There was a post published on Scary Mommy a while ago called "Dear Helicopter Moms, You're Ruining it For Everyone Else." It got quite a lot of attention, and led to a very long and heated discussion in the comments section. In the post, the writer explains that she is more of a "bench-warmer" when it comes to parenting style, particularly at the park where she wants her kids to try things out for themselves, to take risks and explore, and to just be kids who play, without a parent intervening all the time. But she gets frustrated when other moms on the playground hover around her children, worrying about their safety, helping them cross the six-foot-high ladder while glancing around for their inattentive care-giver to give her the "stinkeye."
In lots of ways, I totally agree with her. I am also a very free-range park parent. I like to sit on a bench and read, or chat with my friends, and I usually even make a no-swings rule before we get there, unless you are able to pump for yourself, so that I can avoid having to push a swing. Climbing up the slide? Sure, as long as there's no one trying to slide down! Playing with sticks? Of course, unless you're hitting each other. Climbing trees? Go for it! Parks are for playing, and for reading if you are a mom like me.
But I couldn't fully agree with the post, actually, even though it made me laugh. Because when my toddler is climbing a six-foot-high ladder and someone hovers below her, ready to catch her when she falls, I tend to holler, "Thanks!" from my bench. I'm fine with her climbing, but if another mom is worried, she can go ahead and hold her hand. And if I genuinely receive an actual "stink-eye" from another parent, I definitely say, slightly embarrassed, "Oh geez, I'm just sitting here! Sorry!" and get up to hold my own kid's hand.
Because, see, I don't feel like "free-range" is an integral part of my identity. I just kind of ... parent. My guess is that the "helicopter" parent playing with her child at the playground is doing the same. Her style is different than mine, perhaps, but neither of us is spending much time analyzing each other -- or ourselves, for that matter.
Besides, I'm not free-range when I'm at the pool. I'm rather paranoid about drowning, so sometimes I might be the helicopter mom putting my extra water wings on your child. If you don't care about your child wearing a floaty, I'm not water-winging them to spite you because I think you're neglectful; I just don't want to worry about jumping in the pool to rescue them later. Maybe, at the park, that other mom doesn't want to wait with me for the ambulance to arrive when my kid breaks her arm falling out of a tree.
So whether you're more of a bench-warmer, or a helicopter, or a free-ranger, or an anything else, how about we let the labels go and appreciate our complementary styles? Instead of getting annoyed when I see you actively play at the park, with your kids or mine, I'll think how great it is that you're enjoying your day with your lucky child. I'm gonna go ahead and assume that when you look at me with my butt on the bench and my face in a book, you're thinking how nice it is that I'm able to be so relaxed and to enjoy a few minutes of down time.
And then you can catch my kid when she falls off the ladder, and I'll offer you a donut when you wander past my bench. You can sit and relax for a minute while I get up to rescue my toddler who got her foot stuck, because neither of us actually live up to our labels very consistently, really. Except for that one label we share, of course. The one we hear our kids shout to us from wherever they are playing.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: