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Got your attention didn’t I? What is Vanilla Ice parenting you ask? Vanilla Ice parenting is my name for helicopter or rescue parenting. Pulled straight out of Ice, Ice, Baby (totally going to show how uncool I really am here) “If you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it” (you know you totally just sang the rest of it!)
So what exactly is rescue parenting? Rescue parenting (also called helicopter parenting, enabling and many other things) is basically just what is says. Parents “rescue” their children from life’s uncomfortable moments to keep them from getting hurt, disappointed or upset. They are the parents that are always there for their children, the ones that solve every problem that comes up. They are the parents that will bring forgotten homework to school, walk the dog when the kids forget, gather up all the dirty laundry from under their bed so they have clean clothes. I could go on and on, mainly because I was there, I know this story all too well.
Up until a few months ago, I was the ultimate rescue parent. I was the helicopter mom and I thought I was the bomb. I was truly supermom, I would swoop in and take care of any disappointment, insecurity or challenge. Sounds like a rock star parent, right? Nope, turns out I was creating more problems than I was solving. This all came to a head one dark and stormy night, okay not really, it was a Sunday afternoon, but it was about to get ugly at my house.
I asked my 9 year old daughter to put the chicken from lunch in containers and put them in the fridge. Simple task, right? Well we didn’t have any large containers, they were all already in use, so she turns to me and says “You are going to have to do it, I don’t have anything to put the chicken in” We had plenty of small containers which I pointed out to her. Her response “I can’t fit the chicken in there!” exasperated, I told her to I was busy and couldn’t help, she was going to have to do it. She immediately broke down into tears and started yelling “I CAN’T! I CAN’T! I CAN’T!!”
This was one of those OMG parenting moments when you realize the you have seriously screwed up. It hit me like a lightening bolt……I had kept my kids from learning how to problem solve. My whole parenting life flashed before me, and I was sick, I had failed them. All the times I had just done it for them, they had never learned how to figure things out on their own, how could they when supermom had always jumped in and stole that from them. Of course this epiphany was occurring as my 9 year was still carrying on at a glass shattering decibel in the kitchen. Just as quickly as I figured out the problem, I had the solution and it was simple. Let them fail, let them struggle, let them have the satisfaction of figuring things out on their own.
I looked my daughter straight in the eye and said the magic parenting words “I can’t help you with this. Figure. it. out” I wish I could say that she snapped out of her tantrum instantly and came up with a solution. Nope. What ensued was 3 hours of crying and carrying on. It broke my heart, it really did, but she needed to do this, she needed to know that she was capable of tackling tough problems. Finally, it got quiet and she walked to the fridge, emptied the contents of a larger container into one of the smaller containers and put the chicken away in the big container. It was an amazing moment for me and her. She learned she can do things without my help, and I learned that I was screwing her up royally by rescuing her all the time.
That was a turning point in my parenting career. I put an end to the Vanilla Ice parent and started letting my kids experience tough love, that their actions had consequences and more importantly that they could come up with solutions all on their own. You forgot your lunch at classes today? That’s too bad, you can have a snack when you get home. Someone hurt your feelings? That really sucks, what are you going to do about it? You got arrested for shoplifting? Bummer, make sure to tell your cellmate that you snore.
Actions have consequences, good and bad, kids need to experience it for themselves. It is so hard as parent to let them experience the bad things in life, we just want to protect them, comfort them and help them. The hard truth is that it is not helping them at all. We want our kids to grow up to be responsible, strong, functioning members of society, but do you think that will happen if mommy or daddy are always there to kiss it and make it better? Probably not.
A few weeks ago there was a heated debate in one of my online moms groups about rescue parenting. The debate started innocently enough, one mom asking for advice on how to handle the fact that she knew her daughter stole something from the store. The conversation quickly got heated when one mom suggested that she make her daughter go back to the store, pay for the item with her own money and apologize to the store manager. Out of nowhere this woman was viciously attacked for being callous and not respectful of the child’s feelings about the situation (ummm…..seriously?!), as you can imagine it spiraled out of control from there. Rescue parents pitted against the tough love parents, there was name calling, hair pulling, and the ultimate betrayal, unfriending. This topic tore the group apart in a matter of hours and left all of us involved battered, bruised and questioning our fitness to even be part of the human race, let alone parents.
I know this is a sensitive topic, so I want to say that I’m not a perfect parent. I don’t have it all together, I lose my shit on a regular basis, and I don’t always have the time to cater to a meltdown and still revert to “Oh for the love of Pete, just let me do it!” but I have seen massive improvements in my kids behavior and willingness to help since backing off and letting them experience life.
I’m not advocating a hands off approach to parenting. With tough love parenting, you are still the parent, you still set the rules, you are still their teacher and you are still there to give hugs, kisses and words of wisdom. You are still there to applaud the successes and commiserate when they experience disappointments.
Children remember the experience, that is what sticks with them, whether it is the satisfaction of solving a difficult problem on their own, or the consequence of having to wear dirty clothes because they didn’t put their dirty laundry where it goes. None of us are perfect parents and we will never raise perfect kids, all we can do is try to raise the most responsible kids we can.