Stepping Out of the Helicopter

The Polish grandparents and T1

While in Poland I think I held T1 in my arms for about 45 minutes. Total. I didn’t change a single diaper or mix any bottles of formula. We slept on the ground floor while he slept on the 2nd and was cared for by my in-laws. I left him behind from Wednesday-Friday to go to Vienna with That Husband. Saturday morning we left him at the house at 11 am and we didn’t return until 11 am on Sunday after the wedding was over.

Basically it was an entire week of a baby free lifestyle. I realized on the plane ride home that I wouldn’t go back and wait a few more years to have kids though, that life with him is so much more fulfilling than life without him, but that isn’t the point of this post.

So many of the things that we freak out about don’t really matter that much. Safety, as defined in the most universal of terms, is certainly paramount, but there are so many areas that we’ve deemed as “the only way to raise a child” that just… aren’t. I think anyone who has seen the Babies movie can attest to that.

While in Poland T1 slept on a mat on the floor of the living room. They gave him some type of tea that they say all Polish babies drink. They started feeding him solids (Gerber purée from a jar). They dressed him in the craziest combinations and put his socks on inside out (I’m slightly crazy about what he wears and how he wears it). They arranged a babysitter for the wedding that he spent a day and a night alone with who I never even spoke to (she only spoke Polish).

And yet, T1 was happier than I’ve ever seen him! He had attention from adoring grandparents 24/7. They made up little games with him, took him for walks, and if That MIL and I walked in the room together I swear he was more excited to see her!

Grandchildren are truly the best possible gift you can give your own parents. I came to understand this when I saw the way my own father interacted with T1, but it was cemented in my mind during our time in Poland. They adored T1. It was love at first sight. The infatuation knew no bounds. Giving up the control over how T1 was introduced to solids? Definitely worth it to see the joy they experienced in providing him with food and watching his excitement grow regarding this delicious new element in his life.

I consider myself to be one of the most relaxed parents I know, but this trip definitely tested my boundaries. I had to evaluate what I was okay with, and if I wasn’t okay with something I was forced to work through the issue and decide whether the situation in question would be worth possibly damaging my (awesome) relationship with TH’s family. During the trip I couldn’t think of a single change to their childcare style that would qualify as critical to the future health and happiness of T1, and so I worked to embrace the uniqueness of the Polish (grand)parenting style.

There are certainly areas where I won’t compromise. T1 will be raised in an LDS household, with all that that entails. If you tried to feed him a Happy Meal I’d probably tackle you to the ground. I fought my family regarding the use of a pacifier, which I’m still glad I did because we are very happy that we will never have to break that habit. So yeah, I understand having areas that are important to you.

There is this attitude I see popping up all over the mommy blogs and parenting forums though. It’s MY baby and they can see him when I feel like it and no one but ME knows how to raise my child.

I swear the most common phrase on the mommy blogs is “you do what works best for your family”. If there are so many individual ways that work, how are all of these women I read about so sure that they are the only one qualified to do good for their child? T1 surprises me every single day. He is growing and changing incredibly fast and he is far from a static creature with predictable wants and needs. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow and it’s very likely that grandma or grandpa or aunt so-and-so have exactly the solution you’re looking for.

I think that this self-assured attitude of independence is a product of the Internet generation. Before the printing press women didn’t even have books to find the answers to their questions! They used their family and friends to find the answers to their questions and though I’m sure there were numerous frustrations when mom just wouldn’t let it go, I imagine that the bond that developed through this communal parenting style was a priceless link through the generations. Now if I need help? I ask Uncle Google. 1 million hits later I might have an answer, but Uncle G doesn’t find the same joy in meeting your needs that your MIL will feel when she had the chance to impart some of her hard-earned wisdom.

I stepped out of my helicopter. I didn’t even know that I had one, but in certain areas I was hovering a little too close and this trip served as a nice wake-up call. Still no pacifiers or Happy Meals to be found, but inside-out socks and pureed plums from a tiny little jar? I can handle that.

Give the people around you the chance to be the village that helps raise your child.

118 thoughts on “Stepping Out of the Helicopter

  1. I think you are doing T1 a HUGE favor (as well as yourself) in letting him socialize and form and independent personality. I don’t think anyone’s parenting style is wrong (as long as it’s not abusive/neglectful) but I do think the generation of “helicopter parents” leads to those kids who don’t know how to function on their own as well. There’s something to be said for knowing that your whole support system had a part in raising your children, especially considering they all offer different strengths in helping a child grow.

