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On Becoming A Dad And Helicopter Parenting

Becoming a dad-picking my battles

If you’ve never been a parent before, and you’re maybe thinking, “I think becoming a Dad might be cool. I think I’d like to give it a try”, I think you need to stop right there. Put that thought down, turn around and walk away. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and DO NOT BECOME A PARENT!

That half-assed thinking is going to wreck you and that kid you think you “might like to try to raise”. Because if you’re not “all in” from the start, you’re doomed, Laddie!

Becoming a Dad has been the most intense, emotionally challenging, distressing, invigorating and insane thing I’ve ever done. Even more than marriage! (Oh, I’m going to pay for that sentence…) And through it all, I’ve learned one gigantic lesson. You must pick your battles. Because it’s impossible to stay sane while taking your kids to task over every damn transgression, disagreement, lie, or bad choice.

I know, you’re going to tell me “But you’re a parent! That’s your job!” Well, of course it’s my job. That doesn’t mean I’m going to perform my job perfectly every time. In fact, sometimes I’m going to completely sluff off at my job, and shirk my responsibilities. That’s right, I said it! Maybe that’s what becoming a dad is all about!

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No Such Thing As A Perfect Parent

Nobody is perfect. You’ve heard that from your Peewee hockey coach, your grade 8 teacher and, probably, your spouse. It just isn’t possible, so stop striving for perfect. You’re just going to end up disappointing yourself, your kids, and, probably, your spouse. And you’ll likely end up in therapy.

A perfect parent is a fantasy. If someone tells you that their little angel Suzy is smart, pretty, and happy all the time, because Mommy did everything right and never raised her voice and never punished her, just know that person is living in a Nickelodeon tv show.

So where exactly am I going with all this? Well, I’ve mentioned before my own parent’s penchant for avoiding sticky subjects. They steered clear of difficult conversations with me at all costs. But my Mom still looked out for me in her own way. Which leads nicely into this little anecdote.

I’m Not A Doctor, But I Play One At School

So back when I was in high school, grade 8 in fact, I was not what you would call a “model student”. I was more of a “lackadaisical kid”. My favourite subject was “Smoking at the Blue Doors”. I excelled at hockey, teen angst poetry, and smoking.

One of my teachers, Miss Fluwelling, sent home a note to my Mom. She wanted to have a meeting to discuss Yours Truly. So my Mom went to the school to meet with her.

Miss F was very concerned about my lack of engagement in her class. She felt I was too lackadaisical and distant. She told my mother she thought I must be anemic. I wasn’t, I was just bored. Calmly, my mother asked, “So you’re a doctor?”

Tv Land Doctor GIF by nobodies. - Find & Share on GIPHY

My Mom, little five foot nothing, was not going to stand for her son being called anemic by some annoying French teacher. Who didn’t have a medical degree…

Helicopter Parent, or Mama Bear

I don’t mean to say she was hovering like a helicopter parent, ready to swoop in to save me from whatever discomfort her poor baby boy was being subjected to. Far from it. No, she picked that battle. One of the few she picked. But she was still the MAMA BEAR.

So when it came to Mom dealing with me on a regular basis, she also picked her battles. Same goes for my siblings. There were some things that she and my Dad chose not to get into with us. Like discussions around drinking and driving, girls, boys, and anything to do with SEX. My parents believed it was more important to maintain the illusion of family harmony than threaten the balance with difficult conversations.

I tend to go along with that belief, though not quite to the same degree. There are some things that are just not worth upsetting the family dynamic, or wasting energy on. Which leads me to the whole point of this post.

To Go, Or To Not Go?

Now that Zachary has completed his high school journey, he’s preparing to head off to university. On the other side of the country! So for a few months we’ve been planning the best way to get him there, with all the things he needs.

We talked about taking a road trip out to Ontario, maybe just him and I, maybe with the whole family. But that eventually got rejected due to the time and cost involved. It was still an idea I liked, since I love road trips. But it’s not going to happen…

Then it was flying out with either Heather or myself, spending a few days there and setting him up. But that’s not going to happen either.

Zachary decided that he wants to go out by himself. He wants to say a hard goodbye to us at the airport, and be on his merry way to University and a new adventure. And so we’ve agreed. “What!!?? Are you crazy?!” Is the response from most other parents we spoke to.

