On Being a Helicopter Mom of Free-Range Kids


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(This post was written when my girls were small; half of them have left the nest and the other half are flapping their wings. I don't regret a bit of what you are about to read.)

I must have been about four years old when my worldly-wise Aunt Beth introduced me to junk food. We were grocery shopping, and when I inquired into the contents of the package she placed in the shopping cart, she said, “Those are cookies.”


“What’s a coooooookie?” I said the only way a child of the south would say it.


My two oldest daughters tasted their first Oreo’s around the ages of six and seven on a church camping trip when someone offered them, not one, but two of those double-stuffed demons.


That was then. That was when I hovered over such things. Like Dad had done, guarding my body against every sugary evil. He was the watchman for all things processed and refined. Anything white was sin. White flour, white noodles, white rice, white bread. And white sugar? That was Satan materialized. One spoonful would take a couple decades off our lives.


But when it came to the great outdoors, both Mom and Dad let us roam free. My childhood memories are flooded with visions of John and me romping through acres of mossy Florida underbrush, unsupervised. Frog gigging in a dark swamp. Catching sunfish in Clearlake, four blocks away, until dusk fell and gators arched their brows above the surface of the water. And there was the time we built ourselves a surf board swing and sailed through the air on heat waves. Mom and Dad never knew where we were until we’d walk through the front door after sundown, mosquito-bitten and streaked with dirt and sweat.

Trendy terminology describes two kinds of moms: the protective, “helicopter” mom, and the permissive mother of “free range kids.” As you can see, when it came to nutrition, the noise of propellers was always above my head. “Put-put-put-put-put-put-put that candy back this instant.” (I got desperate enough to try ABC–Already Been Chewed– gum once; I found it on a playground monkey bar. I got caught and had to spit it out.)


But when it came to living life and having fun, this chick was grass-fed, organic. Mom and Dad never worried. We were in church every time the doors were open and in bed before ten every night, but the rest of the time…. Well, sometimes freedom backfired. Like the time I watched “Poltergeist” at age twelve while babysitting the neighbor’s kid, and had to make a midnight confession-run into Mom and Dad’s room in order to make the nightmares go away. Or the time the bogeyman flashed John and me while we were fishing at the lake.


What were mom and dad thinking, giving us so much freedom? So much room to grow?


For that matter, what am I thinking? My girls are pork fed, back-packing fort builders of the northern Pennsylvania forest. Long range explorers of farmers’ fields, adult-less survivors of open-sky campouts and bakers of all things sweet and flakey. 


But I have my hovering areas, and so did Mom and Dad. Those movies my kids can’t watch and websites they can’t browse; books they can’t read and gadgets they don’t need; boys they can’t date until they’re thirty; boys they can’t date until they’re dead; short-shorts they can’t wear until they’re ninety and it won’t matter any more; lyrics they can’t pump into their innocent heads, and language they’d better not let come out. (Bear in mind there are standards when it comes to media, and they are all relative. I may be super conservative, or super liberal, depending on who you put me next to.)


In some ways I’m a big, mean hovering machine.


Don’t get me wrong. We’re healthy eaters, too. Juicers, the whole nine yards of carrot-peeling mess. I believe in whole grains with every fiber of my being. But a girl’s gotta have a little chocolate every now and then.


What about you? Are you a “helicopter ” parent, or do you have “free range kids?”


Or are you both, in different areas, like I am? What about your own childhood? Did your parent(s) hover, or let you roam free, and in what ways?