When children are small, we catch them when they fall. In our case, my daughter Jessie fell. She fell a lot. She had bruises up and down her shins and everywhere else that made contact with the ground. We caught her when we could. As she got older, rushing to scoop her up seemed to create more drama, so we learned to take her lead. She learned how to pick herself up and keep moving (this does not mean that I ignored her, I just didn’t rush to her in a panic).
When Jess wasn’t meeting her milestones, it made me feel awkward. People would ask her a question and in the weighted silence, I would answer for her. It saddens me to admit that this was not the only way I helped her. At some point, I crossed over and became a helicopter parent. I was afraid of all the questions family and strangers asked. I didn’t have answers and I wasn’t prepared for this challenge, but who is? As if this wasn’t hard enough, most of my friends were having children that just seemed to fly from the get-go. It’s devastating to see your child being left behind and you watch the divide increase.
Did you know that there is something worse than being a helicopter parent? It is being an enabling parent. Not only did I make it to this level, but I should have been given an award! Enabling is where you do so much for your child that they stop doing for themselves. Most kids just slack off when this happens. All Jess had to do was smile sweetly, make a gesture and someone would help her. As the old sales adage goes “he who talks first, loses”. Jess knew how to play the waiting game, she had the advantage because she didn’t talk.
By the time Jess was three, she’d be standing up one moment then down the next. Her falling wasn’t from miscalculating how to get from the couch to the table, there was something else at play. We soon learned that she was having drop seizures. It was during this time that I transitioned from being a secure mom to helicopter mom, to an enabling Mom.
I’m not sure if the seizures were the main cause for her slow development, or was it due to my enabling, or a combination of both. It was hard to watch her struggle with simple things. The anti-convulsive meds made her dull. Instead of waiting for her to complete a task, I would jump in because time never was on our side.
We didn’t see her personality emerge till we found a neurologist who listened. To help me understand her seizures, he said, “imagine trying to read a book and someone turns the lights on and off. Eventually, you are going to lose your place.” After a 3-day EEG, the meds were changed and then tweaked. Jess made progress, but it seemed barely visible. This holding pattern lasted for about ten years.
As the seizures lessened, we continued with our routine. This was a huge mistake. We were so well trained as to what to do, we didn’t allow Jess room to help herself. We were all stuck. It took someone from the outside to counsel our family and retrain us. We needed a behavioral consultant to undo the damage we had done. For some reason, we stepped in so Jess wouldn’t fail, not realizing that we were setting her up to fail, all because we didn’t know when to stop catching her.