We’ve been hearing for a while now that “Helicopter Parenting” (or the academic term “Intensive Parenting” ) may have a detrimental effect on children. By hovering, and managing children’s play times, parents may be interrupting their child’s creativity and problem solving. Then by swooping in to save children from any discomfort or challenges, their children aren’t getting the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, or resolve things on their own, then gaining confidence and independence.
Lyn Craig, professor at the University of NSW’s Social Policy Research Centre, alongside colleagues Abigail Powell and Ciara Smith, have examined data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Time Use Survey, conducted in 1992 and 2006, have found that as maternal employment increases, time spent in intensive parenting increases. So, as parents have less time available, they’re spending more time actively engaging with their children. Professor Craig’s research shows that “Working mothers have been found to protect time in active care by shifting the time of day at which they perform activities, and giving up sleep, housework and personal care.”
Also explaining that “There has been a change from when women were home routinely and around when their kids were growing up. When women started entering the paid workforce in greater numbers, the time with children became a designated activity that was competing with other things. At the same time there was a lot of social anxiety. People became concerned that children were not going to get enough attention, and there was also the idea around that children’s education in the early years was extremely important. So I think a few things came together to make parental time around children more self-conscious and precious.”
But goodness knows this can be what comes most naturally, it’s instinctual to want to protect your children, be near them, spend time with them! It’s something I’ve had to consciously work on with my own children – making the transition from babyhood where they say you cannot spoil a baby with time and attention, to childhood where perhaps you can. I absolutely let my own anxieties get the better of me and I micromanage my children’s lives. I practically rehearsed with my son, multiple times, how to put his first lunch order in the lunch order box, because I was so stressed that he’d do it wrong when I wouldn’t be there to fix it if he made a mistake, but I don’t want pass on my fear of making mistakes to him. I’m also guilty of doing things for him that I know he can do for himself, because it’s quicker and easier to do it for him, such as helping him get dressed or putting on his socks and shoes – he’s 5, he is absolutely capable of getting dressed himself! Yet, I do it often without even thinking.
One other thing I’ve noticed with both my children, somewhere in toddlerhood, there came a point where they would become more easily agitated and even purposefully misbehave, if I was engaging with them too much. I took the cue as “Mum! Leave me alone, I’m trying to play my own game!” This became much clearer with two children, if they’re playing happily together I often want to scoot in beside them and join in because I want to enjoy these moments with them, but no sooner do I sit down, their cooperative play together turns into competitively playing up for my attention. Sometimes I do have to just sit back and wait my turn. They’ll let me know when they want me.
But this is so much easier for me to say as a stay at home mum, I have a full 168 hours a week with my youngest and my little boy only just started school, I’m here with them all the time, so I can scatter quality time throughout a 24 hour period. I know when I was working part time I’d want my son to stay up later at night on the days that I’d worked, I’d put him to bed, read him at least 5 stories, and lay with him well after he’d gone to sleep, I was trying to squeeze out every last moment out of those days. I can only imagine how parents working full time might feel. It’s also worth noting that father’s play a role in the rise of intensive parenting, Lyn Craig states in the paper that “More of fathers’ time is now spent in active childcare than previously, supporting the notion that fathers are an integral part of the trend towards intensive parenting.”
All that said, I think the best we can do is be mindful of the time we spend with our children and how we interact with them, I really don’t think there is one right answer with regards to how much is too much, and in my experience that can change day to day.