In Defense of a Helicopter Mom

Eliana Osborn essays

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I’m not a helicopter mom, I promise. I have legitimate reasons for worry. And hovering.  And near panic attacks when my son is away from me. See, he has epilepsy. He has seizures. He gets scared and my job is to help with that. Totally reasonable!

At least it was reasonable when it started. When Owen was two-and-a-half years old, he started with the shaking and all the rest of it. For a long time we couldn’t see a doctor, and even then it was a long time before we got pictures of his brain and brain waves.  That first year was a hard one: I could only use half my brain power at any given time since the other half was always worrying about my tiny boy.

Owen will turn six very soon. He’s not dead. He has no permanent brain damage. He is even medication free. One year ago we wouldn’t have believed it, let alone three years ago when every day I worried he’d have a seizure he couldn’t escape. I didn’t let him out of my sight for 18-months unless he was with his father. I gave up most of my work to focus on Owen and figuring out his needs.

We tried medications, all sorts, which helped for a while but never completely eliminated his seizures. No afflicted area was ever discovered, as is the case for about half of kids with seizure disorders. He got some injuries—broken front tooth, lots of falls with scars on his chin and knees. For a while his whole right side was weak and he’d drag his leg. How can you blame a mom for keeping close watch on her child with these sorts of things happening?

From our first visit, our pediatric neurologist told me that Owen needed to have a regular life. Certain precautions were in order, like that he should never be in water alone, but he should be allowed to climb trees and be adventurous. I should let him get hurt instead of putting him in a cocoon. I nodded my head and agreed in theory, but implementation was hard.

I sent Owen to preschool with trepidation. His teachers were aware of his condition. I may have chosen a school just a mile from my home so I could get there quickly, but I made it all year without checking on him during class. 

My husband took Owen and his brother on a three-week trip over the summer without me. We talked on the phone most days but I tried not to micromanage from a distance. I made sure the emergency medication was packed, even though my husband doesn’t like to use it. I didn’t forbid any activities. I trusted that someone else would take care of my boy just the way I would.

I’m getting better. For kindergarten, I talked to the teacher and the nurse. Not the whole class as I had planned. I am trying to give my boy space to be his whole self, not the sickly kid. Because there is so much more to Owen than his seizures: he talks about numbers constantly, he does great impersonations, he’s hilarious, and he likes to run. Yes, sometimes his brain misfires. Sometimes he’s exhausted from having a seizure the night before. When he gets a small sickness, it’s a big deal. That’s such a small part of his life—and mine—which I’m getting more comfortable with.

Most overzealous parents aren’t trying to be that way, hopefully. There can be very good reasons for our constant worry and care. It has taken time and practice, but my brain is back to 80/20 in my favor, rather than 50/50 with stressing about my son.

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About the Author

Eliana Osborn

is a writer, professor, wife and mother living in Arizona.

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February 2015 – XO
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