Confessions of a (Former) Helicopter Mom

How I learned to stop worrying and just enjoy being a mom

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Published in Parents Canada in November 2013

I started fretting about my kids long before they were born.

It began with What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I would perch the book on my growing belly in bed and read from its catalogue of horrors wide-eyed, as if it were a Stephen King novel: blighted ovums and uterine rupture, toxoplasmosis from touching kitty litter, listeriosis from chewing on brie, the possibility that the baby’s hiccups could mean a knotted umbilical cord.

Like a bad accident, I couldn’t take my eyes off the words, my anxiety ramping up with the turn of every page. I’d nudge my husband awake and he’d say, “Stop worrying. Everything will be fine.”

What’s wrong with him, I’d wonder.

That was 15 years ago when Ruby was born. She was not an “easy” child, with a head of fiery red curls and a temper to match. She screamed with colic for hours. She resisted tidying up after playtime in preschool. She’d rage at me if she didn’t get what she wanted. She was sent to the principal’s office in kindergarten for getting into a slugfest with her best friend. One teacher thought she had a “pencil-holding deficiency.”

I fretted over her future and bought more books: Raise Your Kid Without Raising Your Voice, The Explosive Child and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

My husband would say, “Stop worrying. Everything will be fine.”

In Grade 3 she was identified as having dyslexia. In Grade 4, after a year of constantly clearing her throat for no known reason, she was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. She didn’t get asked on many play dates so I would arrange them for her.

If she wasn’t invited to a birthday party, she didn’t care all that much, but I was crushed. I compared myself to the other mothers who had seemingly easygoing kids and wondered what I was doing wrong.

Instead of admiring my daughter’s willful streak, her tough-minded attitude and her seeming disdain for what other people thought of her, I just wanted her to fit in - to try and please a little more and push back a little less.

As my anxiety ramped up, parenting books weren’t going to cut it anymore. What I needed was therapy.

Three years after Ruby was born, I had another daughter, Lucy. I had less energy for Lucy because I was so focused on Ruby’s “issues.” But Lucy seemed to need less of me, too. She was an “easy” baby: went to sleep without a peep, woke up with a smile, and generally did what was expected of her. Lucy, agreeable and positive, got along with everyone. I never had to orchestrate play dates for her.

I’ll never forget the time I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant in Montreal with the two of them when they were about five and eight years old. Lucy was thrilled to be sampling Chinese food. Ruby was complaining that there wasn’t anything she liked on the menu.

As I sat across from them, the words “light and dark, light and dark” kept repeating themselves in my mind. For Lucy, the glass was always half full, maybe it always would be. The same wasn’t true for Ruby. Two kids, same parents, two completely different temperaments. Go figure. I could fight it or I could accept it.

Better yet, I could celebrate it.

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