Courage to Let Kids to Fly

A black-chinned hummingbird sits on her tiny nest.

I’d love to keep my baby birds in my nest–but nests are small for a reason.

When I was five or six and we had a chicken egg incubator set up in our house. I watched the eggs every day, hoping to see the first crack in the shell. I remember squealing in delight and reaching my chubby fingers into the incubator—eager to grab an egg and help the little chick on it’s journey to fluffy yellowness.

But my dad grabbed my hand and warned me, “If you help the chick out, it will die.”

“What!” I exclaimed. “Won’t it just get born faster if I help it?”

“Nope,” he replied, “each peck it makes to break the shell from the inside develops its muscles and determination and makes it ready to live life on the outside. That’s the way God created birds.”

And so I waited—not so patiently—for the chicks to struggle out on their own. I watched with fascination as they turned from sweet yellow fluff balls into awkward fledglings and eventually into sleek hens and roosters that needed their wings clipped to keep them from flying out of our pen.

I’ve struggled with HPS (Helicopter Parent Syndrome) from the moment both my babies were born until…well, I still struggle.

I struggled even more after our family went through a yearlong struggle with cancer (my husband’s) where every phone call seemed to bring bad news and I found myself turning into a control freak—as if I could somehow control the outcome of Pedro’s cancer or fix the trauma our girls had suffered from not knowing from week to week if I’d be home or thousands of miles away with Pedro or if they’d wake up in the morning without a daddy.

I constantly curbed my secret impulse to jump in and fix every friendship problem, conflict with a teacher or trauma on the team. There’s a reason Pedro survived cancer—God knew I needed him to balance out our parenting team and to remind me that help isn’t always help.

It seems as if the world urges us to ‘be better parents’ by stepping in and making the path smooth for our children. As an educator, I’ve been on the receiving end of this type of parenting more times that I would wish (while struggling to stifle my own impulse to do the same thing). But if we don’t allow our children to stretch and grow and peck their way out of their own shell, we do them no favor.

Teaching one’s children how to react to life’s hardships by using the skills you have taught them takes more courage than hovering over them with an escape route and a megaphone.

Believe me, it took courage to let them explore our neighborhood at the tender ages of seven and eight (I made sure they had walkie-talkies). It took a huge amount of faith to let them ride their bicycles into town (7 miles away) when they were just 13 to meet up with friends (by this time they had cell phones). I had an awful time letting them go to work in fast-food restaurants when they were 14 (we talked about sexual harassment and stranger danger and all of that first). When they got their driver’s licenses, we let them drive in snowstorms (Pedro taught them how to handle their cars). I’m proud of the fact that our daughters worked as hotel maids and saved their money for two years in order to go to school in Spain for six weeks and travel around Europe for another six weeks—all without financial aid from us (but I worried that something horrible would happen to them while they were over there).

I guess that’s the dichotomy of life. We have to give our children opportunities to strengthen their God-given gifts (and we don’t get to decide what those gifts are) in the comfort and safety of our home and our love and turn our wounding worries and faithless fears over to our heavenly Father. Otherwise, we do our children harm.

So despite my HPS tendencies, I hope that through God’s grace and wisdom, we’ve given our baby birdies space to practice and experiences that helped them develop into the people God wants them to be.

I wonder though, is it ok to be a helicopter grandparent?