parent engagement

Truth Is, I Don't Want to Be a Helicopter Mom But What Are My Options?

“Hi! I’m Ra’Son’s mom, Ramie, nice to meet you.” It’s the same sentence I’ve uttered every August for the last four years, the same one my daughter’s teachers have heard from hundreds of other parents. But what they don’t know (yet) is that I’m a different kind of parent. I’m a “helicopter” parent. And that means we are going to get to know each other. Really well. The history of my helicoptering goes back to my daughter’s pre-kindergarten days. While Ra’Son was in pre-k, her teacher and I exchanged notes every day. She was genuinely concerned about the education of my child. She knew I was anxious and attempted to make things easier by being proactive in our conversations. I appreciated her directness and honesty when I had questions. While this was part of her class structure, it set the parent/teacher-engagement bar high for future teachers. Her kindergarten teacher was very different. My impression was that she was burnt out. We didn’t communicate daily, and she often gave one-word responses to my questions. She avoided parent-teacher conferences unless she got pressure from the principal. One time, when Ra’Son was confused about her homework, I asked her teacher how a lesson was presented in class (so I could use similar vocabulary or methods at home). She told me that if my daughter didn’t learn it in class then I shouldn’t have a problem teaching it to her myself. Every day, I worried about what Ra’Son was or wasn’t learning. Thankfully for other families, the teacher moved on after that year. Since then, I’ve encountered a range of engagement styles. Her first-grade teacher was super engaged with the parents, but not so much with the students. Then I absolutely loved her second-grade teacher, who welcomed new ideas and explicitly told parents how we could support her during the week on the homework sheet. I would have paid her salary myself, if I could have, to convince her to teach third grade. Because my experience was so inconsistent, I felt like I had to be involved and on top of things all the time. It didn’t help that my field of work was also education. That only made me that much more aware of how important Ra’Son’s experience in school was. As a former school counselor, I worried that she would somehow end up like some of the students I worked with previously—behind in school, pregnant, in jail or even worse—dead. My work and life experiences taught me that I had to be heavily involved—no immersed—in my child’s life to ensure that she would have all the necessary skills to be a well-rounded, successful adult. So what do I do? For one thing, I ask questions. A lot of questions. I ask about the quality of instruction. I ask for clarification on homework or about general school observations. I’m highly engaged. I attend virtually every meeting and parent-teacher conference. I verify her teacher’s certification every year. I have links to resources that will help me understand what she is supposed to be learning. I know all about what Ra’Son is doing and what’s happening at school. If she’s getting off track, you know I’ll be on it. My attention to her school also extends beyond her. If another parent has a school-related question, there’s a good chance I’ll know the answer. If you want to know what other parents are really thinking, you know you’ll hear the truth from me. And if you’re doing right by my daughter, I will be behind you all the way. If not, bless your heart. The thing is, with helicopter parenting, there are pros and cons. In terms of pros, I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that allow me the flexibility to tend to my child’s life both academically and culturally. There are times when her school provides me with information before I get a chance to ask simply because they know I’m going to ask. I get a call when my daughter leaves her glasses at home. They know my family so well that we have an understanding on a number of common occurrences. And I feel sure that my daughter will get the education she needs—because I’m making sure of it. On the other hand, it’s exhausting. I can’t calculate the number of hours I’ve spent researching best practices by grade level, printing enrichment materials, going to meetings, and so much more. Being at the school so frequently might seem like a plus, but I know it can also feel like I’m intruding or being overbearing. It’s a lot for my daughter, too. I worry sometimes that I’m not giving her as much space as she needs to make mistakes and grow. And I worry that other students at her school may not get the same attention she does, because their parents aren’t as hyper-focused as I am. The truth is, I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I’d rather be more like a drone—quieter, smaller and less intrusive. I still want to visit my child’s school regularly, but more by invitation, with specific times and reasons to visit. I want to be able to allow my child the room to put into practice all that we’ve taught her and to make mistakes while it’s still safe to do so. I want Ra’Son’s teachers and school staff to think of me as a useful partner, not a squeaky wheel. One of the biggest ways that schools and teachers could help reduce helicoptering would be by communicating a lot more clearly and consistently with parents—about what’s going on at school, about what our children are learning and how they’re progressing, about how we can help at home. Then we might not worry so much or feel the need to hover so close. My school has gotten a lot better about this and I’ve found my own ways to get the information I need, but what about other parents? I know shifting from a helicopter parent to a drone parent will take work. I’m ready to do my part and take a step back. My question is, are schools ready to step forward?  
An original version of this post appeared on EdNavigator as Confessions of a Helicopter Mom.
Rameisha “Ramie” Johnson is a New Orleans native, proud mom and former school counselor and enrollment advisor. She currently works as a Navigator for EdNavigator, a nonprofit organization that partners with employers to help families keep kids on track from pre-K to college. She holds a BA in sociology and an M.Ed in school counseling from the University of New Orleans.

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