Over the last several years, it’s become incredibly common to hear about helicopter parents. These parents micromanage every aspect of their children’s lives, making it impossible for a child to function on his or her own. What’s less common to hear about, though, are helicopter children. These are children of ill or elderly parents who function in much the same manner, imposing their presence or will in situations when it is either inappropriate or to the detriment of the parent. Understanding how to avoid casting yourself in this role is quite important if you’re concerned about your parent’s ability to receive proper care and to preserve his or her autonomy.
The Defining Characteristics
As you might expect, it’s easier to avoid casting yourself in this role if you know what it looks like to be this person. The term “helicopter child” does not refer to an adult child who simply cares about his or her parents, nor does it mean a person who takes an active role in making sure that his or her parent is receiving the proper care. Instead, a helicopter child is an individual who goes above and beyond the normal parent-child relationship to take responsibility for a parent in situations where doing so is inappropriate.
It can be difficult to know where the line between advocate and meddler exists. There’s no doubt that helicopter children have the best of intentions when working with their parents or with caregivers. Realizing that you’ve taken up this role means being able to assess yourself critically and to know when it’s time to step back and reevaluate what you are doing. If you recognize that your actions are based more on your own fears and insecurities than the needs of your parent, you may be a helicopter child.
Changing Roles and Expectations
Much of the difficulty surrounding this phenomenon has to do with changing roles. When you were younger, your parent was likely your primary role model for how taking care of someone. He or she made major decisions for you, protected you from harm, and generally interceded on your behalf. When your parent begins to need help, you naturally may find yourself wanting to do these same things.
The inclination to do this, of course, comes from a place of caring. What you may not realize, though, is that your actions are not always conducive to your parent’s well-being. After all, you’re not dealing with an infant. You’re dealing with an adult who is often very aware of the losses he or she is experiencing. Even if your parent needs extra help, recognize that they still have a sense of pride. Your attempts to ‘take over’ can make a difficult transition even more difficult.
Avoiding the Role
If you want to make sure that you are an appropriate caregiver, it’s important that you remember to involve your parent in decision-making. This may not always be possible, of course, but the goal is to make sure that your parent feels involved in decisions affecting his or her life. Work with your parent as a partner if you can do so, or at least work from your parent’s wishes if a partnership is no longer realistic.
When you do have to make decisions without your parent’s input, stop for a moment and think about why you are making the decision. Are you choosing something that is for your parent’s well-being, or is it for your own peace of mind? Is the decision based on real needs or your own fears? Double-check your motivations and try to imagine how you would feel if the decision was being made for you. Always try to keep the best interests of your parent in mind.
Always remember that you are caring for another adult, even if you find yourself anxious about the future. You cannot treat your parent like one of your children. You must do what you can to preserve your parent’s autonomy and pride when possible. If that is not possible, make decisions that infringe upon his or her autonomy as little as possible. While being a helicopter child may come from a place of love, remember that the results of acting in this manner can backfire and cause a rupture in the very relationship you want most to protect. If you want your older parent to live his or her best life, you may need to take a step back.