Controlling for Take-Off
When my daughter was raising little ones, I first heard of the helicopter analogy. It paints a picture of a fussing, overly solicitous mom who is fearful to let Tommy toddler try anything new without the constant whirring of her benevolent blades. Then, just as the helicopter hovers over its occupants even after they have disembarked, so we often continue trying to control our children even when they are grown and gone, creating the kind of draft that causes our offspring to duck out of the way. The current is often so great that they feel helpless to be free of its influence—an influence that haunts them and continues to disturb their adult lives. If they do get away, they don’t come back.
We hover because we think we can preside over all the eventualities of our children’s lives. Of course genuine, responsible guidance is essential, especially to ensure the physical welfare of a small child. But we often go beyond what’s necessary, thinking that if only we stay near to oversee, then we will be able to make sure no evil befalls them.
We are often unaware that the draft we cause with our fussing actually blows our children off course and out of the wind of the Spirit who is directing their lives. Someone once compiled a list of a few examples of how our natural proclivities as mothers sometimes get in the way of the greater good:
• Being a mother is wanting to pick up your children each time they fall, but teaching them to pick themselves up instead.
• Being a mother is wanting to keep them from all hurt and harm, but knowing that they must be taught to take care of themselves.
• Being a mother is wanting to give them the best of everything, but knowing they will value life more if they wait and work for many of their rewards.
My own mothering life is replete with illustrations of yours truly as Helicopter Mom. Many years ago, one of our sons was living alone some distance from us, where he was working just before going to college. From every communication I had with him, it appeared that his life was one catastrophe after another. Following one telephone conversation, I slumped down into the chair saying, “God, please do something.”
The response was swift and searing: “I will, if you get out of the way!”
I was dumbfounded. God could do it!—without my fretting, cajoling, or even sending care packages. And He did. In the heavenly Parent’s own good time, all the issues were resolved—car finally up and running, rent money provided, fingers healed from a nasty accident—and my son took another step on the journey of trusting the God who is everywhere, rather than a mother who is not.
Our love is limited and lacks the divine perspective. As such, our attempts to control can result in over-involvement in our children’s lives that ranges from the ridiculous, like the mother who wanted to go on her daughter’s honeymoon, to the more sinister situation of the son who felt constrained to call his mother when sexual temptation with his fiancée threatened to overtake him. Such was the extent of the toxicity in that unhealthy mother-son relationship. Kenneth M. Adams poses a piercing question for our consideration:
Did you have a parent whose love for you felt more confining than freeing, more demanding than giving, more intrusive than nurturing?
We are in a wonderfully privileged position, and we may well be our child’s best, and most trusted, friend. We do have the responsibility to be available to listen, guide, and model, but our best efforts cannot preside over every outcome. Our calling is simply to stand, confident of the supremacy of God as their perfect Parent. If we stand still, we do not create unwanted currents.
We do the best by our children when we cultivate calmness and model faith instead of fretting and manipulating. As we learn to relinquish our need for control, we are free to love more unconditionally and lend support, rather than running to the rescue. When we allow our children, no matter how little they are, to take responsibility for their own behaviors, we facilitate the flow of health, wholeness, and wisdom in their lives. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, an eighteenth-century writer, rightly said, “A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary.”
Let’s start early to lift off in our helicopters so our children can run clear of the whirring blades and have the opportunity to know only the wind of God’s Spirit as their guiding force.
Alice Scott-Ferguson is a Scottish-born freelance writer, author, and motivational speaker who lives in Arizona. She writes from her heart as a wife, mother, grandmother, and Christ-follower. Among other books, she is the author of Mothers Can’t Be Everywhere, But God Is : A Liberating Look at Motherhood, from which this post is extracted.