Did Being a Helicopter Mom Doom My Marriage (and Kids)?

Readers — This is one of the most reflective, honest things I’ve ever read about parenting and marriage. It comes to us from Kristina Beth, in Utah. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This is my first time saying anything on this website, but I’ve often heard about this blog from my coworker.  In the beginning, I thought she was more or less nuts, despite there being some nuggets of wisdom she mentioned.  I am recently divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, and I can’t get the Free-Range philosophy out of my mind.  Am I saying Free-Range Kid-raising would have saved my marriage?  I don’t think anything is that simple.  And yet, if some things had been done differently, who knows?

I was pretty much the classic helicopter mom and I was proud of it.  I think it drove my ex-husband nuts, but I was the mom at home and he wasn’t.  Besides, what’s wrong with taking good care of kids?  My kids went nowhere without me, or at least my complete approval.  I made sure they were entertained.  When things in school went badly, I intervened.  When drama came up with friends, I was there representing my kids’ cases.  I made sure all of my kids’ needs were met and as many reasonable wants as I could supply.  If they called, I came running. Because that is what a good mom did.  Did my husband get shoved to the background occasionally?  Probably more often than I realized.  But, hey, that was part of parenting.

I still have two minor kids at home and five I wish I could say were on their own.  I figured if they made it to 18 and left the house, my job was done.  It didn’t happen that way.  My adult children were still calling me.  At first, it seemed normal, all those little things you forget about as you make your way into the world.  Hah. I can’t call it normal anymore.  The more I heard myself saying, “Can’t you figure it out on your own?” the more it seemed something was out of place.  I mentioned the two minor children at home?  I have them, plus two adults with their significant others and their children.  No jobs, no clue.  Yes, we are working (with a counselor) to remedy this living situation, but out of the children I have, only one is what you call independent.  I never intended my family to turn out this way.  Maybe I can’t be blamed for all their choices, but now that I look back I wonder that if I had let them fall on their butts a few more times they might have learned a few more lessons.

I recently threatened my teenage son with the typical “I won’t be there to fix it for you” remark.  When I mentioned the conversation to one of my daughters, she said “Oh, Mom, of course you will.”  That was a blow, but a fair one.  Habits are hard to break.

And then there is the subject of my ex-husband.  I think he saw it coming.  We had fights, huge arguments about the children, with him specifically saying I needed to step back, especially when they were adults, and let them make their own mistakes.  He hated having adult children and their families living in our home.

I don’t want to place the typical nuclear family up on a pedestal and say it’s the best one for everyone, but I’m beginning to wonder if this focus on being “the best parent” isn’t a bad idea.  My ex and I were supposed to be PARTNERS.  It should not have been about him simply being about an accessory to be used occasionally in the child-rearing department.  I married him because we were in love and we seemed a good fit. Not to have kids, but to be companions to each other.  Ideally, most of my kids should have been out the door years ago.  Isn’t that the idea?  Marry, raise a few kids, send them off to live their own lives, and continue being married?

Divorce happens.  I’m not championing staying together “just because.”  But we should be entering marriage with more focus on our partners, not any potential children.  Instead of spending so much time worrying about my children, taking care of my children, I should have been giving my relationship with my husband a little more attention.

By all means, we should love our children.  By all means, we should take care of them.  But we should be viewing the family as a whole.

Was my divorce the right thing?  It’s complicated, there is so much more to it than just kids, and in light of everything it was the best choice.  But I have to wonder, if I had let my kids be kids and let myself be a wife, maybe things could have been a little different. – Kristina\

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To which I replied: Kristina — First of all, thank you for being so honest. Secondly, I think you’re right that divorce is never about just one thing. Thirdly, raising seven kids is hard no matter what your “parenting philosophy”! Fourthly, even I — Ms. Free-Range Kids — don’t believe there’s a magic cut-off date for making kids independent, and I have every confidence that even your older kids can become self-sufficient people if that’s what everyone wants. For instance, while I urge people to encourage their kids’ competence early on, I didn’t touch raw chicken or cook a “real” meal till age 25. So, things can happen at different paces.

Good luck to you. It’s hard to stand up and say, “Maybe I was wrong.” To me it’s so brave and inspiring that you did, it makes me think you’re ready for anything. Even happiness. – L

“I was the classic helicopter mom.  I think it drove my husband nuts.”

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