  2. What a wonderful post. I am really looking forward to the wisdom that both my grandparents and J’s parents will impart to us. The two of us come from a myriad of cultures (Black, Mexican, Middle Eastern, European, etc.) and I am excited to hear everyone’s take on what ‘works best’. I imagine there will be some things I won’t compromise, but I’m pretty open to new ideas. I hope to be as relaxed as you are!

  3. Wonderful post Jenna! So true – I thin you gotta step out of your helicoptor every once in awhile, T1 will be more exposed to things and have more experiences. He’ll form his own opinions about things.

  4. I don’t have kids yet but you’re really killing me. My parents are a bit older and they cannot WAIT for grandkids. They are going to pick up and move across the state the instant myself or my SIL announce that we’re expecting. I totally agree that grandchildren are the best gift.

    This post made me all warm and squishy inside. I hope I can be as sensible when I’m a mother. Currently, I’m guilty of being a helicopter fur-mom. Not good, not good. Though I do have to argue that if your kid bites someone, it’s not as big a deal, generally speaking.

    Cristin Reply:

    SFR – I know how you feel!! Jenna makes parenting seem beautiful and fun and rewarding, without being cheesy or disingenuous. I have to step back and hear a screaming baby every now and then, or else I might want children too much!

  5. Great post – and a great reminder!! We live close to my in-laws, while my wonderful family is in Seattle. So I have been mentally prepping for LOTS of battles with MIL… this is a good reminder to let go and be the bigger person. Thanks for a great life lesson! :)

  6. I am terrified that I’m destined to be a helicopter parent. (Even though my parents and my husband’s parents raised us perfectly well!) But it’s nice to hear how worthwhile it is to let go a little. I hope I can remember that when the time comes!

  7. Perfect! Wonderful! Bravo! I’m this kind of mom… my mother and grandmother both take turns watching our kids when we’re shooting weddings. They don’t do stuff “my way” a lot of the time… but you know what? I turned out fine, and so did their other kids. I trust these women, or I wouldn’t have left my kids with them in the first place. Like you, I had to step out of my helicopter and know that it’s healthy for my children to be loved by their entire village.
    I’m so glad you had a great experience!

  8. Jenna– first time posting. I’ve been reading you for a while… found you through OMGMom.

    I love this post. It’s so important to allow your children to grow with the love and *some* upbringing/traditions/opinions of others, besides yourself. I too, have a hard time allowing my child to wear inside-out socks or shirts that don’t match the pants. BUT- does it really matter? No! :) And you proved that to yourself and you’ve reminded me of it.. yet again. :)

    Every time my girls and I go and see my parents, they thank me over and over again for making them grandparents. And to see the love that they all have for one another makes all of the sleepless nights worth it.

  9. Good for you! Some of these changes might be good for T1, but it sounds like they might be GREAT for YOU! Hooray for a little less stress in life. :) Oh, and if you are going the teeny jars of food route, they have become soo popular in crafts, homemade baby food etc – you can post them on freecycle or craigslist and help the resuse part of the cycle!

  10. I’m definately a quite laid back parent! Even when I think I’m being overly uptight about something, I think of other friends of mine who truly put the ‘tight’ in uptight. I value their friendship and they are great people, but as far as hanging out with ours and their children, well – that would drive me crazy. It just doesn’t seem healthy to be worried all the time and I think kids can sense that. Everyone remarks about how calm and easy going my kids are – either that is just how they came (which is very possible) or they get some of that vibe from me.

    The only thing I’m pretty strong on is carseats and carseat safety. I care very much if it’s installed properly in the car and that the child is installed properly into the seat itself (epecially the tiny babies in the carriers – the horizontal buckle needs be at armpit level people!) Phew. There, I feel better.

    Even though you are a tad more crunchy granola of a mother than me (don’t mean that in a bad way at all!:), I think we’d get along great for mommy/baby get-togethers. And yes, that Babies movie really shows that with all the differences in countries, cultures, and baby raising styles, all those babies are healthy, happy, and loved. That’s all that matters in the end. The little details don’t really matter.

  11. I LOVE this! I never thought I would be a hover-y parent but since I had my first (now 18 months) I have really surprised myself about how many things I think need to be done a specific way. (and yet…when *the plan* isn’t followed he is always fine!)

