The Helicopter Mom

Photo Credit: Ray Chan

Photo Credit: Ray Chan

You’ve probably heard the phrase - those infamous words describing the kind of mom we’re NOT supposed to be - a “helicopter mom”.

When I first heard what a helicopter mom was, I was sure that would never be me. Ha! What did I know, I got the Love and Logic Parenting cassette tape series as a baby shower gift before I even gave birth to my first child!

Basically, like the word implies, a helicopter mom (or dad) hovers over their kids.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

Psychologist Dr. Ann Dunnewold describes helicopter parenting as “overparenting - by overcontrolling, overprotecting and overperfecting”.  Dr. Daitch writes that helicopter parents “typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures".

Then there’s good ol’ Dictionary.com, that says “In typical helicopter parenting, a mother or father swoops in at any sign of challenge or discomfort.”

The truth is, I never imagined how easy it would be to helicopter my kids; how instinctive it would feel as a mom to tighten my grip on the precious people I’ve brought into this world. And how hard it would be to release my grip throughout their lives when I needed to - and to let them go.

You might be familiar with a guy named St. Augustine.  He’s a renowned historical figure, and a beloved saint to Catholic Christians. But for centuries, even non-Catholic Christians have revered him, deeply moved by his captivating conversion story chronicled in his popular book “Confessions”.

I’ve often heard it said that there’s a great woman behind every great man. This could not be more true of St. Augustine.  And that great woman was his mom.

A mom who also, by the way, became a saint herself – St. Monica.  

The more I’ve learned about this saintly, yet refreshingly real woman, the more she has become one of my all-time favorite prayer warrior mom heroes.

What an empowering story she has to offer any of us who have ever struggled with helicoptering over our kids and letting them go...

Although she was raised a Christian, Monica was given in marriage by her parents to an atheist man named Patricius. For years Patricius belittled Monica’s Christian faith and betrayed her in marriage. Not only did he antagonize Monica, but his mother who lived with them did as well.

Can you imagine living with a difficult husband and mother-in-law?

As if that anguish was not enough for Monica to endure, her firstborn son Augustine became wild and wayward in his teenage years.  In his book “Confessions”, Augustine writes about the depths of darkness and sin to which he plummeted during his youth and young adult years.

Augustine drank, he partied, he had illicit relationships with women, and even fathered a child out of wedlock. But perhaps most agonizing to his mother, Augustine had no faith in God.

Monica was beside herself with heartache and fear for her beloved son. What mom wouldn’t be? Wrestling with an aching desire for him to return to his faith, Monica became the ultimate helicopter mom.

The extents to which she hovered over Augustine are somewhat comical to me, offering a sober reminder of the downright ridiculous things we can do when we spiral down into helicopter mode.

At the age of 29, Augustine decided to set sail for Rome. Knowing his mother would not approve, he tricked her about the timing of his departure. Somehow Monica discovered his plot and ran to the seaport to stop him.  She believed his trip would be futile and only lead to Augustine’s further demise.

Yep, even when her son was 29 years old, the helicopter mom swooped right on in.

The story gets even better.

Augustine and his mistress, together with their child, managed to steal away without Monica, fleeing her grasping hands in the night while she was praying in the chapel. How tragic is that? They boarded the ship and left her while she was praying!

This determined mama wasn’t finished yet. She followed Augustine to Rome, but when she finally arrived, she found that he had moved on to Milan. Though travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan too.

As I imagine this story playing out, it’s hard to believe.  I mean, seriously? This woman sounds crazy!

But how often do I act like a crazy mom too?  How often do I project the worse-case scenario on a situation that one of my kids or husband are in? Certain I know the outcome. Certain I know God’s will. Certain that if they just did it my way, things would work out for the best?

The voyage Augustine had embarked upon was the last thing Monica wanted. It was not in her plan, and it was the furthest answer to her prayer.

So she thought.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Augustine’s journey to Rome and then to Milan was much more than just a physical one. This was the journey God would providentially use to accomplish His purpose for Augustine; leading him to meet Bishop Ambrose, and ultimately, leading him back to Himself.

Monica did not think God was answering her prayers as she watched her son set off on that ship, but Augustine’s journey was in fact the answer to her greatest prayer!

When Monica arrived in Milan, she too met Bishop Ambrose, who had become a mentor to Augustine and would become her spiritual director too. Desperate for guidance, she pleaded with Bishop Ambrose. Essentially, he told her to get her sh** together. To stop her nonsense. To let Augustine go.

The story goes that Bishop Ambrose spoke convicting words to Monica, words I have never forgotten since I first heard them:

“Monica, Monica.  You need to speak less to Augustine about God, and more to God about Augustine.”

GAME.CHANGER.

By the grace of God, Monica heard those words, and she acted on them. And Augustine would later write that that is precisely what led him back to God. In the midst of his mother’s anguish, her rejection, her fear, and her doubt, she fell to her knees and prayed.

She took Bishop Ambrose’s advice.

She.Let.Go.

One of Bishop Ambrose’s most famous quotes to Monica was when he looked at her mercifully and said, "Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish."

Bishop Ambrose knew that a Loving Father had seen every tear she had ever cried for her boy.

As Monica learned how to surrender her beloved son to God in trust, she witnessed this to be true - God would not turn His ears to a mother’s tears.

So how does the story end?

Miraculously, both Monica’s husband and mother-in-law became Christians before their deaths. WOW.

Her son became one of the greatest saints and theologians in the history of the Church. WOW.

Augustine praised God for his mother and her life-changing impact on his conversion: “Graciously You heard her, and You did not despise her tears when they flowed down from her eyes and watered the earth beneath, in whatsoever place she prayed. Graciously You heard her.”

Dear mamas, graciously God will hear us too.

So let’s not hover over our children.  Let’s hand over our children and surrender them to God.

He heard the fervent, tireless prayers of St. Monica, and He will hear ours too.

Thus says the Lord… I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. 

2 Kings 20:5