Tag Archives: time

A Hidden Cause of Helicopter Parenting

A few days ago a friend of mine posted this article from Slate, “Why Millennials Can’t Grow Up: Helicopter parenting has caused my psychotherapy clients to crash land.”

The author is a mental health professional who’s seen a dramatic rise in the number of millenials who end up in her office, unable to cope with their burgeoning adulthood.

I’m glad this author addresses the narcissism trope, which I’m so tired of:

It seems as if every article about millennials claims that these kids must all have narcissistic personality disorder. It’s easy to generalize an entire population by its collective Facebook statuses. However, narcissism is not Amy’s problem, or the main problem with millennials.

The big problem is not that they think too highly of themselves. Their bigger challenge is conflict negotiation, and they often are unable to think for themselves. The overinvolvement of helicopter parents prevents children from learning how to grapple with disappointments on their own. If parents are navigating every minor situation for their kids, kids never learn to deal with conflict on their own. Helicopter parenting has caused these kids to crash land.

We’ve all heard this. People love to kvetch about helicopter parents; we pass around stories of parents who go on job interviews with their adult children, or who call colleges during the application process, pretending to be the high school student, or who step in for their high schooler, arguing for higher grade on tests. My sense is that these egregious stories are outliers, though there does seem to be an uptick in this helicopter mentality among certain socioeconomic groups, and I’ve seen plenty of examples of it myself.

My question is, why? Why are people choosing to parent this way? If we can get to the cause, we can start to correct it. I’ve heard a number of explanations:

  • the increasing competitiveness of college admissions and the job market;
  • the spiraling cost of higher education, leading to a “customer is always right” mentality;
  • a media culture that likes to peddle fear of the bogeyman lurking behind over corner, to the point that parents are terrified to let their kids roam free in the world (figuratively and literally)
  • a rejection of authoritarian, “do it my way” models of parenting in favor of a teaching/shepherding model. In theory, this shepherding model should be about equipping the child to make her own decisions and live in the world, but other factors combine to create a bitter result: buddy-buddy parents who are so petrified of their kids’ failing that they flatten every bump in the road.

I suggest another cause underlying this stuff. I haven’t heard it mentioned much, but I think it’s a factor we shouldn’t ignore. It has to do with time.

Nobody starts out intending to impersonate his child to a college admissions officer. It happens over a period of years, and it happens with a thousand tiny decisions, starting when they are young. Decisions like:

1. When my child is having an emotional reaction to something, am I able to stop what I’m doing and let them have their feelings, or am I going to find a quick and easy way to smooth things over?

2. If my child absolutely refuses to wear a coat, will I let them go without one and suffer the discomfort—and learn a valuable lesson—or am I going to “make” them wear one?

3. If a student is having a conflict with a teacher’s teaching style, will I coach him first on how to address the issue, and support those efforts, intervening as a last resort? Or will I immediately swoop in and take over, demanding that the teacher conform to my child’s learning style?

4. Am I going to let my child play freely on the monkey bars, knowing there’s a teensy-tiny chance they could fall and break their arm, or worse? Or am I going to follow them around squawking “be careful, be careful” like a paranoid cockatoo?

I argue that the way you answer these questions, and a thousand others, is directly related to factors such as:

1. whether you’ve built any margins into your schedule to address a child’s emotional life, as opposed to pacifying or appeasing them so you can get on to the next thing, or

2. your tolerance of a cold and complaining child, which is directly related to your own stress level, or

3. whether you’re able do the hard work of coaching, which will take much longer than just doing it yourself, or

4. whether you have time for a trip to the emergency room. (OK, nobody really has ER time built into their schedule.)

I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent by temperament. Sure, I hate as much as anyone to see my kids experience pain or loss, but I try to take the long view and understand that failures and setbacks build resilience. That said, the times that I find myself firing up the chopper are precisely those times when I am too busy, too stressed, or too anxious to stop and help the kids work through their issues. I’d rather solve it myself, brush my hands off, and get on with life.

But in this parenting business, short-cuts (while sometimes necessary) can be costly. One of my parenting mantras is “the harder thing is the easier thing.” That is, doing what seems harder at the time is often easier in the long run: investing the time in helping a child understand her own emotions, or advocate for herself, pays huge dividends down the road. Building margins into my schedule is my biggest spiritual challenge at the moment, but I need to, not just for myself but for my children.

