Comedian John Mulaney casually mentions, in his Netflix special The Comeback Kid, that his childhood was different from today’s kids. Says Mulaney, “My dad loved us. He just didn’t care about our general happiness or self-esteem.” Today’s parents strive to be their children’s pals, and this leads to two nightmarish scenarios: helicopter parents, and lawnmower parents.

What is a Helicopter Parent?

Mulaney riffs on the strange morphing, over the past 40 years or so, of parents treating their children as, essentially, pint-sized criminals overseen by parent cops to being best friends.

Sure, sometimes parents “back then” (whenever that was, before now) got along with their kids, but they did not cozy up to them and make them feel quite so precious.

Helicopter parenting, by contrast, means you swoop over the territory, diving in to intercede for every slight, every setback. Your child faces no consequences and learns that someone will always bail her or him out of trouble.

Parents magazine dates the term “helicopter parenting” back to 1969, defining it as parents who are over-focused on their children. If you are worried you are spending too much time doting on your kids, consider the magazine’s advice:

  • Let your child struggle
  • Allow your child to falter, fail, or fumble
  • Let your child do tasks she or he is physically and mentally capable of doing independently
  • Be there when they are disappointed, but only to help them work through it, not to undo the disappointment

The Triangle of Doom

John Mulaney’s comedy set includes a key section on parents, children, and the third side of the triangle: teachers. At one time, adults had significant authority over children. Now, children can say outrageous things, make horrendous accusations, and the parents side with them rather than the other adults, without any evidence of their child’s innocence.

Concordia University’s education program suggests to budding teachers that they communicate clearly with parents, set boundaries, and keep administrators informed.

What boundaries should they set? See if any of this resonates as something you have done (and if so, stop doing it!):

  • Questioning the teacher by telephone or email about every assignment, grade, or assessment
  • Constantly looking for signs of struggle, imperfection, or weakness in your child
  • Showing more concern about student work than your child shows

Here is a simple test: who is getting the education, you or your child? Your child, right? So step aside and let her or him get it. Let your child work for it.

Hovering Around Your College Student?

John Mulaney’s mother dated President Bill Clinton in college. Weird, yes, but not as weird as helicopter parents who (figuratively, at least) follow their kids to college.

College professors grapple with parents of college students contacting them on behalf of their grown children. The helicopter parents complain about grades, ask for extensions on papers, and interfere with the professor-student relationship.

As Georgia State University’s College of Law points out, this behavior has legal ramifications. Parents can get themselves and their children in a lot of trouble for violating the Family and Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA).

To be clear, even if you are paying the college bills, your child’s grades are not your perview. You also have no legal right to contact the professors, to beg and plead on behalf of your child. Let your child fight her or his own battles.

… Or Are You a Lawnmower Parent?

Mulaney relates the vacation moment when, with a carload of children, his father drove into McDonald’s and bought black coffee. Nothing for the children. Just black coffee, for himself.

Lawnmower parents never do that. Lawnmower parents do more than hover. They prevent their children from facing any adversity, any struggle. They clear the path ahead so childhood is one magical, infinite Candy Land game.

Here are some other suggestions to give your child perseverance and resilience:

  • Let your children settle disagreements with other children
  • Do not “help” with homework by doing it, ever; look at finished work and suggest areas to revisit
  • Do not bribe college admissions officers

Before Children Were Special

John Mulaney’s epic stand-up routine reminds all of us that, while all children are loved and wonderful, no one child is more special than another. Life is not meant to be uniformly fair. Parents who accept that life is a struggle will give their children the chance to struggle.

That — not being either a lawnmower or a helicopter — could be the greatest gift you can give your child.

For excellent legal counsel on all family law matters, please contact us at The Firm For Men, or call us at 757-383-9184. We may not be able to convince your child’s Social Studies teacher to change that grade, but we can help with your child custody, visitation, or support matter!