‘Helicopter parent’ is a term that was first mentioned in a parenting book in 1969 but it became more widely used in the early 2000s when American academic administrators became aware of an increasing number of ‘Baby Boomer’ parents being excessively involved in the lives of their older teenagers/young adults.
The metaphor of a helicopter conveys the picture of a parent hovering over every detail of their children’s lives, planning to rescue them from poor decision making, shielding them from potential dangers and offering copious amounts of unsolicited advice.
However, these children find that while their parents are overtly physically present in their lives, they aren’t always emotionally present. It seems the children pick up that their parents’ controlling motives are self-serving, rather than genuinely caring about the needs of their children.
Looking back, I often wonder if I was a helicopter parent when my children were pre-teenagers. I was restrictive about where they went, who they spent time with, what they watched on screen-based media and always on the lookout for potential dangers. Yet I knew when they became teenagers, I had to give them more freedom and more choices.
I gave them a clothing allowance and required them to iron their own clothes (which all of a sudden didn’t need ironing!). I also recognised that I had less influence over their choice of friends. I had to trust that the disciplines I had taught them early in their lives became self-disciplines. I trusted they had learnt how to make wise decisions.
God the ideal parent
Some think God is a helicopter parent hovering over them, ready to pounce anytime they do something wrong, quick to point out their failures and not allowing them any freedoms or choices. But God is the perfect parent.
When we are young in our faith, God will convict us about engaging in certain activities and attending some events. We may also find God’s guidance very clear and opportunities fortuitously open up for us.
As we mature, we may find God’s guidance is less obvious and we may worry that we aren’t hearing from God the way we used to. However, it may just be that God is acting like a good parent and allowing us the freedom to make our own decisions and choices; decisions that are based on the wisdom that he has been teaching us through our experiences, our fellowship with other Christians, and through studying the Bible.
For some, this is a serious challenge.
They like God giving them specific guidance and don’t want to engage in the messy business of determining what would be a wise decision in their circumstances. They want to remain childish, rather than child-like.
Yet God won’t become a helicopter parent to accommodate them. He will allow some situations to deteriorate despite our desperate prayers for him to intervene. He will allow delays and obstacles and won’t miraculously rescue us from difficult situations because he wants us to grow up. He’s teaching us to be wise in the way we handle life’s dramas.
Learning to be wise
The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom. The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman:
‘Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square … Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise’ (Proverbs chapter 1 verse 20 and 23).
However, if we come to the book of Proverbs expecting definitive answers, we are going to be disappointed. Some of her wisdom sounds contradictory.
For example, (Proverbs chapter 26) ‘Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. (verse 4) Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation’ (verses 5).
What are we to do? Answer a fool or not answer a fool?
It depends on the situation and this is why wisdom is required. In some situations, it’s wise to address a fool’s arguments but at other times it’s best to ignore them and if we pray, God may not give us a yes/no answer because he wants us to grow in wisdom.
Jesus encouraged his followers to engage with the Scriptures to discover wisdom not by giving them ready answers but by asking questions, such as ‘How do you read it?’ (Luke chapter 10 verse 26).
Let’s not expect God to be a helicopter parent, hovering over us with the ‘right answer for every situation. We will be disappointed. Instead let’s aim to grow in wisdom and be encouraged by James’ words, ‘If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking’ (James chapter 1 verse 5).
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html