When we brought one of our sons back to the States to start college, we heard a presenter at the new-student orientation stressing how we should let go and give our children the space to develop independence. We needed to resist the urge to call the dean after the first failed test, to keep in touch but not hover and interfere—in other words, not to be Helicopter Parents. That wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear. Since we’d be living on the other side of the globe, we were looking for ways to feel closer, not farther apart.
But we also understood that most other parents weren’t in our situation and that we’d have to figure out, largely on our own, how to be the best Passport Parents we could be.
OK, I made up that parenting style, but I’m not the only one to create a new name for ways to raise children. In fact, we in the US have developed something of a cottage industry for parenting-label creation. It’s gotten so that there are so many classifications that it’s hard to keep them all straight. So, as a public service, I’m going to run through the ones I’ve come across. Most of these are American-made, but I’ve thrown in some cross-cultural examples as well for good measure.
So we’ll start with variations on helicoptering. . . .
While helicopter parents hover and intrude, Attack-Helicopter Parents swoop in ready for a fight when their children are threatened. They’re also known as Blackhawk Parents, Jet Fighter Parents, Stealth Fighter Parents, Stealth Bomber Parents, and Drone Parents—though Drone Parents can also be those who use high-tech to track their children’s every move. Traffic Helicopter Parents keep their distance but give advice when needed, while Satellite Parents don’t hover at all but instead are simply disengaged and uninvolved.
Other countries have their own versions of helicopter styles. In Hong Kong and Japan, in-your-face overly aggressive moms and dads are known as Monster Parents. Mothers in Gangnam, a wealthy district of Seoul, Korea, who micromanage their children’s education have gifted the world with the term Gangnam Moms. Kyoiku Mamas (“Education Moms”) are Japanese mothers who are overly concerned with their children’s academic success, and Pig Moms are wealthy Korean mothers who coddle their children as if they were piglets.
Tiger Mothers certainly don’t coddle their tiger-cub children. Coined by Chinese-American Amy Chua in her 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, this parenting label refers to an Asian style of strict parenting aimed at producing successful children. Not to be outdone, around the same time, Chinese dad Xiao Bayou wrote a book titled Beat Them Into Peking University (the title was later changed to the less threatening So, Brothers and Sisters of Peking University). He and other self-proclaimed Wolf Dads tout an uber-tough brand of raising over achievers. Cat Dads, on the other hand, are Chinese fathers who use a more sensitive, less authoritarian approach to child rearing.
The Singaporean versions of Tiger Moms are are called Lion Mums, which led researchers at Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (as reported in The Straits Times) to come up with the term Loving Lion Parents, for those who take a somewhat softer approach, prodding their kids to earn good grades without sacrificing a happy environment.
Recent college-admission scandals in the US have brought attention to the kind of parents who are eager to remove all obstacles and challenges from their children’s paths. They’re called Lawnmower Parents, Bulldozer Parents, Snowplow Parents, or Curling Parents (you know, after the sport where someone sweeps the ice in front of a “stone” to help it reach the target).
Stage Moms push their children to be actors, while Soccer Moms, Hockey Moms, Dance Moms, Cheer Moms, Sports Dads, and Tennis Dads devote time and effort toward their kids’ success in their respective activities.
In the face of all this over parenting, some have chosen to be Free Range Parents, giving freedom to their children to promote independence. This is not to be confused with Jellyfish Parents, who are overly permissive, expecting little from their children. In 2014, Psychiatrist Shimi Kang, born to Indian-immigrant parents in Canada, wrote The Dolphin Way: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Motivated Kids without Turning into a Tiger. She rejects tiger parenting and jellyfish parenting (she created that term) and instead tells moms and dads how to be Dolphin Parents who, she says, are “firm but flexible.”
More animal-inspired parenting options include Hummingbird Parents, who hover farther away, giving freedom, but fly in to help when needed, and Elephant Parents, who nurture and protect, particularly when their children are young.
More examples in the category of over-parenting are Sherpa Parents and Concierge Parents. Sherpa Parents, like Himalayan guides, do the heavy lifting and carry their children’s loads as they scale the mountains of life. And Concierge Parents serve their kids as if they were guests in a hotel. These are the opposite of Couch Potato Parents, who simply yell commands at their youngsters with no involvement or follow-up.
And then there are Facebook Parents, who overshare about their kids online.
Lighthouse Parents (from pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg, in Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love with Expectations and Protection with Trust) allow their children to explore the seas of life while they stay on the shore, pointing out dangers. Similarly, Submarine Parents stay under the surface but rise up when their children need them. And Duct Tape Parents (from Vicki Hoefle in Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids) step away and keep their mouths closed to teach their young ones how to navigate life on their own.
Finally, I’ll end with mothers and fathers who are Dragon Parents. My first thought was that these were Tiger Parents on steroids, but that’s not it at all. While many of the labels above are used to snarkily point out parental shortcomings, this one has a much more profound message behind it. The name was coined by author Emily Rapp in a 2011 New York Times essay titled “Notes from a Dragon Mom.” She writes about caring for her little boy, Ronan, who had Tay-Sachs, a terminal genetic disorder. She presents a sobering picture:
Ronan won’t prosper or succeed in the way we have come to understand this term in our culture; he will never walk or say “Mama,” and I will never be a tiger mom. The mothers and fathers of terminally ill children are something else entirely. Our goals are simple and terrible: to help our children live with minimal discomfort and maximum dignity. We will not launch our children into a bright and promising future, but see them into early graves. We will prepare to lose them and then, impossibly, to live on after that gutting loss. This requires a new ferocity, a new way of thinking, a new animal. We are dragon parents: fierce and loyal and loving as hell. Our experiences have taught us how to parent for the here and now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, though this runs counter to traditional wisdom and advice.
Most of us will never need to be Dragon Parents. Instead we’ll be free to choose another model for raising our children. But whatever the path we take, we’ll all do well to learn, along with them, from them, “how to parent for the here and now.”
[photo: “Mother elephant with twins in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, East Africa,” by Diana Robinson, used under a Creative Commons license]