The reason Indian mothers have been addressed as helicopter moms, is their basic need to oversee every aspect of their child or children’s lives, constantly. However, the metaphoric term first appeared in 1969 in a bestselling book, Between Parent & Teenager, by Dr. Haim Ginott, which mentions a teen who complains, “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter…” It first became popular with millennials in America back in the 2000s and subsequently, reached the Indian shores. Parents, moms in particular, have earned a certain degree of notoriety for practices like calling their children numerous times in the day, tracking their activities from wherever they are, talking to teachers about their grades all the time, and calling neighbours and relatives to keep a check on their routines.
“I know that they get annoyed, but this is the only way to keep a vigil on them,” says Namrata Lote, a 38-year-old working mother in Mumbai, whose son is nine years old. “I try to be the ‘satellite mommy’, but in moderation. There are days when I am out for work, and my son Angad is unwell. So, I make more than two calls at home in a day. On other days, it usually never exceeds one call. This aspect of parenting, where we’re keen, eager and probably, needy of information on what our child is up to, will change with time. It has to, because as much as I might want to know what he’s up to and who he hangs out with, I know that he will not be able to take this intrusion. When I was Angad’s age and when I grew older, I felt that my mother was infiltrating my personal space more than necessary and that wasn’t right. And if I do exactly what she did, my son will also feel as wronged as I felt back then, or maybe more.”
Mumbai homemaker Anita Pathak has gifted mobile phones to her two teenaged sons with the primary purpose of keeping a tab on them; she can tap them whenever she feels the need to do so. The 40-year-old believes that technology comes in handy for mothers like her, who are usually at home and have limited access to their children’s friend circle. Anita explains, “Maybe my children don’t like this habit of mine, but then I, too, don’t have too many avenues to reach out to them. So, I call them a few times in the day to just check on them. It keeps me at peace and I completely trust them. In a few years, they will be on their own and I won’t have the liberty to keep an eye on them, but today, I get worried. I know that they get annoyed sometimes, when I want to know their whereabouts and about their friends. I don’t let them sneak out, but this is the only way I can keep a vigil. It’s a delicate age and I don’t want them to keep bad company or lose focus in life.”
With instances of security lapses that lead to frightening incidents, schools across the country have begun to deploy systems like biometric and GPS that enable parents to keep an eye on their child while they commute to school and back. Reportedly, some parents even install CCTV cameras at home and check its footage every few hours on their phones when they are away.
Nisha Shahi, whose nine-year-old attends a school in Noida, believes that some of these activities are a must for the security of children, to protect them from abuse and untoward incidents.But she also feels that at times, modern parents, in their bid to outshine others, become overprotective and don’t realise that they are denying privacy to their child. “Parenting has changed over generations and will change further. Our parents were just mom and dad, who didn’t know that there was a science called parenting. Today, there’s a concept and it’s evolving. Also, people want to show that they are more concerned about their kids than other parents, so they overdo things.
Protecting the child is one thing, and being a satellite parent, hovering over their kids’ heads, is another,” she adds.
Vanita Patil, a 40-year-old mom who works as a house help, thinks different children have different needs. Some kids need their parents to hover around them all the time. She explains, “Some children actually show you signs — like my son had anger issues at one point, while my daughter is composed and knows what she’s doing. So, I had to be doubly conscious of where my son was and what was he up to. Sometimes, being a helicopter parent is not a choice we make; it’s the only choice we have.”
Times of India