Because there’s no way I’m accompanying them on a job interview.

 

Mind Your Margins

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Do college students still mess with the margins in order to make their papers appear longer? Or has that practice fallen away in the age of email and word counts?

(And how dumb did we think our profs were to fall for that?)

My family’s yearning for Sabbath began several years ago when we realized that our lives hummed along perfectly well, so long as nothing went wrong. We jam-packed our days and worked to exhaustion, which was fine so long as nobody got sick or the basement never flooded. Regular periods of rest gave us some emotional decompression time and also helped us think about the rest of our week differently.

What we were doing was minding our margins. I prefer “margins” to boundaries, which feels too unyielding to be helpful amid the complexity of life. But even with the looser language, margins are hard for me.

After James was born, I went to a half-time schedule and became very good at efficient scheduling. I suspect it was hard on some of the folks I worked with, whose model for ministry was more “be open to what comes and savor the interruptions.” Yes, ministry is about relationships. And interruptions are a part of the package. But as an associate pastor in a programmatic position with 20-25 hours on the clock each week, there were certain things that needed to get done each day.

I still like back to back meetings—random 25 minute blocks of time between appointments make me a little batty. Like many of you, a lot of my work involves thinking and writing, and I can barely get my metaphorical pencils sharpened in 25 minutes.

That said, it’s important to build adequate margin between appointments, especially if those meetings have a heavy emotional undercurrent to them—or you think they might.

Plus, you know… traffic.

The goal for me, as always, is flow: an effortlessness and mindfulness to what I’m doing. In those moments I am neither rushed nor languishing. I am just… in time.

Yesterday was a tight-margin day in which I moved in and out of flow, and even had to cancel something because I’d packed things in too tightly. First up was a coffee appointment with someone to plan an event I’m doing in January. We met at the Starbucks, because right after that a church member and I were doing some de-cluttering, to get ready for some high school band students whom we’d hired to do some schlepping to the dumpster. That took longer than I’d expected, which led to the cancellation. After lunch and some emails and phone calls, I had a quick run, which had to be cut short (another too-tight margin). Then it was a hospital visit and home with the kids.

As I type it, it seems frenetic, like a lot of chopped up experiences and harried distraction. And given the need to cancel stuff, clearly I’d planned too much. But I didn’t feel harried at all. The Starbucks conversation meandered and flowed and ended when it needed to. I was not checking my watch at the hospital; there was sufficient time, and I had prearranged with my neighbor to get the kids at the bus stop so I could take my time.

So yesterday was good, on the whole. But there are just as many jam-packed days in which I feel like I’m all elbows and stubbed toes. I’m hard-pressed to figure out what makes the difference. In the meantime, I’ll chalk it up to the work of that mysterious Holy Spirit.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

Words Matter

One of my favorite of the Sabbath Supplemental videos is this, our version of a fast-draw video:

What does the word “busy” stir up in you?

This was a discussion on Facebook recently. As the video indicates, I know a lot of people who use it as a means of besting one another and asserting their importance. Others pushed back and said, “Eh, not always.” Sometimes people are just… busy. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I’ve tried to stop using the word. It’s become the “I’m fine” in verbal communication. Maybe it greases the conversational wheels, but it’s boring and content-free.

Another phrase snuck up on me this weekend. Someone asked me to do something and I said I couldn’t because I was “tied up.” Now there’s an evocative expression!

Sometimes, of course, our days are not our own—our schedules are at the mercy of family needs, work expectations, and the like. In that sense, the term “tied up” makes sense… though it sets other people up as our adversaries, which maybe isn’t healthy.

But in my case, I was engaging in activities I’d freely chosen. And I used the term to try and cover the fact that I was choosing not to drop everything and go help the person. “Tied up” meant “I would help you, but dangit, there’s this other thing holding me captive!

Pastors and folks in other helping professions are counseled to schedule time to recharge, and to protect that time. If people want to meet with you then, simply say you have a commitment—they don’t need to know that it’s for the massage therapist or to sneak off to an afternoon Nats game because you’ve had three funerals in the last two weeks. I agree with this in principle. Especially if it’s a pastoral need: there’s something callous about saying to a grieving family, “I can meet with you tomorrow but not today—mani/pedi time!”