    I love your opinion and stance on this entire subject. Thanks for the reminder to take a breath and relax a little!

  12. I am not now a parent, and I won’t be for a while, so I can’t speak with the knowledge and experience you have, but I couldn’t agree more.

    I just recently watched Babies with my own mom, and it really had such a profound effect on me. My parents were long-haired hippies when I was born – I was naked a lot as a babe, wore cloth diapers before they were trendy (the kind with pins!), my parents never blocked any electrical outlets, and I played outside in dirt sometimes. While I turned out fine, until recently I almost held a level of resentment to my parents for these things. After watching Babies (and probably maturing a bit), I realized they definitely didn’t do anything wrong, just maybe slightly out of the ordinary for our society. Now, as I start thinking more and more about getting married and starting a family, I’m almost getting disgusted at how structured society has become regarding the life of baby – why all the sudden do babies in the US need a million plastic toys to be happy? I didn’t have plastic toys and I was fine – the babies in remote tribes don’t have them, and they’re fine. I think the worldview Babies gave me will profoundly effect my future parenting style. Check back with me in 5-7 years, though.

    In addition, I love how relaxed you are with T1. I think it will result in him being very independent, which is always a good thing (I work in HR and hire a lot of teenagers who practically can’t wipe without asking for help from their moms. SO annoying!)

  13. Good post. I need to try to live this way more –we live with my husband’s parents and his little sister, and I worry constantly about “Am I spending enough time with the baby? Am I handing her off too much?” The other day I was exhausted and she wasn’t going down for the night, so my MIL offered to rock her to sleep while I went to bed. I said “That’s cheating” and they said “No, that’s FAMILY.”

    Certainly I try to make sure that I’m still her primary caregiver, but it’s so nice to be able to say, “Here, why don’t you play with the baby and I’ll make supper”, knowing that 1. we’ll actually eat something nutritious and 2. my in-laws are having a great time playing with her.

    phruphru Reply:

    Oh I love what your mother in law said about cheating/family! That is really sweet and SO TRUE.

  14. Bravo. As someone who was in the unique position of watching her parents as grandparents for almost her entire life (I still don’t have kids though), I know that your attitude was as appreciated by TH’s parents as it was by T1.

    Turtle Reply:

    I also think it’s important to realize that parents have the biggest impact (good or bad) regardless. A week of spoiling or slightly ignoring or saying no or yes to things that you wouldn’t doesn’t make that much of a difference in the scheme of things but can be a source of huge joy to the grandparents.

    When I think of my own grandma, I immediately think of all the ways she’s different from my own parents– and as a child, I always saw this and learned from it. having the experience of different attitudes, opinions and styles gave me an early introduction to the way the world is.

  15. That is really cool that you are able to recognize it. My sister gives her little girl anything and everything. Now I am not saying that she is a spoiled brat cause she isn’t. But when At her grandma’s house she watched the news not Cinderella 20 times and she reads books and entertains herself. She actually has more fun with less toys but it took my sister awhile to get used to the fact that kids don’t need all your attention all the time.

  16. I wish you’d write more about this — I really admire your laid back (but not TOO laid back) parenting style and it’s something I hope to copy with my own children. I’m a bit of a control-freak and I’m afraid that having kids is going to put me over the edge. I really love how T1 seems to have fit right into your life, without you making any huge changes. It seems like you’re doing many of the same things, he just comes along for ride. Please, please, please talk more about how you’ve done this (without feeling guilty or like you’re doing something “wrong”) so people like me can learn from your experience!

  17. I had a really hard time with this with my kids. In so many ways I didn’t really trust my kids with my in laws I mean they did give my oldest baby coke a cola at 6 months old ( and ice cream and chocolate). Lets be honest everything except a happy meal.

    We live in Canada and my inlaws live in the States. It was always a bog thing for them that they want the grandbabies to come stay with them without my husband and I.

    I had to come to the harsh realization that yes they would do 1000000 things I would never do or give my child (like let my kids stay up until 11 pm when they are 2 years old). But all the things that they would do would never damage my kids for the rest of their lives. They love my kids and want to spoil them. It took me years to figure that out.

