I’m a Negligent Helicopter Parent

Welcome to the February 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Fears

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and wisdom about parenting fears.

Every parent knows about fear, right? Our one big job is to get our kids safely to adulthood, and good grief it’s a big scary world out there when you’re imagining your tiny baby out in it.

Helicopter Parent?

So as the parent of a toddler, it makes complete sense to me to be a helicopter parent. I mean, Wikipedia says a helicopter parent “pays extremely close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems”. Um… don’t all parents do that?

I guess the key is the word “extremely”. What is “extremely”?

Not only am I the parent of a toddler, I’m a parent with anxiety. So, yeah, I kind of hover over my toddler. I am hyper aware of where he is at all times, and I’m constantly on the lookout for dangers.

I’m also a parent with depression. One way my anxiety and depression play off of each other is this: because of my depressive episodes, I’m not as interactive with Dylan as I’d like to be. That means I get really anxious about whether or not he’s being stimulated enough and having an enriching enough experience. Sometimes I micromanage his time in order to work in all the different learning categories I think he should be exposed to.

Negligent Parent?

If you were to see us in person you might think I was a negligent parent. That’s because I’m NOT afraid of many of the things that other parents are.

Dylan runs up and down the stairs completely unattended, because I know that he’s very proficient at the stairs.

He gets very sporadic baths, because I’m not really that concerned with overall cleanliness.

Sometimes he’s out in the cold without a lot of clothes on, because he’s old enough to let me know if he’s cold, and he doesn’t really like wearing a lot of clothes.

I really value independence, and part of that enriching experience I want Dylan to have is the experience of being trusted to go out and explore the world.

On our little 2ish acre homestead, sometimes it might look to the neighbors like my toddler is roaming the place alone, when the truth is I’m hanging back lurking around corners so that Dylan thinks he’s exploring alone but I’m satisfying my helicopter-y tendencies.

Fear Is Personal

Yes, fear is probably a universal parental burden, but how that fear manifests is intensely personal. Who knows where all the little details of our parenting baggage come from? 

Fear is a universal parental burden, but how that fear manifests is intensely personal. {Tweet this.}

Why am I hyper-concerned with “enrichment activities” but not at all with Dylan being well dressed or well-bathed? Why does another parent excel at feeding nutritious meals and banishing all germs but doesn’t own any puzzles or books?

It is difficult and pointless to compare myself to other parents. My experience can’t tell me about their fears and their experience can’t teach them about my fears.

Knowing that fear is personal reminds me that I can’t look to “reality” for an objective right or wrong.

There’s no magic number of educational toys a child should have around for optimal brain development.

There’s no perfect amount of cleaning that kills the most germs while leaving enough time for the rest of life.

There’s no ideal number of minutes a child should have independent play versus one-on-one parent time versus group play with other children.

We can only do what we think is right while attempting to find balance.

I’m reminded to be compassionate when another parent makes a different risk assessment and makes a different decision about something that I fear.

It’s all personal. It’s so, so personal.

As personal as it is, fear itself is something we’re all doing together.

What is something you’re afraid of or something you stress about that you know other people don’t take so seriously?

