Helicopter Parenting

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On Memorial Day, we decided to go to the swimming pool. I knew it would be mobbed, but it was going to be 90 degrees, and we had nothing better to do.  So we went.

I informed my family that we should get there at 11am, the exact time the pool opens, because I expected a major crowd and I wanted to get a seat.  Not that I spend much of the time we are the pool sitting, but it’s nice, at least, to have a place to set my stylish black straw beach bag and my cooler filled with fresh fruit and water (because I am a killjoy and do not allow my kids to buy snacks at the pool.)

We got there at 11:15, and there was hardly a parking space to be found in the lot, but we managed to find a spot in the far corner.  We walked briskly to the entrance and signed in only to find that there was not a single chair available in the entire swim club.  Of course there were plenty of unoccupied chairs, but they were all sporting a colorful beach towel or a pair of flip flops as people had marked their territory upon arrival.

Later we found out that there had been a line out the door that was 200 yards long when the pool opened at 11.  I guess a lot of people had the same idea I did, but actually managed to carry out their well laid plans.

So we finally laid out a couple of towels on an empty plot of grass and set our bags and flip flops beside them and made do.  It’s not like we planned on spending much time laying around anyway; we had three kids to watch.

As I said, the pool was mobbed.  But as I stood in the shallow end, within arm’s reach of my 4-year-old, and looked out over the sea of people, I noticed that at least half of the people occupying the pool were adults.  And these adults were not swimming.  In fact, most were not playing with their kids.  They were standing around while their kids swam and played around them, and the lifeguards desperately peered through the din trying to keep an watchful eye on everyone.

My husband and I stood at our post in the shallow end of the pool, trying to keep all three of our kids within view, and chatted.  We began reminiscing about days gone by, when we spent the days of our youth at our respective swim clubs.  We recalled that our parents did not stand around in the pool, within arms reach of their offspring, waiting for them to flounder helplessly and get sucked under water at any given moment.

Rather, our parents spent their time lounging around the perimeter of the pool, reading a book or chatting with friends while we frolicked and played in the water.  They would look up occasionally to make sure we weren’t lying at the bottom of the pool, but they pretty much just stayed out of the way and let the lifeguards do their job.

And it occurred to me, as I looked around and witnessed the sea of parents standing guard in knee-deep water, that this is just another extension of this helicopter parenting culture in which we live.  And yes, I was standing there as well, even though my kids are pretty reliable in the water and even my youngest is getting old enough for me to not be hovering over her.  But last year I was actually reprimanded by the life guards at our pool for NOT being in the water with my then 3-and-a-half-year-old.  (I was sitting on the side of the pool, in a chair about 3 yards away, with her in plain view.  It was not crowded, and she is not a dare devil or prone to wander.  And I WAS watching her.)

It seems to me, if the parents would just GET OUT OF THE WAY and go sit down and have a Snickers bar and chill, there would be a lot more room for the kids to play in the water, and it would be a lot easier for the lifeguards to actually see the kids that they are trying to protect.

I was watching the lifeguards, and I want to give them credit.  They were not filing their nails or staring off into space.  They were being vigilant, and there were plenty of them.  There was one even walking through the water.  And with good reason, last year a 10-year-old almost drown at a nearby YMCA pool, and he wasn’t even in the deep end.  I realize that awful things can happen in the water, and I’m not trying to be cavalier about it, but at what point do we hover so closely around our kids that they don’t even have a chance to be kids?

The other comical/pathetic thing I witnessed, also filed neatly in the helicopter parenting category, was the scene by the slide.  I’m not talking about the big slide on the deep end of the pool; I’m talking about the little portable slide they have set up in the shallow end of the pool where the toddlers and preschoolers hang out.

Once again, the parents huddle around the slide as their kids line up, climb up, slide down, wash, rinse, repeat.  It’s not enough to stand close enough to jump in if a child is in danger.  No, the parents feel the need to coach the kids every step of the way.  Make sure they get in the proper place in line.  Make sure they climb up without butting in front of someone else.  Make sure they sit down and slide without taking too much time.  Make sure they don’t let their head go under water for a fraction of a second.  OH NO!  That would be horrifying.

My daughter is 4, and she is perfectly capable of climbing up and sliding down unassisted.  (Yes, I realize that there is an age at which it is appropriate and necessary to parent them down the slide, but 75% of the kids on the slide were well past that age.)  I stood back and just let her enjoy it for a time, but I started to feel that pressure from all the helicopter parents around us.  Every time she happened to jump in front of a few kids in line (innocently enough, and the others were hardly aware of it) I was tempted to stand back and let things run their course, but I felt the need to step in and make sure I pulled her around to the back because with all of those parents standing around, you better believe everyone was expecting it.  And heaven forbid a child should try to go down the slide on his belly or give the kid in front of him a friendly nudge when he sat there a few seconds too long before sliding down.

Finally I pulled my daughter away from the slide and moved her over to another part of the pool where it wasn’t QUITE so crowded and I didn’t have to deal with the stress of the slide.  There were no altercations of any kind, don’t get me wrong, but the self-imposed pressure just wasn’t worth it.

You know, when you think about it, it’s truly a wonder we all grew up to be considerate, responsible adults, what with our parents sitting in their lounge chairs, reading their tabloids while we ran willy-nilly around the swim club.