Drone Parenting


Hi, I’m Rebekah. I’m a ‘drone parent’.

(The picture above is a ‘helicopter parent’ — my sworn enemy.)

I watch my kids from afar. I do not engage in their every activity. I let them argue with other children and I don’t try to settle the arguments. I let them fall down, sometimes getting hurt. When extreme danger in imminent, I swoop in and act, otherwise I just survey the scene from a distance, like the pilot of an unmanned drone.

This is not negligence on my part. This is my parenting strategy, one advocated by experts like these and these. I believe in letting kids make (and learn from) their mistakes while the costs of making mistakes are small. I believe that if I protect them from themselves when they are little, they will not develop the judgement they need to make good choices when they are bigger and the costs of making mistakes are much higher.

My polar opposite is the helicopter parent but, being a drone, I tend to just ignore the helicopters. (I’m letting them learn from their mistakes, too.) But, being helicopters, it seems to be outside of their natures to just ignore me. Case in point:

Last night Bo, my 8-year-old son, had soccer practice. He’s too young to just be dropped off for practice so I have to stay and watch with my other two younger children. Rudy is 4 and Lucy  is 10 months, and neither is AT ALL interested in sitting still and watching their brother play soccer. Rudy wants to run and Lucy wants to crawl, and not even in the same direction. But I’ve found a way to manage both. The soccer area (there are several fields side by side)  has a six-feet-tall fence around the entire complex. There are no breaks in the fence and only one gate, which stays closed during practice. There are usually lots of other siblings running around and Rudy likes to play with them. My solution: I put Lucy in a jog stroller and walk laps around the complex while Rudy plays with her new friends. I’m able to constantly watch Rudy as she plays, even though I am not right next to her, and Lucy stays entertained and happy as we walk. (And I burn a few calories.) Rudy is a pretty obedient kid and likes to follow rules. She’s stays off the soccer fields and doesn’t go near the gate. She can see me at all times and knows to come and find me if she needs me, and I tend to walk right by her every five minutes or so.

I’m pretty proud of this plan. Rudy gets exercise. Mommy gets exercise. Bo gets exercise. Lucy doesn’t scream for an hour. Everyone is safe. Everyone is happy.

Well, almost everyone.

Last night as I was approaching where Rudy was playing at that moment, another mother stormed up to me, flanked on either side by three children who looked to be between 9 and 15. When I was few feet away she spat out, “Is Rudy your child?” (Naively expecting her to tell me how adorable my little girl is) I smiled brightly and said, “Yes!”

“When I asked her who was watching her, she pointed at you,” the lady said accusingly.

“Yes, I am watching her,” I replied (not quite as brightly as before. I was beginning to see where this was going.)

“Well, don’t you think you should be with her if you are watching her?” she demanded.

“No, no I don’t,” I replied and I kept on walking.

The lady’s jaw dropped and when I glanced back over my shoulder she was walking in the other direction, leaving.

I’d love to say that the encounter didn’t get to me, but it did. As parents, I think we all worry that we’re screwing up, and nothing makes us worry more than another parent telling us that we’re screwing up. I spent the next 20 minutes reminding myself that I am a good mom; that I am not negligent; that Rudy really was safe and had never been out of my sight. Then I went to my mean place and noted internally that the woman had three kids, all at least middle school-aged, who were weirdly attached to their mom in public…

But that’s not fair, so I’ll stop.

The thing is, if you do parenting well, you’ll work yourself out of a job. If you over-parent, you’ll find yourself parenting those kids well into their 30s and even 40s, and possibly parenting their kids, too.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.