Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Butterfly Story

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During my college counseling and administration days, I witnessed the beginning of helicopter parenting, and that was a long time ago. I even saw a few hints while I was in college and, well, let’s just say I’m not doing the math for you on that one. Some of my dorm companions couldn’t wake themselves up for class. Mom had always done it for them.

Fast forward to the 21st century: university staffers now hire academic advisors who make sure athletes who participate in high profile sports get to class. The advisers also constantly monitor grades, performance and study activities for the athletes.

Parents call the professor, coach or president to handle such problems as a bad grade or perceived mistreatment. Mainly parents feel compelled to intervene on the behalf of their grown-up child on the “troubled side of things”. Unfortunately for bosses, this has spread into the arena of work, too. Parents are calling employers to handle their children’s work related problems for them.

Syndicated newspaper columnist Lisa Earle McLeod tells us, “A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that HR directors are actually having to field calls from recruits’ parents wanting to discuss the benefit package being offered their child.

If my mom had called my first boss at Procter & Gamble, I think he would have retracted his offer.”

This made me laugh. I imagine the Registrar’s job at a small community college would still be mine if my parents had negotiated my benefits and salary. Oh, but aren’t there times when it would be nice to have a parent handle employment disputes?
Somewhere between “just go and do it…because I said to” and “you can only have 1,000 text messages a month,” parenting transitioned from being detached to being the personal manager as well as the maid.

Some of this micromanaging stuff makes perfect sense. I completely understand it from the perspective of what I allow and don’t allow my daughter to do…like roaming the streets for hours on end or playing stickball unsupervised all afternoon. Now it’s up to Mom to drive little Janie over to her friends and to buy all the latest new gadgets to keep little Janie occupied when a friend isn’t available.

With the advent of cell phones, text messaging, email, and instant messaging it’s much easier to stay connected—to be a regular feature in your child’s life. And it’s harder to separate—to draw the line between hovering for safety reasons and going overboard.

I’m sure there are many good reasons for parents to hover, but there are even better reasons not to do so. Maybe you’ve heard the butterfly story. A little boy finds a cocoon and waits for the butterfly to appear. Eventually the cocoon splits in half and a damp butterfly beats its wings as it struggles to get out. Worried that the butterfly will not be able to escape, the boy grabs the cocoon and pulls it apart.
The boy breaks the butterfly free, but it falls to the ground, unable to fly. In order for its wings to be strong enough to fly, a butterfly must first struggle against the cocoon.

How well I know that watching your child deal with the frustrations, hardships and stresses of life is hard to do, but it is necessary. For our children to be able to handle the fortitudes of life, they must be allowed opportunities to struggle, to strengthen their wings.

And don’t forget, I love to receive your emails and questions.

Allyn Evans