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The 36-Hour Day

with Amy Urquhart

I’m Amy and I’ve spent the last three years trying to strike that perfect balance between being a wife, mom and professional career woman. I’ve decided that I’ll never perfect the art of “having it all”, but this blog is a chronicle of my attempts to continue to do so. I’m a blogger (my personal blog about Canadian home life is Hearts into Home), gardener, college instructor, wife to Graham and mom to Nate. If you’re also a working mom who finds there just aren’t enough hours in the day, I hope you’ll enjoy this column!

Read her blog at Hearts into Home.

Is it ever OK to be a helicopter parent?

Categories: Hacking Life, Parenting


The neighborhood kids are out on their bikes, and my youngest two want to join the fun. But my little son is only 2 1/2, and my tall daughter just 4 1/2 — younger than any of the other kids by at least a year, in spite of her height.

So I helmet them up and let them grab her scooter and his trike and push them into the cul-de-sac, and I stand there, by the mailbox, watching them try hard to keep up with the others. They can’t, of course — the difference between 4-1/2 and 5-1/2 can be steep, for some things — but they’re not discouraged. They try, and I watch, and then I notice… I’m the only adult out there.

Overbearing or just cautious? At what point can you — should you — stop hovering?

When you’re a step parent, you’re forced to give up some of your helicopter tendencies, at least for part of the year. You can’t control situations that you’re not privy to, no matter how much you’d like to try. And I don’t think the hovering counts completely if you’re kid is still in preschool.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I played outside without supervision all the time, venturing off our front lawn and well into the woods at the end of the street. We followed my parents rules — no bike riding on the busy road, no building forts deep in the woods during deer hunting season (really! A neighbor’s kid nearly got shot once!), no going off without telling an adult where you’re headed — but it was the ’70s, and things were different then.

Now, when my older kids (ages 15, 13, and 11) want to go to the park down the street by themselves, I let them — as long as they bring a cell phone and check in. I’d be willing to drop my teenagers at the movies with some friends, and only be a little tempted to spy until I was certain they’d entered the correct theater. And of course, it’s not a problem, for me, if they’re hanging out in the cul-de-sac. But the little two? I don’t feel comfortable letting them too far out of my sight just yet. has a quiz you can take, to see if you’re a helicopter parent at heart. (My results indicate that I’ve “found balance,” which is funny, because it sure doesn’t feel like it.)

When it is OK to be a helicopter parent? And how old do you think the kids should be before you stop?

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9 comments so far...

  • There was a violent incident around the corner from my home on Monday night. The police ended up shooting a man and another escaped custody and was at large for the rest of the night. The thing is, this was not a surprising incident in my neighborhood. The last time I lived in this part of the greater metro area, it was the nicest part of town so naturally, when we had the opportunity to move there, we jumped.

    It’s actually the worst part of town now - but we didn’t know that. We’re desperately trying to move out.

    The point of noting that is this: How safe do you feel? Our neighbors who are largely absentee parents (due to freely admitted drug addiction) let their kids roam the streets without any supervision - and it shows in their development. The eldest of the group (mind, this isn’t one family of neighbors - it’s a few) routinely steals things from others, lies and we caught him stuffing a kitten into the grill in his yard (it abuts ours) one day. He rides his bike in the middle of a busy street and intentionally swerves out in front of cars.

    The younger kids follow suit. Their parents, though we’ve tried to talk to them all, have made it clear that they don’t care.

    So, in the face of the inherent dangers in my neighborhood, coupled with the group of kids with no supervision and parents who don’t care, you bet that if Amelie weren’t a bay, I would be hovering all over that.

    In fact, I wouldn’t let her play with them at all.

    But if I lived on a quieter residential street where I knew that parents all looked after the kids as they played, be it from the front porch or from a window, I probably would feel more comfortable letting them go.

    Phe  |  August 6th, 2009 at 7:02 am

  • My kids are 2.5 and I am not yet comfortable letting them go down the street alone. They know very well that they are to stay out of the street, and they do, but because they are so short, someone could accidentally back their car over them in a driveway. I don’t think they are old enough to be entirely cognizant of the dangers around them. Or maybe they are, but I’m not ready to find out the hard way.

    I do let the girls run off ahead as far as they want during walks, but I am able to see danger coming and intervene if necessary.

    I am thinking that around age 4 they will be able to go down the street to visit their friend without Mom. However, I note that I can see the entire street from my bedroom window, and I would probably still watch the first several times.

    At the playground, I like to sit off to the side and let the girls do whatever they want (they are good about following rules), but my youngest has decided it’s great fun to hang and swing on monkey bars (the horizontal ladder types) far above the ground, without first checking whether she’ll be able to get down on her own. So I do have to be vigilant and ready to run. But I won’t stand there ready to catch her the whole time she is playing. If it’s a new or particularly high/treacherous thing, yes, but otherwise, they need to learn to use their own brains in conjunction with their bodies.

    I tend to agree that you really can’t be a “helicopter mom” to a preschooler. You do need to give them ever-increasing freedom, but you also have to be ready to run to their rescue at a moment’s notice.