    I loved this post.

    ashley smith Reply:

    *big not a bog thing

  18. I love your approach to parenting. It unnerves me to see these helicopter parents because I deal with college students and they can seriously be screwed up by age 21 by parents like that. The independance that you are instilling in him right now will help so much. And honestly, we all need to think about something. Our parents didn’t kill us, so why is our way SOOOOO much better??? Bueller, Bueller? It’s not. Sometimes we just have to let go and let live.

  19. I think this might just be the most beautiful post you’ve ever written.
    I took every word of it to heart, and will remember it when my husband and I welcome our first child.

    Thank you.

  20. Excellent post and I couldn’t agree with you more. At the beginning it was very difficult for me to “let go” but I’ve grown a lot in the year since my daughter was born. Seeing your child thrive, grow and become their own person is magical :)

  21. This is easily one of your best posts, Jenna. Thought-provoking, well-written…good job :) I don’t really have much to add because I’m not a parent, but I really hope I take your more laid-back approach to parenting. Control freak parents scare me. I’d really like to read more about your parenting style if you’re willing to share!

  22. There are so many mommy bloggers who I hope read this post and take it to heart. So many moms turn “this is what is best for my family” to “this is what is best. Period.” There was quite a lively comment section a few weeks ago where many people were saying “no one who cared about their child would leave their child when the child was sick (aka had the flu).” In fact the blogger said, “when your baby is sick, you just can’t leave them and you must alter your plans.” This upset me (her use of the universal YOU), she may not be able to leave her child with a babysitter (or MIL or husband) – but that doesn’t mean that is true for everyone, or that that is the best thing to do in general, or even that her way of doing things is the best thing for her family. You are a Family Focused Parent (I really want to brand that) – what is good for the mom IS good for the baby. I’m so glad I have a fellow relaxed parent (“fellow” as in when I finally get pregnant!)

    Cristin Reply:

    I agree with Erin. I think there are moms that alter plans when their children are sick/tired/etc and attest that they WANT to be there for their children and they don’t mind AT ALL if their lives revolve around baby.

    But I like that Jenna hasn’t lost her independence, her devotion to her husband and their time together, or her identity after having a child.

    I also REALLY like that Jenna never says, “If you don’t agree with me, its only because you don’t have children.”

    Sophia Reply:

    also REALLY like that Jenna never says, “If you don’t agree with me, its only because you don’t have children.”

    Yes, Cristin, me too!

    Sophia Reply:

    I know the discussion you are talking about Erin, and I agree with you- I’m not a parent yet, but I have personally cared for a VERY sick child- the son of my cousin- when she had to go out of town, and my cousin is a wonderful, devoted mother. I too would have been fine leaving my (potential, future) son with her, or with my dad, or another friend. I think that kind of “NO ONE who has kids would do x, y, or ” talk is damaging to the solidarity that mothers should have with one another.

    Women already have SO many unrealistic expectations put on them, and then they enter the “Motherhood Olympics” and it’s brutal, lol.

  23. I really liked this post, too!

    I heard a good rule of thumb somewhere about knowing when to bring up concerns with grandparents about things they are (or aren’t) doing with your children. If they live in the same city, it probably *is* worth having a conversation if they are doing something that you really aren’t comfortable with–and then to find a happy compromise. If they’re out-of-town grandparents, it’s best to just let them spoil your children silly–afterall, they’ll only see your child a few times a year or so anyway.

    Another thought I had while reading, is that 20 years or so down the road when our sons get married, we might be forced to live the same concept on the other side. Let’s say, for example, that T1 marries a girl who feeds her kids happy meals or is a bit more helicoptering. As a MIL, you don’t want to destroy your relationship with your DIL by constantly giving her unwanted advice, even though you have honest concerns about your grandchildren. I think the same principle holds true here–just like we daughters and daughters-in-law need to back off and let our parents and in-laws have a crack at dealing with our kids–then when we’re mothers and mothers-in-law, we might have to back off and let our daughters and daughters-in-law make a few mistakes and be a little clingy without speaking up about it. Hopefully though our sons will marry girls who want all of our sage wisdom! Haha! :)

    Again, great post!

    Cécy Reply:

    I like this rule on thumb. It makes sense, it’s not just about raising the child right, but also making sure there are healthy relationships with everyone.

  24. Great post Jenna! While I don’t have kids yet. I come from an Asian family that always had that mindset. It takes a village to a raise a child.
    My In-laws on the other hand are completely opposite. It boggles my mind sometimes, and I don’t quite understand it.

