I have to confess. I come across all tough and certain. Sure and confident. I make rules and the kids follow them and that’s all there is to it. Period, no discussion, because I said so.
I have to confess to a helicopter parent moment. I had one today. While I was out and actually in cell phone range- I am in Downeast with Jeanine for the last few days of our alone time together- I received a text from Ben. Sent the day before.
Since he’s not supposed to have his phone with him, I was annoyed. But then I read the note, Mom, I know this is just for emergencies. Can you pick me up at end of camp out? Or I will be depressed.
I am not using all the short cuts he used. I’m surprised sometimes how well I can read it.
Tug, tug. Out comes the helicopter wings. I talk to Jeanine. She says, see if someone can get him. We are not going anywhere. She’s not particularly bothered one way or another. If he can get a ride home, fine, if not fine.
I check and yes, I can have him picked up.
But, my friend asks, do you really want me to?
Okay, I need to talk to the camp director. While waiting at the edge of the rocks where I have about a two foot range of cell phone reception, I talk to another friend- is this about me? Am I rushing to save him?
Yes, you are. Leave it.
Finally, a few hours later and back in the foggy rain in the one spot I get connection, I speak with the camp director.
He’s having a blast, she said. In fact, he and (another girl at the camp) recruited a few kids to stick around for the second half of camp.
Hmm. I realize, in a moment, when I did not respond to his plea, he worked it out. He found a way to make it work by getting other kids to come to the second half. He took the initiative. He dealt with it. He was not depressed.
As they always do on their own.
Everyone is amazed that I send my middle son to a month long camp. I have to admit, I hate it for me. But for him? It’s a month where he makes his own decisions and his own bed, and changes his underwear not because I told him to but because it’s the right thing to do.
In short, he learns how to be independent. In a healthy way. I learned how to rely only on myself and do everything alone because I didn’t trust a single soul. No one around me, as a kid, was trustworthy.
That’s not true for my kids.
When I swoop in and try to make it better it’s about my need for control, my need to make it better because no one else is remotely trustworthy.
Someone needs to take my ‘copter wings away. I’m robbing my kids of valuable lessons when I step in and fix it. Ben’s solution was much better than mine. Not to mention the biggest tragedy of the moment was he was worried he’d be bored.
I see the note and I see a panorama view- everything he’s been through in the last couple months, the struggles he’s had, and the emotional push/pull.
I want to fix it. I hate seeing my kids, any of them, in pain. And that’s when I realize, the reason why Zachary is so confident and strong now is because of the camp experience. Last year, when we left parents weekend brunch? He started to cry. He had jumped into my arms when he first saw me and when we were leaving, he was so sad.
And he learned to rely on his friends, his counselors, and to talk about the feelings. Funny thing is, all the kids were feeling that way.
I walked away; I did not turn around because I was crying. I knew then it was the right thing. Today? I struggled with it. Maybe because I don’t trust Ben to make good decisions. Maybe because he’s struggling with bigger issues at 12, almost 13 years old than he seems to be able to handle.
Maybe I see him as more fragile, which is all the more reason why to let him figure this out in safe spaces, like the camp. With caring adults around who are trustworthy, he can learn how to reach out, ask for help, and express his feelings.
I’ve never seen myself as a helicopter parent. My friend the Martha Stewart of parenting has always accused me of being a hard ass. Of course, she has two quiet girls and I have a herd of boys. Today, for a moment, I thought, I’m too hard on him.
That’s not it. I might be too hard sometimes but this was not the place or time.
I learned a couple things today. I do swoop in to take care of my kids and that is about my anxiety, my lack of trust- not theirs. I need to count to ten before making any decisions- I did. And listen when people raise good questions- I did.
Mostly? The next time he goes to camp? I take his phone away.