This summer, I signed my daughter up for a local day camp. And I discovered the ugly truth about just how strong my desire to be a helicopter mom really is.
She’d been begging me for a month to let her go to an overnight camp. But she’s eight, and she’s never really spent the night away from home before. I don’t think she really knew what she was asking to do.
Or maybe she did, and I was just hesitant to let her go.
Because I was.
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This camp also had the option of just spending ONE night in the middle of the week to get a taste of what overnight camp would be like. I reluctantly agreed to let her try that, even though my heart was sinking inside.
How was I going to fare overnight without my girl?
I knew I wouldn’t sleep, and I knew I would worry about a million different things I had no business worrying about.
She was well supervised. She was cared for.
She was safe.
As it turns out, she decided to NOT spend that night at camp. But I really think that had to do more with her not wanting to miss a night of Vacation Bible School (which was happening that same week) than her not wanting to spend a night away from home.
Bullet dodged … but not entirely.
I was soon confronted, head-on, with my desire to be a helicopter parent
Ironically, the very day my daughter was to have spent the night at camp, we received a note about a field trip that was planned for the next day … to go ice skating.
This got the helicopter mom rotor system turning big time.
I’m supposed to be there for all her “firsts”
My girl had never been ice skating before, and I absolutely hated the fact that I was going to miss out on her very first time trying it.
I’d been there for her first time roller skating, after all, and I had so much fun watching her have fun. I was sure she would have fun ice skating too, and I didn’t want to miss it.
But then I thought about all the other firsts I would miss (and the ones I kind of wanted to), like her first kiss and her first time having sex. Her life and mine are intertwined forever, but they’re distinctly different.
I have to let her be her own person. It’s really all about HER getting to experience these firsts; not me.
I won’t be there to help her
This argument that formed in my mind was a particularly ridiculous one, considering I have never been ice skating before. How was I supposed to help her do something I’ve never done myself?
But I’m her mommy, and mommies are supposed to be there to help.
As it turns out, that was already taken care of. One of her new camp friends had told my daughter she would help her…and she did.
Sometimes mommies need to let go and let other people help their children.
What if she falls?
This has always been a particularly strong fear of mine. I never learned to ride a bike or a horse because I was afraid of falling. And the only times I ever went roller skating as a youth, I held onto the rail at all times.
As I said, my girl had been roller skating before, and she did great with that — even her first time. I figured she wouldn’t have that much trouble ice skating. Still, I knew that there was a real possibility she would slip and fall on the ice.
I just had to keep telling myself that the worst that would happen was she would fall and hurt herself, but any injury she sustained on the ice would most likely heal. And then she would be fine.
She went, I didn’t, and it all turned out okay
When I picked her up after camp that afternoon, the counselors said she did really well on the ice.
I asked her how everything went.
She said, with a giant smile on her face, “It was terrifying!”
She said she did fall a few times, but she didn’t get hurt badly. And, most importantly, she had so much fun she wants to try ice skating again!
We both learned some important lessons that day
Dr. Deborah Gilboa, of Ask Doctor G fame, is quoted as saying:
“As parents, we have a very difficult job. We need to keep one eye on our children now — their stressors, strengths, emotions — and one eye on the adults we are trying to raise. Getting them from here to there involves some suffering, for our kids as well as for us.”
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The day my daughter went ice skating for the first time without me, I think we both experienced a little suffering (her, the embarrassment of falling; me, the pain of a stifled need to control). But I think we both gained some things too.
She gained a confidence boost and built some stronger relationships with other people. I gained the knowledge that my daughter will be just fine without me, even when she’s doing things for the first time. Plus, I still got to experience the joy of her first time ice skating — just after the fact.
And I helped show her, through my willingness to let go, that you don’t let your fear and desire to control get in the way of living — or letting someone else live.