At the same time, the more we keep self-care to ourselves, the more we give the impression that we don’t need such activities, and those who do are somehow weaker or less dedicated.

Yes, there are times that my life is not my own. That comes with the territory of loving your neighbor. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’m not sure I’m on board with “tied up.” I’d rather take responsibility for my own self-care, and strive for transparency with how I use my time.

What do you think?

~

Reminder: You have until 10 p.m. Eastern to enter the Sabbath in the Suburbs giveaway!

“No” Has Consequences

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It’s been a wonderful summer—our family’s trip to Iona, Scotland was over-the-moon wonderful—but it’s good to be back into a routine. I put my lastborn child on the school bus this morning. I won’t lie, there were a couple of happy mommy tears as he waved from the second seat and rumbled away.

I wrote earlier in the summer about creating a “to-don’t” list, and have been working on identifying things that I can let go of, either by delegating or just leaving them undone. The idea is to free up time and mental space for those things that are more important.

Our family has a big to-don’t on tap this fall… we’re giving up Girl Scouts.

This one hurts. I am a big believer in scouting. I was a Girl Scout. My mother was my Girl Scout leader, and I was a co-leader for Caroline’s troop last year. Margaret has been patiently waiting for her turn to join. Instead, we will be a Scout-free household for the next year, perhaps longer. I won’t bore you with the reasons, nor with the list of what’s on our plates instead. Suffice to say, this is the right thing for us right now.

On one level it feels great: No meetings. No cookies. No weekends jammed with field trips and badge work.

But it’s also agonizing. No rocketry or horseback riding. No camping. No intentional leadership development of our girls. Yes, they could potentially get that kind of experience in other ways. But how? And what are the consequences if they don’t?

Time management experts (and Sabbath practitioners) sometimes make saying “No” sound simple, as if all that stands between you and a simpler life is to let the unimportant stuff go. But the values of the Girl Scouts are important.

When we say No, we are trusting a bigger Yes.

But that’s easier said than done.

photo credit: cheerfulmonk via photopin cc

S.L.O.W. Down for Sabbath

Inspiration comes from unlikely places, and at just the right time.

Several months ago, my mother gave me a clipping from Spirit, the magazine of Southwest Airlines. I tucked it away and just re-discovered it. The article is called “Not So Fast” and appeared in the April 2013 issue.

Here’s the teaser paragraph:

Push notifications, pinging smartphones, and pressing deadlines. If you think it’s time to slow things down, you’re not the only one.

The author (David Hochman) came up with a handy acronym, SLOW, to help guide his attempt to decelerate his life. As you can imagine, there’s a Sabbath sensibility to the whole thing:

S = savor. Instead of viewing time as a commodity, or as a container to cram full of as much activity as possible, Hochman invites us to enjoy the passage of time, to breathe through the moment, to notice what’s going on—even if what’s going on is hectic or even stressful. A level of thoughtful awareness can work wonders on even the busiest day.

L = listen to your inner clock. This relates to what I’ve written before about puttering as a Sabbath activity. Yes, we are sometimes at the mercy of someone else’s timeframe. Other times we put pressures on ourselves when we don’t really have to. We need stretches of time in which we are free to be guided by the Spirit, however we understand Spirit. My girls are in swim practice until 10:00 each morning, followed by day camp (which actually starts at 8:30). I often find myself goading them into hurrying to shower and change so we can get there as soon as possible. I finally realized—they’re already late. What difference does it make if they show up at 10:20 or 10:30? My inner clock was totally out of whack.

O = others before technology. Hochman writes, “No texting under the dinner table, no checking email at night or before breakfast, no TV when we could be talking, and, horror of horrors, no Facebook or Twitter, period. Those time-sucks were draining more precious than I cared to admit.” I try (with varying success) to set aside “sacred spaces” that are smartphone-free, even though I wonder about the breakfast table. (Check out Ted’s comment on that post, that talks about “process priority” as it relates to people and phones. Good stuff there. Uncle Ted is always right.)

W = will it matter a year from now? A wonderful question that provides a reality check for all manner of thing. Peter Mayer, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, talks about cultivating a “million year mind.” Oh how I struggle with this! More like monkey-mind. Thinking about a year from now is a good start. So much of the stuff we get het up about just… doesn’t… matter.

How are you livin’ S.L.O.W. right now?