I have been a father for 13 years. It has been a journey of learning about my own strengths and weaknesses. It has had ups and downs. I have been stretched to put away my own schedules, plans, preferences, and iPhone.
But I didn’t realize until recently how little I know about parenting. It amazes me how the Western minds loves categories. We love to observe something, analyze it, categorize it, label it, and then we can move on to the next category.
And apparently this is all the rage in parenting. I have been well aware of the ubiquitous category of “helicopter parent” but have recently had the phrases, “snowplow parent”, “dolphin parent”, “jellyfish parent”, and “tiger parent” added to my vocabulary.
Defining these categories is important for us to understand what society is saying, but I am going to make a case that these categories can be harmful to parents who desire to raise children in Godliness.
What most people mean when they refer to helicopter parents, is a parent who is too involved in the life of their children. They hover around them making sure that everything is going well. They are overly involved in the social life of their children (usually to the chagrin of the child) and they are ready to sweep in to rescue the child.
I have only heard the term “helicopter parent” used in derogatory ways. Yet, I assure you that I would love to have a literal helicopter on standby the first time my daughter goes on a date. If she needs help, or wants out, or if she calls wanting a ride home, guess who would be there in a heartbeat. Now maybe the point is that the helicopter parent actually goes on the date with the older teen child, but let me say, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. My point here is to say, involvement in our kids lives IS vital. I have heard a basic mockery of parents who want a deep level of involvement in the life of their children. Kids do need to be progressively trusted with more and more responsibility, but simultaneously, they need to know that mom and dad are there to help out if they get in over their heads (which will happen . . . They are teens).
The second category is “snowplow parents”. These are parents who go out ahead of their children plowing away every potential hurdle the child will face. They talk with teachers about homework assignment in advance. They get in good with the coach. They fill out applications and do all the responsible things for the child.
This parenting style sounds all bad with no good, but I want to confess that I have employed this style with my son who has Asperger’s Syndrome. To get out ahead of social situations, to meet with teachers, to explain his behaviors in advance is a part of what it means to set my son up for success in the routines of daily life.
The next three categories are more tied into the atmosphere and attitude of parents in general. “Dolphin parents” are more fun and try to teach by engaging the kids on their level. They are trying to keep interaction light and positive. “Tiger parents” are direct and strict disciplinarians, with structure and order, ruling their households. They have a tendency to provide consequences in response to broken rules. “Jellyfish parents” have little structure and little guidance for their children. They define very little in the way of rules, but also have very little in the way of structure.
So there it is. You can take a test online, find out what kind of parent you are, justify your stand and run with it! But the twisted thing in our culture, is that we are quick to define categories. We can dissect something as complex as parenting, feel like we have helped by defining the categories, but in our tolerant and non-judging culture, we refuse to suggest that there is right way to parent.
The helicopter and snowplow parents tend to neglect to prepare their children to launch out on their own. Many of these kids will be unequipped to do things for themselves. Mom and dad have always got it done for them. Children of Tiger parents have not been raised with much nurture and loving correction. Children of Dolphins have rarely been told “no” and often have parents that are primarily friends, but not authorities. And jellyfish families, are going to struggle to keep their kids out of trouble.
But what if by dissecting parenting in this way, we have merely carved out of the guts of parenting some of the essential systems that are required in a healthy family? These styles bring to mind 4 things that kids need from parents, that are not defined by any one of the five parenting styles I have mentioned.
1. Kids need parents who are on their team. Kids (even teens) need to know that they belong to a “herd” that thinks about them and cares enough to have the helicopter fueled and ready to fly!! Hovering and ever present is too far, but available and ready and EAGER to help is what it means to be a good parent! And sometimes that even goes to the extent of removing an obstacle or two for a kid. I am not advocating that we dress down a coach about why our kid is the best goalie, pitcher, center, or whatever. But my inability to define for you what is worthy of going to bat for, just emphasizes my main point, that parenting doesn’t fit into nice little categories.
2. Kids need structure and rules in the household,
that mimic real life. They will eventually work for an employer that will make demands on them for time, effort, and responsibility. The Tiger parent excels at this, but all parents need to employ rules to help their children be effective in life.
3. Kids need to have love and connection. If everything in the household is only ever business, kids will not experience the love, nurture and care of the family. Having fun ought not be merely a byproduct, but should be an intentional goal of parenting.
4. Kids need unstructured time. The jellyfish parent seems like the easiest to blast, but they are on to something. Kids develop a lot of social skills in the downtime of play. As they get older they need to be given more responsibility, but young children just need time to be kids figuring out the world in the safe environment of home.
My goal in parenting is to leverage the time that I have with my kids to instill in them, responsibility, love, enjoyment, belonging, but most importantly a recognition of God.
Rather than accept a label, I would prefer to stretch out into the areas that do not come naturally to me. And after writing all of these words, there is only one hope for me that my children will turn out okay. I pray that God’s grace would grab them and hold them close through all the ups and downs of life! Better a Jellyfish that prays, than a Tiger that doesn’t!