July 7, 2010...8:17 am

Antidote to Helicopter Parenting

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Micha and August are on a plane to Amarillo to visit family. Trophy husband Chris will guest post today.

At 4:45 am we woke up our little one and all he could say was “Airport! Airport! I fly Airplane Jojo Pops house!” When I put him in his stroller at Oakland airport he gave me a hug and said, “Daddy go work?” Yes, dear child, Daddy go work. See, I don’t get to visit JoJo and Pops just yet.

Is this adorable? Heartrending? Yes, and yes. Does it have anything to do with my post? Absolutely not. But I figured I’d warm you up with a quick anecdote in the manner of pastors telling a joke that is (very) loosely related to the sermon topic (I’m looking at you, Fred).

I know very little about parenting and even less about monks, so you’ll have to bear with me today. Everything I learned about parenting I learned from three sources (in no order of gravity): The Idle Parent (Tom Hodgkinson), The Three Martini Playdate (Christie Mellor), and Christine Rosen’s review of Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcisissm. I haven’t actually “read” all these things, but they sound really neat.

Each appeals to the parent who (perhaps selfishly, pls discuss in comments section) rejects this idea that kids should get what they want and do what we think they should all the time. Growing up in a nice little suburb of Philadelphia where everyone plays three sports, invents new AP courses, and practice college admissions for fun on Saturday mornings, I have seen a lot of parents put their kids at the center of their lives. They talk about kids’ grades, prom dates, sporting achievements, to the exclusion of anything else.

OF COURSE we should care about what our kids do. Come on, I’m not that mean. But, when parents spend all their time, energy, attention, and money on their kids, a couple things happen.

First, the parents lose themselves. That is, they forget what they’re interested in. Second, they become uninteresting-especially to their children. Every relationship needs direction and focus, or else it drifts (here I am indebted to Tim Keller’s sermon on Spiritual Friendship).  If a child feels like their parents aren’t interested in anything but them, what do they have to look up to? Kids need parents who can point them in a direction, and if that direction is right back at them, they get the feeling that they are the most important thing in world. That they’re not is a vital lesson.

The Three Martini Playdate teaches us that it’s okay to make our kids work. Kids used to contribute to the family. Maybe the most productive use of their time and energy isn’t a martini (Bluecoat, don’t skimp on the vermouth, stirred, thank you), but I’ll be darned if August Henry doesn’t have (a lot of) chores to do once we have a lawn to mow.

Christine Rosen’s article, The Overpraised American teaches us that if we make kids out to be the greatest thing ever, they’ll think the same thing…and they’ll be insufferable for it.

The Idle Parent is a direct rebuke to our parent-guilt. His is not a call to laziness or even a lack of interest in our children’s development. But rather a lesson that children need time and space to learn things for themselves and grow into whole people. Contrast this with the article Micha tweeted about the other day on Helicopter Mommies. And I quote: “Fertile neglect is the name of that policy: leaving the boy to his own devices so I can pursue mine and he can develop those solitary skills that will serve him in future airports, waiting rooms and prisons.”

Our dear friends have been leading Young Life for a long time and have two daughters, one in college, one just graduated. One of the things we appreciate about them is how they have always had their own life-centered around ministry and fellowship. Because of that their kids have always respected them-and more than that, have wanted to be around them and wanted to be like them.


  • Well said, hunky husband. I should put you in charge more often. My favorite part (besides your description of your hometown) is how you put your finger on what makes our friends (Barb and Casey) such great parents. You’re right, it’s that they have focused their lives on ministry, not on living through their kids’ accomplishments. I hope we can be like them when we grow up.

  • Not that I can relate to the parenting part quite yet (although I am sure I will be re-reading all of these posts when the time comes). But, great job Chris, loved it! And I think “the couple” make great parents… and matchmakers….

    We’ll chat soon about our little Cali trip… can’t wait!

  • [...] slow, idle, brave Jump to Comments Today, while zooming through a profile piece on an artist and mother in the New York Times, I came across a new parental catch phrase that seems to ring true with my husband’s notion of “idle parenting,” as he defined it in Wednesday’s post. [...]

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