Free Range, Helicopter, Lawnmower: What Kind of Parent Are You? by Jessica Acree

Free Range, Helicopter, Lawnmower: What Kind of Parent Are You?

We're all just kind of rolling the dice on this parenting thing, so it comes as no surprise that we all do it differently. And that's OK, as long as our children are safe, well-loved, fed and supported in their own journey to thrive. Parenting styles are influenced by many factors. In the end, it's all just an evolving research and development project with multiple "choose your own adventure" decisions. So, what kind of parent are you?

recent article in the New York Times reveals that parents in other countries outside of the U.S. tend to be more laid back and less involved in their children's lives. The research compiled by contributor Lela Moore shows a general international shock at how much "we" in the U.S. hover over every move our kids make. Is it love? Is it worry? Is it inexperience? Is it generational?

I decided to see what my own American peers had to say. I asked a local mom group, an online parenting club and my personal friends to share insight into their parenting styles. The general response was split, with most leaning toward "free range" tendencies but with stipulations. Interestingly, those who declared themselves to be in the "helicopter" group also expressed a strong desire to one day learn how to pull back from that approach or to find a healthy balance. 

Here's how the free range parents described their stance:

  • "We are very hands on with our kids (participating in school stuff, coaching sports teams), but we also know when step back and let them work something out for themselves."
  • "Kids are smarter and more capable than we give them credit for."
  • "I believe kids need some independence to make good and bad choices to learn and to accomplish on their own."
  • "I like to let my kids make their own choices and learn from their mistakes. Let kids explore and discover [their] world. I love to watch and see what they find, every day [brings] some new discovery."
  • "I'm always there, but I'm more so in the background than the forefront (within reason, of course)."
  • "I let Q help me cook and I remind him the stove is hot, but I'm not going to hover to make sure he doesn't touch it when I chop veggies or something. He got too close once and has been really careful ever since."

Others feel compelled to be more involved to avoid catastrophe:

  • "In every situation she's in, I can't help but to immediately calculate all the ways she could die and then immediately figure out what obstacles to remove to ensure that doesn't happen. I keep telling myself that she must deal with difficulties to learn resilience and grit – maybe one of these days (years) it will sink in. #Help!"
  • "Ugh, I'm a helicopter mom, but I wish I wasn't. I hope to grow out of it once my kids are bigger, but at 2 and 10 months, I'm still paranoid about hitting their heads on stuff and choking. I'm a worrier so it's hard for me not to be a helicopter!"

Balance comes with strict boundaries and a big picture view:

  • "Drive home the rules to keep them as safe as possible when we aren't around and give them room to step up or fail. If they don't learn how to make decisions or how to pick themselves up from a fail, they won't do well in the world. Help them understand, give them tools for dealing with the problem, support them when they're hurt or frustrated. But we can't do it all for them or they become weak, unrealistic grownups."
  • "I believe I'm raising adults, not kids, and they have to learn to make good choices. I worry that I should make them suffer more natural consequences because they need to learn, but then I also think it's my job to make sure they have the tools to succeed."
  • "We all need some kind of structure, because that's how the world operates if we want to function in it. As well, children need to be allowed to fail, fall down, experience heartache and disappointment because none of us gets through this life without some kind of adversity."
  • "I set a boundary and expectation and I also allow natural consequences to happen. I held my children to the same standards as they would be held to in society. If we do everything for them, they will never grow up to be independent thinkers or problem solvers."

Safety and security also dictates a range in parenting styles:

  • "I'm a free range, helicopter parent. I let them experience the thrills of being a kid and minimize the danger. I'll let them climb to the top of a tree, warn them of the risk and catch them if they fall. Life doesn't cater to the individual, so it's my job as a father to teach, demonstrate and educate."
  • "I'm free-range at home and 100% helicopter outside of our home. There are too many things to worry about that I cannot control ... too many kids being abducted, sex-trafficked, my two-year-old running into traffic, etc. I have no other parenting goals other than to let them explore and learn freely in a comfortable and trusted environment and to keep them safe by all means necessary when we leave that environment."
  • "I'm a helicopter in unfamiliar or public settings. My kids are expected to stay at arms-length of me at all times and my little almost 3-year-old must be holding my hands. At home, I'm a totally free-range mama!"

For many age or personality becomes a big factor in their choices:

  • "Depends on the child, their age and the situation. For me, parenting was about being more flexible and willing to bend when I could, hold strong when necessary and know the difference between the two."
  • "I feel like I was a helicopter mom when they were younger, but now I'm more free range because they know I mean business. Age is definitely a factor!"
  • "It kinda depends on the child, frankly. Some need more rope and are capable with it. Some need to be micro-managed. Some, it depends on the scenario."

I hope you've gained some insight of your own from my informal survey as we all navigate the ever-changing seasons of parenting. There is certainly not a "one size fits all" mold, so trust your gut, lead by example and love them fiercely as you find balance in your family. Life is full of teachable moments and kids are incredibly observant, capable and resilient. Enjoy the ride!

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Jessica Acree
It was so fun to hear all of the different responses. Everyone has such a good perspective to share.
Elisa Schmitz
This is awesome, Jessica Acree ! I love reading everyone's perspective. I think I'm somewhere in the middle of all this, LOL. I believe balance is key in parenting (and life). The struggle is real, though, every day. Thank you for compiling this fascinating article!
Jessica Acree
You’re so welcome! Reading everyone’s approach really makes you think and evaluate your own style... in a good way! Parenting is certainly not for the faint of heart! ❤️
Rick St. Peter
My parenting style has evolved based on two factors: 1. Becoming a single parent after losing my wife and 2. Spending a year with my son in Romania. I tend to agree that, at least in Romania, parents are much more relaxed. We lived in a city of 250,000 that evolved from a town square. Most nights there would be kids playing in the square until late in the evening. Parents would sit in cafes and visit but there was no hovering. That was a major revelation for me. And it came within a year of losing my wife and frankly being a single helicopter/lawn mower parent would be exhausting. Now that we are back in the states, it is interesting to hear from other parents. My son was riding his bike to his youth group on Sunday. A parent messaged me and said, "We saw your son riding his bike to youth while we dropped off (whoever). It's so great that you let your child be a child." It is literally a .2 mile bike ride. I don't understand why more parents don't do things like that. Yes, I let my child be a child. Seems simple in retrospect.
Jessica Acree
I loooooooove that you took the time to share this!! What a unique perspective this gives you on comparing what we see and experience here vs. elsewhere. Such a lovely image from your time overseas; relaxed evenings with children playing and cafe chatter echoing in the square. Fascinating! I'm in my mid-30's and definitely had the run of the neighborhood when I was younger... we'd ride our bikes all over, played until dark... roamed to the park, into town, etc. And all before cell phones! I often wonder how I'll approach that similar time in my daughter's childhood when she gets older. Seems so different now! But that is such a great "memory" for me. Thanks so much for weighing in Rick St. Peter :)
Cynthia Miller
Thank you for taking the time to share -- made me think, to read various points of view. I'm a free range parent and am loving the results of years of "free-ranging." I see confidence and guts in my kids -- because they aren't scared to tackle things -- and there is such joy that comes with self-confidence. I agree with the perspective that teaching the rules of the world helps them become successful adults. I won't be there always. I think of it like this -- if they climb a tree, they could fall and break an arm. A broken arm can heal. But if they don't ever climb, they'll become stuck on the ground, rooted in fear; and fear becomes harder and harder to overcome. Isn't it hard to realize our job is simply to help them learn to live without us? :)

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