Almost universally, everyone we know who had kids in university has taken them and helped them get settled in. They’ve run to the local Walmart for bedsheets, shown them how to navigate a laundromat, and myriad other tasks and responsibilities to get their young adults off to a good start. And we’re not doing it. This just happens to be one of those “pick your battles” moments.

becoming a dad- proud family

But Will He Die?

Despite what you and the many others who have shared their opinions on this say, we are not terrible parents. And we’re certainly not perfect parents either. But our son happens to be a pretty strong-willed and incredibly stubborn human being. And, given the discussions we’ve already had with him about this, we’ve concluded that it is simply not worth the resentment, animosity and anger this will create.

And I hear some folks say, “But there’s so many unexpected things that will come up.” Very true. “He’s gonna need help navigating a new city.” Maybe. “He’s gotta get through the airport, find all his bags and catch a bus!” Yup.

And here’s the thing. He’s going to experience new situations, new problems, and unexpected obstacles. And he’ll have to figure out a way to overcome them. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be stressful, but he’s not going to die! (Thanks Drucilla Desabrais for teaching me that so many years ago.) He’s a remarkably intelligent young man who thinks on his feet quicker than anyone I know. And when he comes upon a situation he’s not experienced, which he inevitably will, he’ll need to figure it out. And he will. One way or another.

Love And Support, Long Distance

We have no intention of swooping in, saving our boy from stress and anxiety. We will provide support, love, and advice, albeit from 3000 kilometers away.

So please don’t judge us on our parenting choices. We’ve done pretty good so far. Yes, we’ve dropped the ball on occasion. We’ve messed up. Show me a parent who hasn’t. They don’t exist. Everyone makes mistakes. That isn’t an excuse for hovering over my children like annoying helicopter parents. That style of parenting only prepares children for stress, anxiety, and resentment.

Someone once said being a parent is all about preparing a child to leave. That sounds pretty brutal, but on many levels, it’s true. The hardest decision we’ve ever made as parents is letting our son go. When I think about him heading off to university, across this enormous country, on his own, My heart quails. But taking him, getting him settled in is not going to happen. It’s a battle we’re choosing to avoid. A tough choice, but the right one.

And if you’re reading this Zach, just remember, to be absolutely safe, choose the cold water setting.

Any thoughts on this? Are we terrible parents? What would you do? Let me know in the comments!

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[…] a previous post, I mentioned the importance as a parent to choose your battles. some things are just not worth expending energy on. Save it for the big […]


[…] becomes paramount. This doesn’t mean bombarding your kid with hourly messages. See my previous post regarding helicopter parenting. Instead, establish specific times throughout the day to touch base. Maybe a morning and evening […]

Deborah Thompson
Deborah Thompson
11 months ago

You made some very valid points and know your son best so ignore everything I said! I wish Zach (and you, Heather and Beth-Rose) a successful transition to your new life!

11 months ago

Sure sounds like a solid plan.
Back in the cheaper gas, cheaper air days we escorted our daughter (with her blessing) to University across the country, helped her settle in and left her their on her own with a fair bit of emotion and separation anxiety (especially from the parents).
Do you think it might be different when your daughter heads off to university?

11 months ago

I dunno…. the hot water option seems pretty enticing sometimes…

11 months ago

You two have always been there for your kids and have committed to helping them grow to be independent adults. A lot of parents don’t prepare their kids for. You both have done an amazing job! Good luck Zac on your new adventure called life.

David Tait
David Tait
11 months ago

I don’t get to all your Frazzles, Michael, but when I do I inevitably enjoy the read. This entry struck a memory nerve. Thanks.

11 months ago

How I remember those days/weeks prior to my daughter leaving. Yes she went on her own too. And although I didn’t exactly helicopter it could have been more of a drone situation. She has lists of how to, phone numbers, addresses, you know in case something happened. The usual advice, go to bed early, eat properly yada yada yada. My first trip to see here I was mortified to see literally 25 empty boxes of Kraft Dinner (which later became known as yellow death). But given that there were 4 sharing a townhouse. Yup the dishes were piled in the sink, the bathroom was – well better than expected but I sanitized before I used it. Laundry was piled knee deep, but the piles were sorted by colour and my daughters room was very neat & organized. I learned in a very short time that they had issues but had handled them in a mature manner, nothing got broken & the only male was banished to the basement for the resting his tenure. These kids lived together for 4 years & were like family, they all finished their programs with decent marks and they did it pretty much on their own. That’s when I knew I had done as good a job as I possibly could have.

Keep up the writing Michael, I’m really enjoying it & would love that coffee whenever you are free

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