn on a Friday night are great places for kids, and we are thrilled to be waiting there to get some treatment.  Clearly, I jest.  The fact that I have even brought him into this place is making me question my parenting ability.  Nearly four hours of waiting later, we find out that all he has is an abrasion, and the treatment for that is nothing.  No stitch, no ointment, no Band-Aid – nothing. Relieved, confused and embarrassed – we take our exhausted and bruised baby home.

Three weeks later we get a bill for $500.  It turns out that when you have no insurance, nothing is very expensive.

In the months before his insurance comes through, I find that I am following him around and shadowing his every move.  It seems I have been mentally scarred by his abrasion.  I’m not only paranoid that he is going to fall again, I am paranoid that we are going to add even more debt to our lives by repeatedly paying for nothing.  So I find myself not letting him tumble, fall, or misstep.  I am always there to prevent some accident from happening.  I am constantly expecting the worst.  This is not good.

We are at the park one day, and I overhear some women talking about helicopter parenting.  What a stupid term!  Of course I am involved in my child’s life.  There is nothing wrong with that!  I’m thinking to myself, Pfft.  Brooklyn mothers are the worst.  Then I notice something.  These mothers are letting their children run around the playground with each other, and I am following Lucien around, hovering over him like some Bizarro shadow.  These women are just talking about parenting labels.  I am the parenting label.  Shit.

I understand that there is a lot more to helicopter parenting than just the physical act of following your child around.  It speaks also to making decisions for your children and not letting them blossom into their own people.  I’m definitely not there yet.  But if I can’t even let him experience a scratch as a toddler, how am I going to let him make the mistakes that form him into the own little individual that he needs to be?

The what-ifs are staggering and scary.  What if he falls down the stairs?  What if he smacks that child in the face?  What if he never shares anything, ever?  But in this age of hyper-analyzed parenting the scariest one of all is, What if I’m doing it wrong?  Am I setting my child up for a lifetime of therapy and mommy issues because I am hovering too close?

I think that most parents really hate all of these labels: Attachment Parenting, Free Range Parenting, Helicopter Parenting.  They bother me because each one implies that there is an alternative that is better or worse.  Parenting is exhausting enough without constantly having to think about how you measure up, or to which camp you belong.  But maybe there is something to analyzing your own behavior to see where you fit in.

Now that my son has insurance again, I don’t have the excuse of going broke.  I need to let him fall.  I need to let him figure out that some actions cause pain if they are repeated.  I’m going to start today.

They make full body armor for toddlers, right?

(photo: Arkady/ Shutterstock)