Free range or lawnmower – what kind of parent are you?July 11, 2011
God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers. So says the Jewish proverb. We might assume, then, that it was the helicopter parent God had in mind when he fashioned the first mother – that ever-present, ever-vigilant scheduler of playdates and homework, hovering over the precious child (‘helicoptering’), and never letting them out of their sights. God may even have had for his template the lawnmower parent. The lawnmower parent is similarly obsessive, smoothing the way ahead for their offspring, doing all that they can to ensure that the future is without obstacles and inconveniences (and in doing so, maybe removing the challenges and setbacks that build character?). The relatively recently coined terms of ‘lawnmower parenting’ and ‘helicoptering’ both fit neatly under the more established umbrella term of overparenting.
Whatever God had in mind, his prototype for mothering was evidently very much at the other end of the scale from free-range parenting, a relaxed, hands-off approach in which the child is given the freedom to make more of their own decisions and choices. And it likewise had nothing to do with slow parenting, the same laid-back ethos by another name.
The English language is now awash with words and phrases that characterize parents, parenting, and the products of that parenting. Some, as above, describe the different ways in which we choose to bring up our children. And, as illustrated by these terms, they very often reflect a conflicted society, pulling in different directions. Witness the hugger mum, she who puts the infant at the centre of her world, and everything else on hold. The hugger mum revels in physical closeness – often sleeping with the child – and refuses to impose routine but rather goes with the flow. Her polar opposite, meanwhile, the scheduler mum, regulates naps and meals with military efficiency, making the baby fit her regulated world. Then, treading the golden path between these two extremes, there is the fleximum. A paragon of sense and moderation, the fleximum (or flexi) imposes a degree of routine, but is able to relax that routine when the situation requires it.
Whatever approach we parents take to the task of child-rearing, it seems from recent coinages that our children can’t get enough of us. Consider the boomerang child, who, having lived away from the parental home for a period in early adulthood, returns in their twenties or thirties to reclaim their old bedroom. The child who never even manages a period of standing on their own two feet and who instead languishes at home, meanwhile, is said to have suffered failure to launch. Dependency is a two-way street, though. Empty-nest syndrome, the phrase that describes the grieving that a parent experiences when the last of their children flies the coop, is well-established, but we can now add to it the touching childsickness, that feeling of yearning for one’s child that comes when we are parted from them for any length of time.