helicopter parent: constantly hovering and correcting, catching kids before they fall, over anticipating needs, identified by arms out to their sides moving back and forth behind child
bench parent: sitting on the sidelines, regardless of what child is doing and where they are, identified by travel mug and smartphone/book/newspaper
A bench parent is the polar opposite of a helicopter parent.
You probably know that our girls are 5 and 7 now. They are long out of the “I need your help” at the park stage. I have spent many hours playing at parks (indoor and outdoor) with the girls. Climbing into tunnels and boosting their little butts up slides or ladders. I coached from the bottom “step, reach, stand, leg, arm, grab”. Over and over and over – until they were successful and agile climbers and I did not gate the stairs.
I avoided gates on the stairs at our house. Why? Because they are a pain in the butt. We had a gate, we used it occasionally. What I did do was teach the girls how to go up and down the stairs. Did they slip? Yes. Did they fall? Yes. Was I behind them? Most of the time. Independence needs cultivating.
I am not a helicopter parent nor am I bench parent – yet.
I try a balance of teaching and trial by fire. All this being said, I used to look around parks and play structures and see who I like to call “bench” parents. You know who you are, and I longed to be you. I wanted to sit and drink a coffee and check my phone and “ignore” my kids. Do you know what happened while I played with my kids at the park? Kids whose parents weren’t standing right there watching them came to play with us. They sought out the attention of the closest parent.
I go back and forth with disliking you bench parents and being jealous. I COMPLETELY understand the perspective that perhaps you have not had a moment all day to stop and breathe or catch up. I know that there are kids who are tornadoes in and out of the house and the playground is a parental sanctuary. I am lucky, I have two girls who can play together or independently and give me five minutes if really necessary.
However, I dislike it when your kids don’t have playground manners and you aren’t paying enough attention to intervene.
Don’t worry, I am that Mom who will correct your child’s pushy rude behaviour, as they shove past my smaller kids to be first at the slide. Spitting, swearing and generally unruliness, I am not a fan. Sit and do whatever you want, but divide your attention a little, shout “take turns” or “wait”.
I am jealous that you can sit and enjoy your coffee, switching off your parental radar for even just a few minutes. Perhaps you have had a tough time at home or perhaps not. Either way, I always feel a little pang of I wish that was me. However, every time I sit, my kids call “Mom come see” “look at this” “can you help me?” “you be the bad pirate”. And who can say no to them or ignore their call to arms, not me.
I am constantly going back and forth. Where I end up is, now that my kids are older and don’t need me in arms reach, I think I might just take up residence on a near by bench. I am confident that over the past number of years being right involved with my kids at the playground, they know how to share, take turns and play together. They will wait for little kids at the top of the slide or help another child up the ladder. I can see them being the people who I want them to be – nice park citizens, happily participating in play with your kids. We can both bench parent now, my kids have it under control.