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • When Parents’ Fears Escalate — If we didn’t self-doubt, we probably wouldn’t care enough about our children to struggle with understanding them. But how do we overcome self-doubt? Read advice from Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., guest posting today at Natural Parents Network.
  • What ifs of addiction — After seeing how addictions of adult children is badly hurting a family close to her heart, Hannah at HannahandHorn shares her fears for her own child.
  • Sharing My Joy — Kellie at Our Mindful Life shares her fear that others think she is judgmental because she makes alternative choices for her own family.
  • Building My Tribe Fearlessly — A meteorite hit Jaye Anne at Tribal Mama’s family when she was seven years old. Read the story, how she feels about that now, and how she is building her tribe fearlessly.
  • Fear: Realized — Laura from Pug in the Kitchen shares how her fear of car accidents was realized and how she hopes to be able to use her efforts to overcome the remaining fears to help her children overcome their own.
  • I’m a Negligent Helicopter Parent — For Issa Waters at LoveLiveGrow, the line between helicopter parenting and negligent parenting is not so cut and dried.
  • My Greatest Fear For My Child — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama admits that she has struggled with not allowing her fears to control her and how the reality of this was blown wide open when she became a mother.
  • Proactive Steps to Calm Parenting Fears — Every parent has certain fears related to dangerous situations, That Mama Gretchen shares ways she is preparing herself and her children for emergencies.
  • Homeschooling Fears – Will My Children Regret Being Homeschooled? — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares an interview with her now-adult children that answers a question she had throughout their homeschooling.
  • An Uneasy Truce — Homeschooler and recent convert to unschooling, Tam at tinsenpup shares just a few of the things she tries to keep in mind when fear and insecurity begin to take hold.
  • Fearing the worst, expecting the best — Tarana at Sand In My Toes writes about fears that come with parenting, and why we must overcome them.
  • Can I be the parent I want to be? — Amanda at Postilius confronts her struggle to peacefully parent a preschooler
  • Out of Mind, Out of Fear — How does Jorje of Momma Jorje deal with her pretty steep, long-term fears regarding her son’s future?
  • I Don’t Homeschool to Manage My Kids’ Transcripts — One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s fears of parenting is that she will get so caught up in the monotony, the details of homeschooling, the minutiae of everyday life, the routine of taking care of a household – that she will forget to actually be present in the moment with her children.
  • Beware! Single Mom Camping — Erica at ChildOrganics shares her first adventures as a single mom. She laughed, she cried, she faced her fears.
  • Parenting Fears And Reality Checks — Luschka from Diary of a First Child shares her three biggest fears as a parent – that most parents share – looks at the reality behind these fears, and offers a few suggestions for enjoying parenting.
  • Parenting fear : to kill a pink rabbit…Mother Goutte tells us the story of a pink rabbit that disappeared, came back, and became the symbol of her worst parenting fear…
  • Roamingsustainablemum considers whether allowing your children freedom to explore the world safely is harder now than in the past.
  • Meeting my parenting fears head-on — Lauren at Hobo Mama had many fears before she became a parent. Learn how they all came true — and weren’t anywhere near as scary as she’d thought.
  • Don’t fear the tears — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger worried that letting her children cry when going to sleep was tantamount to the dreaded parenting moniker, CIO. She discusses what actually happened after those teary nights, and how she hopes these lessons can carry forward to future parenting opportunities.
  • Will I Still be a Good Mom? — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot worries about her mothering skills now that breastfeeding is no longer the top priority.
  • Pregnancy Fears: It Happened to My Sisters, It Will Happen to Me… — Kristen at Country Fit Family discusses the difficulties with pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding that the women in her family have had and how she overcame them.
  • Fears — Meegs at A New Day talks about how her fears before parenting led to a better understanding of herself and her desires for her daughter.


  1. Love this post, not only because it’s a good reminder of how personal fear is, but also because it points out how personal and revealing our judgments of others are. Judgement is usually based on our own fears, our own experiences (which is, of course, why we should spend less time judging and more time finding compassion for others’ situations!).

  2. Well Dionna pretty much summed it up. This is a great post because it does get to the root of fear and how that translates to judgment based on fear. I do always wonder sometimes why one person is so afraid of something while another could care less. Thanks for sharing an eye-opening piece.

  3. This really made me think. I’m going to ruminate on this one: Fear is universal yet personal. Yes. We also don’t do much with cleanliness or a lot of clothing (my firstborn is a furnace, and my secondborn is a nudist). Probably a lot of my fears go toward safety (cars, etc.), and I can think of other parents I know who dismiss a lot of safety precautions but probably think I feed my kids crap or let them watch too much TV or whatever. As you say, it’s personal, and those things don’t worry me in the same way they do other people.

  4. I love that you turned these concepts of parenting styles on their heads by labeling yourself as both of them at once. I find it interesting to think that anyone could be a helicopter about one area and not another. Yet, I do find myself judging parents who run to solve every problem. I could do less of that. Thanks for making me think!

  5. I love this. I frequently feel like everyone must be judging me because I’m not paying enough attention to the kids. But I’ve been working on my anxiety for a whole lifetime, and at this point I’m really good at talking myself down from a fear spiral, so a lot of things that worry most parents I’m just calmly (at least from the outside) keeping an eye on things.

  6. “He gets very sporadic baths, because I’m not really that concerned with overall cleanliness.”

