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Why I Stopped Being a Helicopter Dad

I am tucked up under a plastic tunnel on one of those big jungle gym contraptions they have at the park for the kids. There are a lot of people out here today, a lot of parents sitting in the shade of the trees, on benches and at the picnic tables, and a lot of kids running around squealing and tossing themselves down the slides.

I am squatting, kind of.

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Then again, maybe squatting isn’t the right word. I don’t know what exactly you might call the position I am in at the moment. I guess it’s actually more like that awkward position you assume when you’re out in the woods camping and you have to fertilize the forest behind a tree or a bush.

No matter. The thing is there are a lot of people here on this bright and beautiful day, and I seem to be the only one, of any age, who is hanging out under the equipment. It dawns on me around then that I might have a problem. It dawns on me that getting all tucked up underneath 30 happy clamoring children, including two of my own, might seem a little weird to a lot of these other grown-ups around here.

And beyond that, it occurs to me that I’m quite more than likely creeping everybody out.

It’s an epiphany, in a way. I have a little epiphany, a brief moment of clarity in the middle of my overprotective day, and over the course of the next minute or two, as laughter and bits of soft wood chip rain down on my 41-year-old head, I realize that my natural inclinations to follow my daughter and my son out onto the playground in order to protect them from falling off the monkey bars or slipping off the rock climbing wall is pretty ridiculous. I mean, look at me now. My own penchant for waiting there at the bottom of the slide when they come roaring around the bend all smiles and giggles, as genuine and self-satisfying as it may be—there’s no denying the fact that it’s also pretty pathetic.

I figure it was right around then that I must’ve decided that all of that helicopter parenting stuff is for the birds.

Now when we get to the park, I make myself sit.

It’s never an easy decision if you’re the cautious type, like I am. You don’t just hover over your children like a fat mama bear every time you’re out in the world for a couple of years on end, and then just up and decide one day that you’re done with all that. Unless, of course, you’re like me and find yourself being watched by a bunch of raised-eyebrow parents wondering exactly what the hell "Strange Dad" is doing over there.

Helicopter parenting isn’t anything new, and there are plenty of other people who have written about it before me. But I feel this small need to tell other parents who might be on the fence about it—or might find themselves practicing the fine art of shadowing their precious toddler whenever they move one step to the left or two steps to the right—that ever since that day last year when I decided that it was all just too high-maintenance for me; my life, and more importantly, my kid’s lives, have gotten a whole lot better.

I don’t worry about the danger anymore.

I’m serious.

Maybe it was the shame or maybe it was the embarrassment, but whatever it was, it was some kind of egotistical spark that led me toward this whole new outlook about letting my kids finally do their thing without dad staggering around with open arms, anticipating their next tumble. And, yeah, sometimes a slight case of ego can ruin your day, but in my case I think it kind of saved it.

Now when we get to the park, I make myself sit. As my kids run toward all that adventure, I just holler at them to be careful around the swings or they’ll get a Ked in the temple. Then, much to my own surprise and delight, I’m the chillaxed guy over at the picnic table, leering slightly inappropriately at a couple of hot helicopter moms as they follow their own kids around from swings to slides. And even though I realize that that might be mighty creepy of me in a whole new light, who cares?

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At least nowadays my own kids can feel the special kind of freedom that can only be felt when you’re standing up at the top of the mountain all by yourself, a 4-year-old thrilled by the possibility of it all. At least nowadays my kids understand that falling down on your own tiny ass every now and then is actually kind of cool when you really think about it.

I almost messed that up.

But I’m glad I didn’t.

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