Don’t Be a Helicopter; Consider the Hummingbird

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A lovely sprite of a bird who gently watches from a distance ... and only flutters in as need be.

The helicopter is a lousy image for a mother, anyway. Who ever came up with that? A behemoth, overbearing mass of heavy metal bearing down from above that doesn’t know how to keep its distance. That’s just me, sweetie, your devoted and caring Mom. A label slapped on good parents who care too much, as if that’s possible. How’d we get slapped with such a lousy metaphor?
    Flash back to the early 1900s. Kids walked miles by themselves. It was common for children as young as 8 to hoof it several miles to a favorite fishing haunt and not to be heard from all day. That’s just unfathomable now.
    The freedom to just … roam … is no longer an option for our kids. They can’t — or don’t — just run out the door to play in the backyard like kids once did. Not enough of them do, anyway.
    Wait. Is it possible WE had something to do with that? “Stay inside; it’s too hot!” we say. “Stay inside; it’s too cold!” we say. “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous!” and, ending a call, “Goodbye, I love you, be careful!”        
    When I was a kid, my best friend and I rode bikes to town on a busy road with a narrow shoulder. Cars made large half moons around us and the wind whipped our faces. It was awesome. Riding bikes to town hardly happens today because something might happen. This is all making me so sad!

Keep Your Distance

    Look, it’s almost summer. Our kids will be underfoot within a day of school break and we’ve got to have things in mind for them to do. We can’t wrap them up in cotton batting and tell them to sit still. Many of you may like that idea, but what would it do to the kids? Make them fearful … and pasty white. Here comes the good part:     
Research shows that kids deprived of contact with the outdoors are at greater risk for depression and anxiety. Boom.
    But before you run to the door, swing it wide and cry, “Go play on the freeway!” consider this: I think we DO have to think about ways to let kids play outside without our constant presence. We DO have to have OK places for them to roam.  Freedom is a right. We are never meant to be held back. And another thing: For kids to grow up happily, they need to feel like they can do things for themselves. Without us. What better way for your child to learn independence than for you to set him free? And trust. He will figure things out on his own with his ingenuity. He has a ton of it. And responsiveness. And creativity. The very thing experts say keeps depression and stress at bay. We need to learn to keep our distance.
    My oldest boy loves the outdoors. He has a favorite place where he fishes, and he loves to be up early with the sunrise to go there. I started letting him go at 13.  A solid age, I thought, and a solid boy. I also know where the pond is — it has my seal of approval. Of my four kids, my outdoor-loving son just may be the happiest.
    When are kids allowed to walk down a dirt road by themselves picking honeysuckle and blackberries? And just being?
    Let’s not be helicopters, then, let’s be hummingbirds. A lovely sprite of a bird who gently watches from a distance … and only flutters in as need be. 

Susan Swindell Day is editor in chief of this publication and the mom of four great kids.

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