  25. this is really thoughtful.
    I think the age of the internet and the way relationships have developed parents can be crazy controlling with their children. I have always appreciated caring moms who were somewhat generous with their babies (to a certain extent) to allow others to participate in their family. Some of my best memories are taking care of babies that were younger siblings of my friends–it’s a joy and a great experience (especially for people who don’t get to see babies much!)

  26. I totally agree with everyone’s comments! I love this post and I love that you are open. I think when my parenting time comes, my helicoptering will stem from my own insecurities and feeling like someone is insinuating that I am doing things wrong. You are so right-the big picture is what is important and it’s wonderful that you see that! I’ll definitely keep that nugget with me!

  27. I feel like I could call my parents helicopter parents (especially my mom). Though I love them and learned a lot of honorable traits from them, I do wish they would have stepped back a little more.

  28. I am a helicopter parent. I admit it. Oops. Boo on Me. Hubs wants to take Mia to San Fran for the night without me (im going the next day…long story) and Im freaking out.

  29. I loved this post so much- such a wonderful perspective to have on your child and the way you talked about your relationship with your in-laws left me feeling so jealous. Great post!

  30. I loved your post….we raised my little girl being with other sitters(that we trusted) and being able to spend the night with grandma once a week. She has done soo good with that and you can tell she’s just happy wherever she’s at.

  31. This is such a great post! I clash with my MIL on a lot of issues, so I can imagine this being even more of an issue with me when we have children. Heck, she fed our puppy a piece of fried chicken while I was standing right in front of her saying no. However, my pup is fine of course, just like our future baby will be when she wants to do whatever thing I wouldn’t dream of doing. I hope I can be as rational as you when the time comes.

  32. I *love* this post.

    I am due with my first baby this March, and I am really going to try to take this advice to heart. My family lives across the country :( but my in laws only live a few minutes away. I really want to try to be open to all of their help and wisdom with the baby.

  33. I love this! I love that you’re setting a great example of how to be an amazing mom! You have certain non-negotiables, but know that sometimes family time and flexibility are best. I hope to be as great with my first child as you are!

  34. Yes yes yes! Obviously I don’t have children yet, but as a doula and a someday-mom, I am very invested in these issues (and a future aunt, too) and I love this approach. It is so healthy for kids to be socialized with others and adaptable to other styles and the joy grandchildren bring is oh so true. I am so excited to see my parents as grandparents even knowing it will be my nieces and nephews who get there first. I wish more moms took this approach. I offer to babysit my friends’ children all the time, but they always tell me, “oh, we have a very specific way of doing things…” like I don’t know how to change a diaper or play with a baby?

  35. This is one of the best pieces of parenting advice I have EVER seen on the internet.

    Congratulations on a fantastic post, Jenna.

  36. Thank you for a different perspective! It’s easy to settle into the “I know best” attitude and miss out on the sense of community and love that comes from sharing life with others.

  37. I grew up with quite the village around me. We constantly refer to ourselves as “the village”(.. or the Clampetts.. but that’s a different story). My fiance was an only child and didn’t have that. I really appreciate having tons of people around me who will love and support me no matter what. So many people have a hard time finding one person they feel welcome with or that they love and trust. I constantly remind myself how lucky I am to have the people I do around me and if I ever have children, I hope I can provide them with the same luxury. In the end, it’s the people around you and love around you that matter, not the stuff. Good post Jenna!

  38. This is an awesome, awesome post, Jenna. So well-written and thoughtful. I had many of the same thoughts while watching Babies–the Namibian baby crawling around in the dirt gnawing on random bones she found came to mind. The spectrum of ways that it is possible to raise a child, and still have that child turn out A-OK, is wide indeed. I’m not a mom yet, but when the time comes, I hope to avoid helicopter parenting too.

  39. Exploring what my inlaws can and cannot do with Baby B has been the most important thing to me. Somethings I don’t mind..others I will not budge on and being respectful in expressing myself has been the biggest thing for me.

    I think taking a step back and enjoying baby free moments is so important. We went on a vacation for three days baby free and it was so nice. I def. missed our little Bean but realized that she probably needed a break from us just like we needed a mini break from her. When we came back together again we were both very happy. I know one new mom who will not let anyone else touch her baby and is stressed so bad because of it. Me on the other hand? Want to take her and hold her and play? Go a head while I stuff my face and enjoy some stolen moments with my husband, I don’t mind. (<- my attitude during family functions or gatherings).

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