    SKL  |  August 6th, 2009 at 9:56 am

  • I actually felt that yesterday at the playgroud. Took my 19 month old to the park and she was climbing up to go to the slides, trying to climb up using the ropes et al.
    And i was right there.. hovering over her. With my wrist just below her tush- just in case.
    I looked around, adn yes i was the only one peering over my daughter! Well, yes the other kids were a bit older.. and so i said, ok, let me try and let her be..
    So i did, i let her go up and come down the slide all by herself. Generally i am right there below to reduce her speed … and guess what, She fell down… Nothing happened. She brushed her hands, and her dress, and said “Victory” (That what we tell her when she hurts herself and does not cry!) She went again to climb over slide.

    But i was right there to reduce her speed… I dont know when i should stop hovering for such simple things!

    GNSD  |  August 6th, 2009 at 11:23 am

  • I try to balance hovering and giving my 2 1/2 year old space. I think it is very age and ability dependent (and as pointed out location dependent). I must say it isn’t always a bad thing. On more than one instance I have helped out children who at playgrounds who have gotten stuck, scared or try things above their abilities. In all cases I never even knew who or where the parent was. Glad I could help, but I would never want my child in that situation. That doesn’t mean I don’t let her go or play, but it isn’t wrong to keep an eye out.

    Stacey S  |  August 6th, 2009 at 2:23 pm

  • Excuse me, but I had to laugh. When I first read the title, I was waiting for a mom who was actually the parent of a helicopter pilot. It drew me because I just let my 16 year old get his motorcycle permit. I’m now a motorcycle mamma! But I don’t think it’s too far off topic, just a little older. The true question to ask is, how much do you trust your kids, neighborhood and friends. My son is not a risk taker. Never has been. So to let him do something dangerous like ride a motorcycle, I trust him to not be reckless. He was left home alone younger than the others because of his personality and willingness to follow rules and just has a tendency to be responsible. My youngest is the daredevil…she’s not allowed to leave my sight until she is 30! Motorcycle-forget it! Never! No! NO! NO! And she will not be left home alone for a long time. Her impulses just overwhelm her. But as she matures and gains my trust, I’ll start loosening the reigns. With her, I am more than a helicopter parent. I’m leach mom> always attached since she was born.

    PS> I have 4 kids so it’s kind of funny that the last is my wild child…and I love every minute of it!

    Naomi  |  August 6th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

  • Kids need space to make mistakes (and yes, sometimes get a boo-boo) so that they can learn to be independent. There’s a difference between supervising and hovering. The mom who has a hand on her 19-month-old the entire time the kid is on the slide - assuming it’s a kiddie slide and not a tall one, that’s hovering. Hanging out and keeping an eye on two much younger kids out with the crowd - that’s supervising.

    Hovering is maybe OK in a potentially dangerous situation such as near water, but even then, the child needs a bit of space.

    akmom  |  August 7th, 2009 at 7:29 am

  • It’s a fine line. Here’s how I help the parents I see in my therapy practice distinguish when they should step in and when they should allow freedom. Is it a safety issue? Meaning is it physically or emotionally unsafe to allow your child to try it alone. If you support your child, rather than rescue, you will help them grow into becoming independent responsible adults, and isn’t that what every parent wants?

    Creativity Queen  |  August 7th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

  • This is not the 70’s i agree where running around the neighborhood freely was not a threat. i have three boys 2-11. Last year was the first year i let him out of my sight to go to his friends houses and sleep over day events on the week ends etc and was comfortable. My 6 year old will play in groups but is not willing to go anywhere with out an adult or his older brother. my 2 year old does not go anywhere with out an escort

    No matter what age they are we will always be concerned but to honestly think at this day and age letting them walk alone at childhood ages - i would not consider it a bit and neither would my friends of 40 years.

    HEIDI  |  August 10th, 2009 at 7:17 pm

  • Ok, when I saw the title of this blog I was VERY prepared to say NO! and I still am, BUT there is a definite line here. When I hear the term “helicopter parent”, the meaning is a whole lot different than the sceniros you all have given. To me, a “helicopter parent” is a parent who is SO involved in their child that they quite literally suffocate the kid and won’t let them do anything for themselves. They intervene in EVERYTHING, from school, to jobs, to relationships. THAT kind of “helicopter parent” is a ROYAL PITA and needs to get a LIFE of their own.

    However, there are concerned parents who need to PARENT, not suffocate the child. As someone said, let them get boo-boos. Watch them for anything harmful, BUT if they fall down, they’ve got to learn to get up, dust themselves off, and get back in the game. If you save them from everything, they won’t learn anything. They won’t learn independence, self reliance, etc.

    There comes a time when you’ve GOT to learn to cut the apron strings and let them fly. Helicopter parents refuse to let them even try and instead do it for them. Those parents are harming their children in ways they refuse to even acknowlege and the kids WILL be a PITA because of it because they EXPECT mommy to step in.

    So, when their little, watchful eyes and close at hand is one thing. But when they’re older, that’s a whole different ball game.

    Jane  |  March 11th, 2013 at 12:43 pm

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