ARE YOU A ‘SUPPORTIVE’ PARENT, OR ‘HELICOPTER PARENT’?
The other day, I caught a few minutes of a popular radio show featuring two women who make their living talking about books, movies, current events, and pop culture. One of the show hosts was sharing the idea that, once or twice a month she liked to brings a homemade meal to her son, who is in his early 20’s and attending college. While she was talking about how much she enjoyed using her crock pot to easily whip up something tasty, her co-host rudely butted in and accused her (in a shaming, holier than thou tone of voice), of being a ‘helicopter parent.’
The term "helicopter parent" (in case you haven’t heard the term) was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book Parents & Teenagers, by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. Helicopter parents are said to take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures. They tend to be over-controlling, over-protecting, and over-perfecting, in the lives of their children, in a way that goes beyond responsible parenting. The host of the show who was doing the accusing, was basically implying that the son of her on-air co-host would never learn to cook for himself, if she did it for him. He would never, for that matter, learn how to do his own laundry, or talk to a teacher, or (fill in the blank!).He’d be stripped of his confidence and self esteem and turned into a brat with a sense of entitlement.
Really, I asked myself? It’s not okay to prepare and share a meal with your young adult child a couple times a month, without feeling that you’re making a terrible parenting mistake? Hog wash, I decided, --especially coming from the mouth of a woman who more than once, has told her listening audience that she didn’t have kids and didn’t want them. (It was obvious to me, that she only knew how to view parenting through a black and white lens.)
Either way, I decided that I wanted to send an email to this accuser, and nicely share my own perspective about her comments. So I did. And I got a short, prickly response back: “I’ve been giving my friend crap on the radio for years” she said. She added, “She was secretly laughing behind her defensive façade.” Well, if that’s true, and I suppose it could have been (given the fact that show ratings are built on friction and drama), then so be it. But, honestly, I don’t think their banter served as a good public service announcement.
What I had conveyed to the accusatory woman in my email, centered on a couple of key ideas that probably wouldn’t surprise you much, if you know anything about my background in the realms of food, nutrition, health, and healing.
First, (I reminded her) “food is love.” We share food, to express love. The age of who we might prepare and share food/love with, doesn’t matter. What matters is that we create the opportunity to get together and “break bread.”
Secondly, preparing and sharing a healthy meal for our young adult children is not just a caring gesture, it offers too be a teaching moment. Why is this important? It’s important because millions of young people are suffering from some sort of serious health issue (think anxiety, depression, overwhelm, mood disorders, obesity, and gut imbalances, etc.)
Thirdly, our children (no matter how old they are) learn in phases, and benefit from our wisdom in phases. We can show them how to make cookies and pancakes when they’re little kids. But as they become young adults, they don’t stop needing (secretly seeking) our guidance.
I don’t disagree that we should give our kids room to grow into adults and experience a sense of accomplishment while doing things on their own, including meal making. Sometimes, in that process, we might even need to ‘look the other way’ temporarily, if they decide to eat Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But when does the time come, to tell them that Ramen noodles contain high amounts of sodium and saturated fat, as well as a toxic petroleum based food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ)? When does the time come, to tell them that noodles cooked in a microwave oven contain radiation by-products that scientists say, alter human DNA?
As a parent, I’ve always had a good reason to be concerned about my son’s health and nutritional needs. You see, at the age of seven, he nearly died from gangrene appendicitis. While in the hospital, he was on antibiotics for over a month. His gut health was compromised, and he developed neuroimmune symptoms. Needless to say, he became a kid with special dietary needs, including the need to curb (mostly omit) his consumption of dairy, sugar, and wheat.
If, like me, you’re a parent of a child, teenager, or even a young adult with special dietary needs, you know that it’s essential to help them stay on top of their dietary needs and restrictions. It’s essential to remind them about the kinds of foods that will make them “feel good” versus “feel bad.” To an outsider, this kind of attention on a young person’s dietary needs might look like ‘helicopter parenting.’ But in reality, it’s not. It’s simply the supportive action that a parent must take, to insure their child gets the results they need. It’s no different than a parent teaching their diabetic child to give themselves a life-saving insulin shot.
When I prepare and share an occasional healthful meal with my now 33 year old grown son, I’m not concerned that I’m being a ‘helicopter parent.’ I’m confident that I’m using food to remind him of the many delicious, health-giving food choices he has at his disposal for protecting his health and expanding his dietary repertoire. I’m confident that I’m using food to share with him, an interesting fact about the connection between his health and the environment’s health. Learning and caring don’t stop, just because he’s an adult.
And, when my son says to me: “The food you made tasted great mom, ---you’re gonna have to show me how to make that”, I feel that I’m doing something worthwhile that may actually have lasting value in his life.
Model good health, and be proud of your efforts!
Candia Lea Cole/Founder, Eco-Learning Legacies