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Mom Talk: The Rise of the Helicopter Kids

Written by Mita Mallick

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Mita Mallick

If your kids have gotten more clingy during quarantine, you are not alone. In fact, New Jersey-based mother of two Mita Mallick has coined a new term for these children: Helicopter Kids. Below, the busy mom of Priya, 5, and Jay, 7, who also serves as Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Marketing at Unilever, tells us her totally relatable story. 
“Mommy, what are you meeting about right now?  Can I say hi to your friends?” my 5-year-old daughter peers over my shoulder, her face now close-up to the laptop camera. Abandoning her Peppa Pig coloring book and pencils that I had just set up for her.

“Mom, are you eating a snack? Why are you having grapes, we have all those ripe bananas in the bowl,” exclaims my 7-year-old son, as he scowls at me, peering over the pages of his Harry Potter book.

“Mommy, are you folding laundry?”

“Mom, what you are you printing?”

“Mommy, who just called you?”

“Mom, when are you going to help me organize the bin in my room?”

“MOMMY,” my daughter screams, banging relentlessly on the bathroom door. “Are you peeing or pooping? I need to use the bathroom NOW.”

Six months into this pandemic, I feel their eyes on me. I feel them hovering, observing, and scouting me. They zoom around inside our 1,500-square-foot condo. They fly around, and fly around, and come down to swoop in and swoop back out. Without a moment of rest, I hear them constantly all around. Watching every single move I make.

Please wave and say hello to my helicopter children.

And I am not thriving in this pandemic. I am not enjoying these everyday moments together. I am surviving my helicopter children. Because like in The Police song, every breath I take, every move I make, every call I take, they are watching me.

The helicopter parent was a term coined in the 1990’s by development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay. Helicopter parents hover over their children, watching their every move, stunting their independence and growth. The term was likely born out of so many things that have changed, including fear of children getting kidnapped and stolen. The need for playdates in urban settings. The pressure for kids to go to the best schools. Helicopter parents were there to prod, push, and protect. And then push some more.

My helicopter children were born out of the 2020 pandemic. The social isolation, the self-quarantining, the virtual schooling. Being together all day, all night, all the time. The constant and close proximity to me and their father in small quarters. Only an arm’s length away—unless we were on the toilet. And even then, only a flimsy door and the screams separating us from each other for a few fleeting moments of alone time.

According to a 2019 Florida University study, the effects of helicopter parenting can deeply affect kids as they head into adulthood. Specifically, kids with helicopter parents, defined in the study as parents who are overly involved and excessively monitor, have trouble transitioning to the real world and showcase signs of burnout. When kids are micromanaged by their parents, they don’t develop self-control skills to cope with external stresses and to achieve short-term and long-term goals.

Please allow me to reveal the results from my own personal study on the long-term effects of helicopter kids on parents, including exhibiting a lack of self-control, showcasing signs of co-dependency, having a difficult time transitioning from my remote-working, parenting, and schooling bubble back into the office, and finally signs of burnout.

This is how I will carry these effects with me when I finally do go back into the office:

I will show up to work in ripped jeans and my coffee-stained #BossMom t-shirt, unaware that I have bits of Cheerios and Cheez-its still stuck in my hair. My pockets will be stuffed with Pokémon cards, a couple of Band-Aids, a glitter pen, a handful of Starbursts, and exactly two bunny hair clips.

I will help myself to my colleagues’ leftovers on their plates during lunch without permission and take any and all snacks from them as well.

I will pause randomly while speaking in meetings, waiting to be interrupted by my imaginary children in the conference room with me, have the urge to slice an apple, to read a BOB book aloud, or to search frantically for the remote to start Disney+.

I will have an acute withdrawal of spontaneous hugs, kisses, and cuddles. I will likely be fired for randomly hugging colleagues and not observing social distancing norms.

I will shake, quiver, and cover my ears if for some reason I hear the faint sound of anything resembling the theme song to Peppa Pig, The Lion Guard, and Sophia The First.

I will sprint in the other direction every time I hear someone say “Mom” or “Mommy” and throw a packet of fruit snacks at them in fear they are chasing me.

Finally, I will be distracted at work, swinging back and forth like a pendulum; one moment happy to be away from my children, and the next moment missing them desperately. I will feel sad and insecure and lack confidence. I will feel burnout.

I feel suffocated by my children when they are right next to me. I miss my children when they are not right next to me. I can’t stand their pushing and prodding. I both loudly and silently scream. I miss their pushing and prodding. I have embraced it during our new normal.

The hovering and “zooming in and out” of my helicopter children will no doubt have lasting psychological effects on me when I physically return back to my office. No doubt my helicopter kids will have trouble adjusting when they are back at school someday and away from me and their father. It’s time for both of us to gain independence and autonomy again and tackle life experiences on our own.

And will I miss that banging on the bathroom door?

Good question. And I never thought I would say this. I think I would welcome back that work bathroom stall where the door never fully locked any way in exchange for a few moments of peace and quiet.

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  1. Portia says...

    I have helicopter kids????

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