    In case I haven’t told you lately, I love you, Issa. I really do. I actually giggled out loud at the above line, because sometimes I think I’m the only person on the planet who is “not that concerned with overall cleanliness” and it’s been pounded into me that this is a DEEP DARK secret and not to be spoken of. Fuck it. It’s the truth. I don’t FEEL gross if I haven’t bathed and I don’t look or smell gross either, and I wish more people could just see that. I once had an conversation with my sister about FEELING fat, too, and I had to laugh because neither fat nor cleanliness are really feelings but rather statements of fact, and you either are or you aren’t, so “feeling” is kind of a waste of time. When I need a bath, I take one. It’s not a judgment call on my goodness as a human being, it’s a fact that sometimes I need a bath and the rest of the time I don’t. Also a fact that I’m fat. And not fat phobic, WOO HOO. LOL

    • Lol sporadic bathers unite! “It’s not a judgment call on my goodness as a human being, it’s a fact that sometimes I need a bath and the rest of the time I don’t.” Yeah, this exactly!

      • I agree with you and Jo. Sporadic bathers unite, indeed!

        “Why am I hyper-concerned with “enrichment activities” but not at all with Dylan being well dressed or well-bathed?”

        I decided to comment because of the way you phrased this sentence. By your own description, Dylan is “well” dressed and bathed. It just isn’t as often or as much as other kids might be. But it is what works for you both and is therefore done well.

        I have a vivid memory of being about 6 years old and my father forcing me to wear a sweater on top of the outfit I picked out to wear to a party because it was December. It was a mild day in NC, I was hot all the time, and worst of all – the sweater didn’t match my outfit and my budding fatshionista aesthetics. But he wouldn’t listen to me and wouldn’t leave until I put it on. I am guessing now that he was concerned that my mother, whom we were meeting at the party, would be upset or he was putting his own tendencies to feel cold onto me. The effect of his not trusting me and prioritizing others’ judgements was to irritate me so much that it is now one of the few memories I have of my dad from when I was little.

        Bottom line is I bathe as much as I need to and wear whatever I need to feel comfortable. And I’m glad you allow Dylan to do the same. I really appreciated this post.

        • I have a lot of those same kinds of memories, Danna. I think respecting Dylan’s autonomy and trusting his own experience of himself are far more important than almost anything.

  7. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Issa! You definitely gave a great reason for not being judgmental. :)

  8. I love your post which I can relate with on many points! One of the things we don’t care about much, at least we don’t care enough to do something about it! , is the tidiness and cleanliness in the house, something that everyone who sets foot in our house obviously notices… Our friends are generally cool with it, people who critic they’re just not real friends. What bothers me is my parents and mother-in-law’s attitudes, the little digs, the ‘help’ (which for me always feels like showing off and putting me down for my lack of house skills), I suppose it’s a generation thing but I wish they understood more that my priorities are with my children not the bottle of bleach!!

  9. Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. says:

    Dear Issa,

    As a mother and psychoanalyst I am very taken by your openness. As you sincerely explain fears are deeply personal, so to share them, is something we should all be grateful to you for doing. So thanks for your insights and kindness.

  10. I absolutely resonate with your helicopter/non-helicopter ways of letting your child explore independently while still being close. I do this same thing!

  11. I wrote a post similar to this about Overcoming the Mother-Fear. You’re exactly right, so much of our fears have to do with our experiences. My husband and I grew up differently and also have very different personalities, so we run into a lot of things that one person thinks is fine (usually the hubs), and one person is usually overly worried about (usually me!). I lost my parents unexpectedly several years ago in a car accident and since they I’ve had to learn my own personal balance between following my gut and leaning on/trusting my husband when I know my gut is reacting to my personal trauma, NOT the current situation. I think you also have to find a balance between what might be a little overprotective, and what might actually be damaging. Making my kiddos wear life jackets might be a little overprotective, but never letting them swim would probably be more damaging.

    • I’d say you deserve a little fear-leeway when you have a personal trauma like that. How can you not have some fear in the wake of that? But you’re right that balance is the thing we should always be striving for. I want my son to know that I love him enough to worry and that I trust him enough to let him do his thing anyway.

  12. Another awesomely thought provoking post. I love your brave and honest self description and the contradictory labeling. I often feel like I am a walking contradiction and I think this piece, while not my specific Mama quirks, illustrates that beautifully in you too.

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