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January 15, 2016

What You Never Knew about Helicopter Moms.

"Adventurers," Ian D. Keating/ Flickr

I was once told that no one who loses a baby can “get over it” alone. See a therapist, get professional help, or else.

I’m not sure why I never took that step.

Maybe I felt that my silent suffering was somehow deserved; it was the price I had to pay for not being able to keep my baby alive.

Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to rehash it all. Go back to the moment when my world turned upside down. When they told me, after having given birth to a healthy baby boy just the day before, “I’m sorry to tell you, Charlie died.”

Or go back even a bit more, to that moment when I was alone with Charlie in my hospital room trying to console him, not knowing that he was moments away from a heart attack that would take his life. That moment when I decided not to bother the nurses, figuring that this was simply what babies did. They cried. And mothers console them. And besides, I wouldn’t have a bell at home to ring. So figure it out yourself, I told myself. This is motherhood. This is the big leagues.

Yes, a good dose of therapy probably would have relieved some of the guilt that I experienced over the years. But the logical part of my brain did a pretty decent job at countering that lead-to-nowhere-but-suffering voice in my head.

Of course you had no way of knowing. Of course he knew that you loved him. Of course you would have been by his side when they took him from you had you known what was going to come.

Of course, of course, he forgives you.

And so, over the years, I got through the pain of losing a child. Meditation, long hot baths, walks, writing, a loving husband, family, friends and then the big one: Charlie’s angels.

My three beautiful daughters came along. And life got busy. There were fewer moments for sadness. I was getting on with things. I was being the mother I never had a chance to be for Charlie. And I was there for them at every moment. I was there for them at every moment.

I see it now for the first time as a I tell my story. You get through the pain of losing a child, but you never fully “get over” it. Maybe a therapist would have helped me make the connection much sooner. That is why you do it, she would have told me. The hovering. That is why you feel it. The panic.

You see, I am a quiet, low-flying helicopter parent. Probably not too far from the ones you read about in all those studies—the ones who do all that damage to their kids for caring too much. I like to think that I fly just low enough to disqualify for those studies. Just low enough to stay below the radar and hopefully give my girls the freedom they deserve.

I don’t wear my propellers on my head, so most people wouldn’t know this about me. I work hard to keep my cool. You might think that I worry just like all parents worry, but you are wrong.

I worry more.

You might think that I’m just looking out the window at a beautiful fall day, but you are wrong. I am watching my daughters walk to piano, or babysitting, or school. I’m making sure they get there safely. Fully aware that they will turn the corner and be out of sight, but still.

You might think that I am just checking Facebook while waiting for my teenage daughter’s curfew to arrive. I’m not. I’m checking “Find my iPhone” to see if she is okay—and then checking again.

You might think that it all sounds a little crazy. Or a lot crazy for that matter. And this time you’re right. Yes, a little talking things through might have helped. Who knows? Maybe it still would. But those same things that got me through the raw intensity of losing a child continue to get me through the intensity of having a child and knowing that I can’t protect them from everything. Meditation, long hot baths, walks, writing, a loving husband, family, friends. These are the things that help me keep my internal propellers switched to low, and even turned off from time to time.

I don’t know if I would have been a worried mother type had I not lost my first child. Perhaps I never went to talk to someone after my baby’s death because I didn’t want someone to tell me what I could no longer be—that calm, unworried mother that, come to think of it, I had.

But I don’t feel guilty or ashamed of the mother I am. Propelled by love, one day soon, my children will spread their own wings and fly. And they will go into the world knowing that we are all human. Even their mother.

I know I won’t be able to watch them through the window or wait up for them anymore. But this closet helicopter mom, for one, will hover over the experiences that she has had and contemplate how far she has come.

What you never knew about a helicopter mom, is that you probably know one. And she is doing the best she can.

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Relephant Read:

From Helicopter Mom to Free Range: 5 Reasons I Loosened my Grip.

Relephant bonus:

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Author: Erin Frankel

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Ian D. Keating/ Flickr

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Erin Frankel