As if parenting a pre-teen and teen was not already challenging enough, try raising a teenager in Latin America, where wine is consumed more than water and the youth enjoy unlimited freedom.  My American style parenting has proven to be quite the contrast with this international community’s “hands off” parenting mentality.  You would think I would lock my kids up and never let them out. However,  the more I observe this parenting style, the more I believe “they might” be on to something.

Being in an international school we are exposed to many different cultures and methods of parenting.  Very few of my girls friends are Americans, so I am in constant observation of parenting techniques outside of my home country.  I never thought of myself as  a true “Helicopter Mom”, however in comparison to my international parent peers, I would defiantly classify as a “hoverer”.

Wikipedia  defines a “Helicopter Mom” as “an early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions”.

I however, think what really defines a helicopter mom is the word “interference”.  The true Helicopter Mom is a micro manager of their child’s life and truly believes it is their duty to assist their child at any indication of distress. Always running to the rescue and doing everything in their power to prevent their child from failing or heaven forbid making mistakes.

A slightly different parenting perspective, are the parents I observe in my community everyday, who rarely see cause to interfere, on anything.  For example,  the middle school recently added a new addition with beautiful new classrooms and outdoor patios.  However two months into the school year the 8th graders, (my child), still did not have lockers.  I understood they had a huge influx of students, and it is difficult to get imported products in Argentina, but  two months was too long for this parent!  I organized an 8th grade moms lunch early in the school year to rally the troops, get some support  and discuss the many issues like this affecting our children.  As much as my 8th grade moms “appreciate” my due diligence and the way I bring us all together each month, they did not view this as a huge priority.  They viewed managing without lockers as just another life hurdle their kids need to work through on their own.

Knowing these families well, I know they are not dead beat parents who are unconcerned, they are just the opposite, they are very aware of events in their kids’ lives but rarely if ever do they interfere.   Unless there is danger involved, or something is seriously interfering with their academics, they let their kids have the freedom to figure it out on their own.  They don’t care so much about, “what will people think” as what will their kids gain from making their own decisions and occasionally making mistakes. The result in my opinion is extremely self reliant and mature kids.   They develop confidence from being empowered to make their own decisions and learn early on there are good consequences and bad consequences associated with their actions.

My perspective has always been more involvement in my child’s live equals more love, I have always preferred to catch my children before they fall, and helping them along every step of the way, that’s my job right?  I would never let my child actually complete a school project on her own without my help, after all their project in some way represents our family.  She has to have a great project that shows how much her parents love and support her.   At the Lincoln school,  it is quite the opposite, how embarrassed was I when we first arrived and I assisted Lauryn with her “All About Me” poster.  With scrapbook gear in hand “we” created quite a display, and quite the display we were.  The hallway was covered with posters clearly done by students themselves and there was Lauryn’s, decked out with perfect scrapbook circles and borders.  I thought about sneaking into the school to take it down, but it was an early lesson for me, that kids are encouraged to 100% of their own work without interference!

Lincoln school is down right insistent that all parents engage in the “Back off Parenting “ approach .  For example, we are instructed very clearly that students with questions in regards to homework are to first contact a peer with any homework related questions. If that does not resolve the issue they are to move on to all the online available resources on the school website.  If that still does not produce an answer then and only then can they ask parents for hints, not answers!  The desired result is kids who are developing problem solving skills on their own without parent assistance.  The school frowns heavily on bringing  your child their forgotten homework, or soccer cleats, as that is the child’s responsibility, not the parents.  Letting forgotten cleats sit on the floor all day while I could have easily brought them to the school is so painful.  But the theory is, the child will never learn personal responsibility if we keep doing everything for them, they need to own their own problems and find solutions.

The very first school soccer game I attended in Argentina for my girls, I thought we had the wrong time as there were hardly any parents present.  All of the kids were out on the field ready to go, but I could only see a few parents.  The parents who did come to watch were not lined up with their chairs on the sideline ready to tell their kids exactly what to do and what they are doing wrong,  these parents were standing away from the field engaged in conversation and not even looking at the field.   I remember thinking how horrible, as I then began instructing my child to do something I thought she could be doing better!

I have come a long way in my soccer hovering.  I am still the parent though half listening to the mother trying to have a conversation with me and half watching the game.  I cannot overcome my occasional urge to yell from the sideline and I am not alone, literally all the American parents are screaming as our international peers look at us with distain.  The non-American parents that do show up to the game,  do not see this game as a defining moment in her child’s life, they rarely know the score and could care less if their child missed the perfect goal shot or let one by them on defense. It is their child’s game to play and they do not interfere.  As a result these kids are free to play the game listening only to their coach and their instincts.  Occasionally they make mistakes along the way, but they are figuring it out on their own with no one screaming from the sidelines the entire game to the point where there is so much pressure the kids are afraid to move.

After many years of sitting on the sidelines piling on the pressure, I recently had an opportunity to truly understand what this feels like for my girls.  I wouldn’t exactly say I was voted athlete of the year in my younger years, but for the last two years, I have found myself completely dedicated and in love with tennis and am working with a coach who appreciates my dedication and would like to see me finish in the top three of my league.  I have enjoyed the attention and working towards an athletic goal, however lately, I have noticed something affecting my games, nerves!  As a student of Sergio, he has certain “expectations”  of his students.  We know that Sergio relates how we perform during a match as a direct reflection on his coaching ability.  I was joking with my tennis friends this week that it has become not to uncommon for Sergio to scold me for missing an easy shot, or making me show up for additional practices to work on elements of my swing, and mandating warm up criteria before my matches.  In addition he knows my opponents each week and has taken to scouting them and pointing out their weaknesses to me during our practices.

This is supposed to be a casual league, however, after losing a big match last week, I found myself on Google translator an hour before my lessons, desperately trying to articulate to Sergio how I managed to let the match get away from me.   I noticed with all this “attention”, I am spending the first few games simply calming my nerves and trying to regain my focus.   I love tennis so much I could play every day all day, but under these pressure circumstances, I have been secretly hoping for rain as the pressure is too much for me!  Sergio is always at the tennis club so he always manages to catch a portion of my match.  Usually the portion where I am playing badly.  If I happen to look over, I will look usually find him watching me with arms crossed and a serious expression motioning me to focus.  Unfortunately, this does nothing for me but make me lose focus and become more nervous.  I am pretty sure this is exact stance I have used a time or two on the sidelines of my girls soccer game.  You can bet I make it a point now to always be smiling with thumbs up on the sideline even if that is not how I am feeling.  I think my girls are wired like me, we can perform much better, and enjoy the game so much more when the pressure is not piled on.  Seeing my girls play soccer here in this environment has been a true eye opener.  They are having a blast, sure they are making plenty of mistakes and I want to scream at the top of my lungs!  But it’s just not the way it’s done here.  As a result my kids come off the field happy and feeling good about themselves, not discouraged because they were yelled at the whole game.

So my theme from Argentina continues, “Balance, Balance, Balance”  and as I have discovered from the help of my international friends,  parenting is not excluded from this theme.    Of course I am occasionally the parent that gets a condescending looks from the middle school secretary when I am dropping of important homework or a forgotten uniform.  I still  make lots of suggestions for school projects,  and of course I still dish out more advice than my kids would like and establish boundaries to shelter my girls from making mistakes.  However, I am also taking a few pages from my international peers playbook.  I am not ready for 3:00 a.m. curfews for my 13 year old, but I am “trying” to be sensitive to more realistic expectations, and occasionally allowing my girls more freedom to make mistakes and most of all providing more encouragement for the girls to resolve their own issues and become their own advocates, without mom’s interference…….let’s see how long it last!

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