In Denmark, I recently heard the term “curling parents,” the Danish idiom for “helicopter parents.” For those unfamiliar with the sport of curling, one player runs in front of the curling stone with a broom clearing its way across the ice – an apt metaphor for over-parenting.
When I think about parenting from the safe perspective of a grandfather, I often think about how it occurs in nature. The new parent or parents nourish and protect their young, and then educate them almost entirely by example. Attachment theory tells us that infants and some animals relate emotionally to parents or caregivers who are sensitive to their needs and responsive in their interactions with them from birth. But even so, animals instill independence early on in an effort to teach survival and perpetuate the species. They then leave the young adult to survive, or not, and the cycle begins anew.
As we have become more narcissistic, moving from “us and ours” to “me and mine” over the post-war, halcyon years of domestic optimism about peace, access to healthcare and education, employment opportunity, and consumer excess, a revolution has occurred in the culture of parenting.
The child’s natural progression from dependence to independence has slowed considerably. Children remain childish longer. The former exigencies of survival and practical skill development are in decline. More time is now consumed in “finding oneself.”
But the wealthy and the powerful continue to send other people’s children off to non-defensive wars. Many Americans have lost access to healthcare or higher education as incomes have stagnated while prices have climbed. This is creating an expanding class of working serfs no longer able to earn enough to provide for their children, even as we bob about in a sea of consumer excess. The young show little interest in or skills for milking cows, house cleaning, repairing things, or picking fruit.
Narcissism always finds fault elsewhere, so we look to “failing” schools, uncensored media, and social influences to blame, when, in fact, we have only ourselves.
The cultural shift from preparing a child to survive and thrive to one that perpetuates parental or social dependency serves neither the child nor society. The curling parent perpetuates dependency as they try to live out their own needs through their children and generate successive populations of middle-aged children.
Contrary to the demands of the narcissist, schools cannot “fix” children who are in the thrall of their parents. I remember asking my father what the term “in loco parentis” meant when I was sent to boarding school. He didn’t go into the legal meaning, but only said that it meant that my teachers and advisors were my new parents and that I would have no recourse at home. In short, I needed to do what I was told.
In the best sense, we never outgrow our parents, nor they us. But if we are to thrive as a society we need to raise mature adults capable of challenging work, independent inquiry and managing their own future.