Confessions of a reformed helicopter parent

Today it really hit me that my baby girl is no longer, a baby.

Glimmerings of this suggestion have flitted across my mind over the past couple of months, but today, it was a full-blown, feel-like-you’ve-been-hit-by-a-bus, Oprah-aha-moment, realisation.

Recently, I’ve been consciously trying to quash what I have accepted are my helicopter-parenting tendencies. You don’t even realise you’re doing it sometimes. Hovering close by no matter what your child is doing, ready to catch them if they slightly lose their balance, ready to defend their little toddler rights from other toddlers who may remotely upset them, trying to get them to do what you think they’d enjoy. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating; we all know it’s out of love and the instinctive need to protect our little people.

But the last couple of days have taught me just how beautiful those moments are when you give your child space and allow them to show you what an independent and confident little one they have become.

The 40-degree heat in Bahrain at the moment means that our outdoor activities have been reduced from minimal back in Singapore, to almost nil. We braved the swimming pool a few days ago but felt like we were being slow-cooked in the water. So I went on an online rampage searching for the most popular play gyms in the area so that I could keep Tuna happy and entertained, and myself sane, during the day while her four babysitters (I love you guys but please start your holidays soon, thanks) were at work/school.

Yesterday, we went to this play gym in Seef Mall. Tuna loved it. And although they have a lovely little enclosed soft-play area for babies and toddlers, naturally Tuna was more interested in the fire station, police station, doctor’s office, supermarket and construction site that this place had to offer. That of course meant that she was playing around children older, faster and rougher than her, which sent my protective mommy instincts into high-alert mode. The funny thing is, as I started to shadow her and hover throughout the various activities she was exploring, another instinct kicked in: the leave-her-alone instinct. It felt a little crazy to me – leave her alone? Let her just… do her own thing? Not act as her personal airbag to protect her from the 8-year-old bulldozers that were racing around? It’s a strange and uncomfortable feeling when two of your instincts seem to contradict one another. But part of me knew that for her own development, I had to take a step back. And so I did.

I sat in a different room (admittedly only about 4 metres away and with Tuna in full view) and just observed.

What I saw brought me close to tears.

Where did this brave and adventurous little girl come from? She was fearless. The flush of her cheeks and sparkle in her eyes as she discovered her own abilities and strengths sent me into a blissful moment of pure pride and joy.

Who was this compassionate and caring little soul? I was astounded at her interactions with the other children. She was offering the toys she was playing with to the younger babies, and graciously moving on if something was taken from her by an older child. She was okay. I didn’t need to be there to guard her from being hurt or upset. I didn’t need to intervene and champion her rights every single time. She was confident and content enough to accept that it had happened, and found another way to entertain herself. And it didn’t stop her from wanting to be kind and generous with other children.

As I watched her, I felt her sister wriggle about in my belly. Safe, protected, enclosed and essentially immune to any external forces. Because of me. I was keeping her safe. I would bear the brunt of anything that might hurt her before she would have to sustain it. She was with me, always, and I didn’t have to worry about her whereabouts, her feelings getting hurt, her little body which was built inside my own being subjected to any pain whatsoever. No wonder it’s difficult for a mother to let her child venture anywhere without her protection, whether it’s your 18-month-old in a big scary hazard-filled play gym, or your 18-year-old that’s travelling on her first trip away from home. The two paradoxical instincts made sense to me suddenly: you want to keep your baby safe from everything, and you would gladly volunteer yourself in their place, in a heartbeat, for anything unpleasant, uncomfortable or painful in any way; but you also know that you need to teach them to stand on their own feet, to see the beauty of this world with their own eyes, to think about things with their own mind and to feel things with their own heart.

And it’s only when you really take a moment and give them the space to shine that you can truly appreciate all of their beautiful qualities and abilities. Spending every day with Tuna as a stay-at-home-mother means that sometimes I’m “too close to the project” and don’t take the time often enough to just watch her. There’s always an errand that needs to be run, a chore that needs to be completed, a “next step” in the routine that needs to be prepared for. No more. I’m making a conscious decision to spend more time letting her learn about the world, on her own terms, while I watch her flourish.

I experienced one of those moments today at another play gym we explored, which had a short semi-structured segment with a guided music class. We’ve attended the occasional parent-accompanied music class before, during which I actively tried to engage Tuna and get her to do all the movements and join whatever the other kids were supposed to be doing. But this time, I just let her be. Again, I was astounded by this sweet, confident and music-loving little girl.

When did you learn the words to that song?!

How did you know that action came next?!

Who are you? When did you turn into a five-year-old?!

There she was, dancing to the music with so much joy and excitement on her round little face, eagerly anticipating the next song to see if it was one she knew. And I didn’t have to be the one to direct her in any of this.

My baby girl is no longer a baby.

I saw a flash forward to her first day of preschool, her first big performance, the first time her heart would be broken, and the first time she would accomplish one of her biggest goals. It filled me with a bittersweet combination of pain and pride. She will go through every thing that I went through; learn the lessons that I learned; feel the disappointment when something falls short of her expectations; and feel the satisfaction of succeeding in something, whether big or small. She will live through her own experiences, and I vow to let her.

I will end this post with this beautiful and famous poem by Khalil Gibran about children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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13 thoughts on “Confessions of a reformed helicopter parent

  1. Loved your last blog. So true and very well written. You sucked me in big time. You are very descriptive and eloquent with words. What a special moment you shared with us all. I wonder how old Tuna will be until we see her again.

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  2. This was such an amazing piece! It’s like you were speaking to my heart! I tend towards helicopter parenting myself and I’m always pleasantly surprised when I just let her be and she’s so independent! I’ll probably hover a lot less by the time I have 2 or 3 kids (hopefully) :p

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  3. Lovely piece, given that I have allowed my 2 teenage boys (14 and 16) to move away from home to follow their heart’s desire, joining a school out of town. I keep rereading this quote of Gibran that you chose, just love the wisdom in it! They are managing and flourishing without me, what a surprise!

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    • That is really inspiring! How lucky they are to have a mother like you. How often do you get to see them? I’m glad you like the quote. It really spoke to me the first time I read it. Thank you for reading the blog and taking the time to comment!

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  4. I LOVED reading this. You capture motherhood so well! It truly is a balancing act. And Khalil Gibran has been such an inspiration for me on so many levels. Well done sister!

    Liked by 1 person

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