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Op/ed: A message for Mother's Day

April 24, 2015

As published in the Pacific Coast Business Times (April 24, 2015).

By Lisa Spiwak

All of us mothers fiercely love our children. We would do anything to help them. Unfortunately many of our American mothers have chosen ways to help their children that may be counterproductive. This is a fairly recent phenomenon in our history termed, "the helicopter mom syndrome".

Helicopter moms are so named because, like helicopters, they hover overhead.

Although the term "helicopter mom" originated as early as 1969 in a book called "Between Parent & Teenager" by Dr. Haim Ginott, it did not really gain popularity until the Millennial Generation began reaching college age.

College professors reported their students' mothers becoming overly involved in their son or daughter's school experience in excessive ways, such as boldly challenging grades with professors, assisting in researching term papers, and interjecting control over class choices and majors which should be made by the student himself. These helicopter moms are acting out of love and concern and a desire to help. However, what is resulting from their hyper-involvement is harm to their child's development in the long run. They have good intentions that have gone awry.

Their rationale is that a good education will lead to more choices in life which will in turn lead to greater happiness. It's all good, except for when the means for achieving success do not outweigh the outcome. If these mothers are prepared to take any measure to prevent their kids from failing, then how can their children ever learn the important life lessons that failure teaches us?

It is through failure that people discover their inner motivation to succeed. We learn self-reflection, we learn to assume personal responsibility for our actions and we gain the confidence to take risks in life which may possibly meet with failure. We gain the strength to learn from our mistakes and forge forward.

There have been multiple studies done on "helicopter mothering," and it does not just occur with college age kids. It is prevalent in mothers of school age children as well. These mothers are not horrible women, but rather lovely, caring, concerned mothers trying to do the right thing. Many are from affluent households with available time and resources. These ladies enjoy their involvement with their children and believe that it is beneficial to their kids as well. Perhaps this is true in moderation. It's just that helicopter moms don't exercise moderation.

For example, they tend to frequently volunteer at school and often attend their children's field trips as a way to help out. They often get involved with school projects to bolster them and get a better grade for their child. However, what they are doing is taking away the personal ingenuity and creativity that their child derives from handling things on their own.

This hyper-parenting appears to be an American phenomenon and not worldwide. American journalist and author Pamela Druckerman noticed vast differences in French child-rearing while living in Paris. Her studies, documented in her book, "Bringing Up BeBe," revealed that unlike many American kids, French babies began sleeping through the night much quicker, had a more varied palate for different foods, and could play on their own much easier than American children.

Her research showed that the key factor was the French parenting style. The French mothers did not run into the nursery every time their child started crying. They allowed their babies to sooth themselves back to sleep.

On the playground, the American mother followed little Johnny around the slide and assisted him up the stairs and sat at the bottom when he slid down to catch him. Not the French moms. They sat on the bench and gave their children the freedom to play and discover on their own.

French moms also did not serve a different food menu to their children than to adults. There are no children's menus in France. The kids learn to eat what the adults are eating and as a result have very sophisticated taste buds at a much younger age than U.S. raised children.

For all of their good intent, helicopter moms don't always have the happiest children. The children of these moms are typically not easy-going because they have always had their mothers there to intervene and deal with problems or conflicts.

Maybe this Mother's Day is a good time to ground the helicopter and let the kids play on their own.

Lisa Spiwak is a partner in the firm Spiwak & Iezza in Thousand Oaks. Reach her at LSpiwak@sai-legal.com.

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