The insanity crept up on us slowly; we just wanted what was best for our kids. We bought macrobiotic cupcakes and hypoallergenic socks, hired tutors to correct a 5-year-old's "pencil-holding deficiency," hooked up broadband connections in the treehouse but took down the swing set after the second skinned knee. We hovered over every school, playground and practice field — "helicopter parents," teachers christened us ... ."
Click to read previous idealawg posts about helicopter parents.
But the hovering behavior does not only go down the family tree, it also flies up into the parent branches. Adult children are overprotecting their aging parents. I suppose we can call a person doing this up-the-tree overprotecting a "helicopter child."
The motivations for hovering over and around one's parent are many. Just four are mentioned in "Overprotective children do more harm than good" (Gainesville Sun): old-age myths, the widowed parent, reparenting your parents, and emotional baggage. A bit of elaboration on these four reasons adult children overprotect . . .
- One of our culture's old-age myths is that cognitive decline is inevitable. Children who believe this may infantilize their parents, not accurately assessing their parents' abilities and capacity for autonomy.
- When one parent dies, adult children may move in "too fast" in an effort to be supportive.
- Popular wisdom tells us that roles are reversed as parents age so that we as adult children become the parents. This reversal is not really accurate because the dynamics are different. Nevertheless, this misconception can lead children to attempt to parent their parents.
- Conflicts that developed in the past may influence how the child treats the aging parent, so that the child's behavior does not fit the situation or the needs of the parent.
Of course, there are many other reasons a child may hover. A few that come to mind right now: need to be needed, guilt, tendency to martyrdom, or lack of ability to listen to or read the parent.
The balance between autonomy and support is a delicate one in any relationship. In the case of aging parents, that balance can be particularly challenging. And there are ways to frame the challenge that can make it easier.
How do we maintain balance?