In my new feature, “Ask GaGa,” I’ve been answering questions from grandmas who need advice. This grandma resents being spied on by her daughter and son-in-law when she babysits for her granddaughter.
I am a first time grandma of a one month old. My daughter and son-in-law have cameras all over their home. The first time I watched the baby, I asked my daughter not to use the cameras, a request that was ignored. The second time, I simply turned one camera toward the wall, preferring not to be watched. Almost immediately, I received a text asking me to turn it back around, which I did. The problem now is, what do I do going forward? I am not a stranger and certainly not a hired caregiver. I am seriously considering not babysitting at their house but offering to care for her at mine, where there are no cameras. This is likely to cause a problem for all of us. By the way, they asked me to install cameras in my own home and I declined. I would love some feedback.
Spied on Grandma
Dear Spied on Grandma
Welcome to the world of helicopter parenting — being involved in a child’s life in a way that is over controlling, overprotecting, and over perfecting, in a way that’s in excess of responsible parenting,” explains Ann Dunnewold, Ph. D., a licensed psychologist and author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. She calls it “overparenting.”
Although the term is most often applied to parents of high school or college-aged students who do tasks the child is capable of doing alone (for example, calling a professor about poor grades, arranging a class schedule, manage exercising habits,) helicopter parenting can apply at any age.
In your daughter and son-in-law’s case, it seems their helicopter parenting has begun at birth. They’re over controlling and over protecting by installing video cameras all over the house. Helicopter parenting can develop for a number of reasons but at this stage it sounds like they have new-parent anxiety.
Anxiety is a natural response to protect one’s baby, and often that’s expressed with hyper-alertness and hyper-vigilance,” says Margaret Howard, Ph.D., director of postpartum depression at Day Hospital at Women & Infants’ in Providence. That’s why, according to the Mayo Clinic, 89 percent of new parents find their minds racing: What if the baby suffocates? Or slips under the water during a bath? What if someone breaks into the house and snatches her? “For most parents, this is just mental noise,” says Howard. “They learn to dismiss it, so the thoughts stop cropping up.”
You’re going to need a lot of patience and empathy in dealing with your daughter and son-in-law and it may last through the first year. For us grandmas who raised our children without car seats and let our kids ride in the “way back” of station wagons, today’s new parents’ protective requirements may seem a bit irrational.
There’s a constant tension between what they can control as parents and what they can’t control. It’s being okay with what they can’t control that’s very hard for some parents. For your daughter, installing video cameras in her home is her way of controlling the situation when she’s not there.
New parents are especially overprotective and fearful of any number of possible scenarios based on excess information on the Internet that feeds those fears. Parents of first children are novices. They’re more likely to take notes, ask questions, and worry about their kids. Having a first baby brings with it insecurity, lack of confidence, and anxiety. Anxiety could be the new postnatal depression, it seems, and is more common than postnatal depression.
But in his book, Worried All the Time: Overparenting in an Age of Anxiety and How to Stop It, child and family therapist David Anderegg, Ph.D., makes the case that today’s parents are taking worrying to an unhealthy extreme. While it makes sense to be anxious about global events, many parents needlessly agonize over even routine childrearing issues, says Dr. Anderegg. “Worrying about terrorism is understandable,” he says “but parents worry too much about the everyday aspects of parenting.”
Another reason helicopter parenting develops is with overcompensation. Adults who felt unloved, neglected, or ignored as children can overcompensate with their own children. Excessive attention and monitoring are attempts to remedy a deficiency the parents felt in their own upbringing.
Since your granddaughter is only one month old, your children need time to trust you because they’re struggling themselves. It’s easier to project their own insecurities onto someone else. Couples feel daunted by the task of parenting and often over think and catastrophize possible scenarios.
Your first step should be to sit down with them and begin a conversation. Explain that you’d like to better understand their need to install video cameras. Assure them that you know how scary it is to be a new parent. Ask them about their fears and concerns. Try to be empathic and listen without judgment or body language that suggests how you really feel.
Above all else, do not get into a power struggle with them or give them an ultimatum. Otherwise you may end up not having the privilege of spending time alone with your granddaughter, which is the ultimate goal of most grandparents. Try to appease their fears by saying that you’re okay with cameras in their home but not in yours. It’s a first step toward showing them you want to be part of the “team.”