When The Helicopter Parent Has To Abandon The Chopper

There comes a time when teenagers don't need their mums the way they used to.

As I walked into the kitchen I was greeted with the buttery sweet aroma of fresh pancakes. Scenes of slight chaos played out on the bench top as ingredients from the fridge and the pantry lay scattered on top of each other, mindlessly thrown to the side with the apparent belief that if you continue to ignore them they will put themselves away.

I was prepared to overlook the mess, not just because the smell of the pancakes was so overwhelming but it was my 16-year-old son cooking. And he was preparing the pancakes for his girlfriend.

He had already laid out a tray of Tim-Tams, Doritos and salsa, two slabs of chocolate and a 1.25 litre bottle of Coke Zero. It was abundantly clear to me that I had taught him to show his love via food and, sadly also, that all my speeches on nutrition had fallen on deaf ears.

A little part of my life is growing away from me and although I know that my role as a parent is to prepare him not to need me, I am a pilot without a helicopter.

Aside from the fact that he was preparing a feast that would fill the average person's sugar quota for around eight months, I was ridiculously proud of my child. He had been down to the shops on his bike, bought all the ingredients with money he had earned at work and even promised to clean up at some stage.

Watching this independent young man prepare food for his girlfriend, it was hard to believe there was ever a time he wasn't so capable and self-sufficient. In fact there were odds on that he wouldn't turn out quite this thoughtful and autonomous.

You see I was that most dreaded of mothers -- the helicopter parent. When my son was younger I hovered, at a startlingly close distance. I was the mother who wrote little notes on the lunches I packed for him, I helped him traverse the world, I rushed out of work and took his soccer uniform to school if he forgot it in the morning. I helped him with his homework and I picked him up when he fell. I loved him intensely and closely. I still do. But I have had to vacate the helicopter.

I read a lot about the apparent dangers of helicopter parenting. The literature told me that I would produce a nightmare adult. One who was not resilient, one who could not flourish in my shadow. Everything I read said that I was creating a problem for society by raising a child who was unable to do things himself. As I read I watched my child grow and develop into a caring, resilient and assured child. I was proving them wrong.

I know this to be true when I see him out in the world as he crosses the threshold from child to adult. A more able, confident and caring young man you would be hard pressed to find. But I began to realise there was something they hadn't mentioned in the articles telling me to stop swooping in and saving him. They never told me how dangerous helicopter parenting was for the parent.

My child is 16 now and it's not just his sheer height that means I can no longer fly so close. He is an autonomous individual who doesn't need me there in the way he used to. He needs his mates, his girlfriend, his ever-extending social circle. He needs his teachers, his sports instructors, his youth leaders, his employers. Sure he needs his parents, but in a completely different way than he needed us before.

So what happens to the helicopter parent who has to abandon her vehicle?

I miss my boy although he is obviously still a huge part of my life; he's just not a little boy. I miss my child although he will always be my son and he still lives in the bedroom next to mine. I miss helping him learn to navigate his life although when I see the way he treats his girlfriend (aside from feeding her an unnatural amount of sugar) I know I have done what was needed of me.

I don't regret a single step I took on his journey from fragile, premature baby to accomplished, confident teen. I don't regret swooping in and saving him because he has learned to do that swoop himself, I don't regret devoting my life to him because in many ways he is my life.

But that's the problem. A little part of my life is growing away from me and although I know that my role as a parent is to prepare him not to need me, I am a pilot without a helicopter.

I'll always refute the fact that helicopter parenting produces children who can't do things for themselves because I've seen that's not true. But I do wonder if I would have done things differently if I had realised that while it's great for the child, at the end of the journey it's not ideal for the parent.

On the plus side, he can now cook for me. And that's almost worth being grounded for. Almost.