Just last week Mia Freedman made the statement that the problem with helicopter parents is the helicopter children they create.
Deep in my bones this resonated with me.
Hello, my name is Tracey, and I am a helicopter parent.
My son is many wonderful things but what he typically isn’t, is fearless. He radiates joy and is forever in motion, he is also cautious. I once had to bribe him with a packet of pokeman cards to encourage him down a waterslide and at a recent visit to a theme park, he stubbornly refused my valiant attempts to coast him on to a rollercoaster. That is until I remember reading that it is braver sometimes to say no to the rollercoaster ride. As we walked towards the dodgem cars I praised him for his steadfastness, telling myself that his unwavering commitment to saying no to stuff he doesn’t want to do will serve him well in the future. Because over thinking is my superpower I do often wonder if my helicopter parenting has cultivated his caution.
If I don’t already have enough to feel guilty about.
Except on the weekend, my helicopter seemed to veer off course, because my helicopter child decided to take his own joy flight.
Our nearest park has a dirt bike track that the local kids ride their bikes along. It has a proper start and finish line, a bit of an off-road vibe and a few unremarkable jumps. Charlie and his best friend Tom enjoy racing each other around it and I enjoy sitting on the nearby park bench drinking my tea.
When we arrived at the dirt track there were several boys already riding their bikes but this time things were a little different and the fact that one of the boys was covered in dirt and had a shovel should have been enough to trigger a warning signal that things were not as they seemed.
It quickly became evident that the boys had turned into little civil engineers and re-purposed the track into a stunt park.
This caused me no concern because Charlie had already started riding around the perimeter of the track, bypassing their handiwork. He was with Tom, and I was with Tom’s mum, they were watching the other boys and my friend and I were half watching them, but also talking about the previous night’s school trivia event which, trust me, was more interesting than the bike track.
As we were getting ready to leave, things got a bit weird and for reasons I will never fully understand, Charlie decided he wanted to join in with the bigger kids and do one of the jumps.
The bigger kids were well, bigger. More speed, bigger bikes, stronger bones and definitely without their helicopter mums in the vicinity. At this point they were inciting Charlie to give it a go. Not in an uncomfortable, peer pressure kind of way but in a very encouraging, empowering way. Still, I had little concern because I had little faith in my son’s commitment to see it through.
Ye of little faith.
I told Charlie it was time to leave, and this is when it all turned a bit wild. Charlie became fixated on doing this jump. I was surprised, but not alarmed. Giving him zero credit, I told him he couldn’t do it and it was time to go. His reaction was to become madly consumed and uncharacteristically shouted at me “We are not leaving here until I have done this jump.”
With parenting experts such as Dr Justin Coulson and Maggie Dent’s wise words about boys and life skills and resilience ringing in my ears, I tried to let go of the control stick, but my logical, sensible brain was having none of it. I looked at his bike, I knew how fast he could ride, I looked at the gigantic hole in the ground and tried to remember something about Newton’s laws of motion, and I came to the remarkably simple conclusion that he was not going to make this jump.
Meanwhile the wild child is doing laps psyching himself up and the big kids are getting their phones out to film the unfolding spectacle.
At this point, Tom, who is always up for adventure was joining me in my attempts to talk him into aborting his mission.
Tom is yelling “you’re gonna die” and even this was not enough to break the spirit of my little BMX bandit.
To be fair, I’d had a challenging week which may have been clouding my ‘she’ll be right’ attitude so I turned to my friend, who is smarter than I and far more levelheaded than I and said to her “should I let him do it?” She looked at me as if I was crazed and replied “yeah, nah.”
But also, my friend has known Charlie for all his ten precious years, and she was resolute in her belief that there was no way he was going to go through it. I quote “Don’t worry, there is no way he’s going to go through it.”
Caught between a rock and a deep ditch, this felt like a lose-lose situation. He was going to hurt himself, to what degree I had no idea, and I had no clue as to what the benchmark was for enabling him to do so. It felt wrong. My instinct is to protect him and keep him safe but in doing so I was also diminishing his boldness, and this also felt wrong.
So, what did I do?
I called for back up and rang my husband.
The park is maybe a two-minute drive from our home but in what can only be described as a bit of a sliding doors moment, just as I saw my husband’s car pull up, I simultaneously watch my son as the front wheel of his bike, hit the ditch and my child went over the handlebars and his body landed, flat and sprawling in the dirt.
The older boys didn’t quite know what to say or do, there was an audible gasp and I heard one of them say “epic dude.”
Epic was not my first word choice.
Within seconds I was standing in front of him as he stood up. Wide eyed and dishevelled, his shirt ripped. His face was covered in blood and dirt.
He was euphoric.
I, however, needed Panadol and a lie down.