Helicopter parent (noun): A parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. Like helicopters, they hover overhead, overseeing every aspect of their child’s life constantly.
A few months ago, news broke of a college admissions scandal. The alleged mastermind of the scheme is accused of taking money from more than 700 families to secure admission into some of the most exclusive academic institutions in the country.
Like most people who followed the story, I shook my head at the idea that these parents—most of whom could afford to simply pay the full tuition to almost any school of their choice—felt they had to break the law to get exactly what their child needed.
Yet, I also have to admit, hovering in the background of my mind every time a new development broke, were three whispered words: “I get it.”
Please don’t misunderstand! I am not condoning the behavior. “Operation Varsity Blues,” as the undercover sting was called, exposed some unpleasant truths about class, power and abuse of privilege in our society that are even larger than this case. What I’m trying to say is, I’m a dad.
I’m a dad who, with my wife, has raised two daughters. Our youngest just graduated from high school (can I get an amen?), and our oldest is studying at Eastern Kentucky University on a partial scholarship.
I can honestly say it would never occur to my wife or me to bend or break the law to gain an advantage for our girls, but I cannot honestly say there has never been hovering.
I’m thinking back to school projects requiring levels of construction and creativity that we felt exceeded our child’s ability to reach. I’m thinking of a couple of occasions when one of our girls came into the kitchen late at night and yawned while asking, “Are you guys finished with it yet?” I’m remembering a couple of panicked runs from work to home to school to deliver the forgotten homework paper or permission slip.
Every parent wants good things for their children, and the urge to hover, protect and advocate is universal. In fact, the Bible has a nominee for the Helicopter Parent Hall of Fame, found in Matthew 20:20-23: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’”
Can you imagine the conversation that took place before the one recorded in Scripture?
Mom: “Boys, get me a meeting with the rabbi.”
James: “Ma, it’s not that easy. We’re only in town for a day. His schedule is packed. Why do you need to see him?”
Mom: “I need to know the family is taken care of. Your father’s done his best, but he’s a fisherman. If the rumors are true, the rabbi is going to make things right for all of us.”
John: “Ma. We’re among the 12! What more do you want? We’re in there!”
Mom: “Enough with the sass. I hear Peter and his big mouth. You two have worked too hard and been through too much to settle for less. You deserve more. Let your mother handle this.”
John: “I think she has a point, James. Besides, her mind is made up.”
I have no doubt the mother of James and John was a good mother. She wanted good things for her sons. Sadly, she was blinded to the fact that, by virtue of following Jesus, her boys already had the very best that anyone could ever ask for.
As citizens of the wealthiest nation in history, we parents can easily fall into the same trap. It’s easy to take for granted all of the advantages we have. We look back on our own mistakes, shortcomings and hardships and are determined that the path ahead will be smoother for our sons and daughters.
Yet, the Bible tells us that smoother isn’t always better. James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Some of life’s most important and useful lessons come from failure. As parents, when we always remove disappointment as an outcome for our children, we are robbing them of character development and opportunities for spiritual growth. There is no human experience to which our Creator cannot relate, and perhaps none more closely than that of parent.
On a horrible and dark day long ago, God watched as His only Son was falsely accused, ridiculed, beaten and nailed to a cross. He could have intervened at any point and made all of the hurt go away. Instead, John 3:16 reveals what makes God the only perfect father in history: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Bill Womack has been a member of Southeast Christian Church for 22 years.