Monday, August 11, 2008

Kid-sick, Helicopter parents, and Parent-ectomy

While perusing, one caption caught my attention: Parents get kid-sick with children at camp. While I do not have any children old enough to attend camp, I read the article with my son (4 months old) in mind. Both my husband and I enjoy the outdoors, and we cannot wait for our son to discover the wonders of life through digging in the dirt, climbing trees and attending summer camp if he so chooses.
The article addresses a condition termed "kid-sickness." It refers to a parent's struggle to let his/her child go and be away from him/her for an extended period of time. The article focuses on kidsickness when a child attends overnight camp, although I have witnessed and experienced kidsickness over a much shorter period of time (for instance, the first time we left my son in the church nursery - I really wanted to skip service and hide outside of the nursery, spying on his every move and interaction with the nursery staff).
The article attributes an increasing rise in kidsickness to several things: a more involved style of parenting ("helicopter" parenting, we'll get to this term in a moment), a parents ability to be in constant contact with their child(ren) through technology, an increased perception that the world is a dangerous place, and an increase in the amount of working parents who are spending less time with their kids during a typical work week.
Additionally, the article briefly touches on two other terms relating to the increase in involved (maybe overly involved) parenting styles: "helicopter" parents and "parent-ectomy." Helicopter parents are parents who constantly hover over their children, ready to swoop in and monitor every choice their child(ren) makes. A parent-ectomy refers to the removal of parent involvement and contact over a period of time.
The idea is that something happens when a child is removed from his/her parents over the course of a few days or a couple of weeks. In an appropriate and healthy setting such as summer camp, children are offered a rare opportunity to develop the independence, coping skills, social skills, and problem-solving skills that they might not learn with mom or dad right by their side. A helicopter parent might stifle a child's ability to "know thyself," producing an adult child that is inept in operating as an independent member of society. A parent-ectomy is a wonderful chance for children to flourish on their own and hone those skills that are often overlooked by a hyper and over-involved parent.
As I think about these issues, I realize the importance of experiencing kidsickness - embracing the feelings of separation anxiety, sadness, fear and nervousness, feelings associated with leaving our children with 'strangers', out of our control and out of our watchful eye. Kidsickness allows parents to trust not only their children but also the world around their children. Yes, our kids can get hurt and learn 'bad' habits when out of our care. Yes, without our grand influence they can make poor choices. But can't those same things happen when they are sitting right next to us? And how do we expect them to learn for themselves if we never allow them the space to learn independent of us?
And when we experience kidsickness, we begin to understand balanced parenting. It's okay to be sad when our kids go to camp, or a friend's house or their first day of school. It's okay to helicopter when they are facing a tough decision and need guidance, but it is in their best interest and our best interest if we fly away in time for them to make a decision on their own. That is how our children gain strength, confidence and independence. And when they experience a parent-ectomy, they can better understand life as an individual human being, and maybe one day they will appreciate that we loved them enough to let them go.

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