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How to find the right balance between helpful and helicopter parenting

Ultimately, our children’s strives towards independence are signs that we parents are doing something right.

How to find the right balance between helpful and helicopter parenting

One of the trickiest aspects of parenting seems to be the fact that those little kids just keep changing. Just when you think you’ve figured out the perfect bedtime routine to get your toddler to sleep (without spending hours in her room), she changes and doesn’t go for it anymore. Just when you learn how to wear the baby carrier and not break your back, the baby outgrows the carrier or prefers the stroller instead.


This is especially true when it comes to figuring out how much to help your kids.

Of course we always want to help our kids. However, since kids change almost constantly, the task they needed help with yesterday is something within their realm of skills today. As our kids grow, we have to start encouraging them to do some things on their own.

How do you balance fostering independence and still being there when they need you?

Let your child lead

When our babies are born they need us so much, and we get into a habit of doing everything for them. Then one day we start to realize they aren’t babies anymore and they can do a lot of things on their own. However, this change is so gradual that it’s easy to miss.

The good news is that our children will often let us know when it’s time to let go a bit. I remember the first time my youngest son decided he didn’t want to be rocked to sleep anymore. We had been nursing and rocking to sleep (or near sleep) for about a year. We both enjoyed it. Then one day, shortly after his first birthday, he just pointed to his bed after story time. I was a bit sad, but learned to relish his little efforts at maturity. He knew it was time to move on, even if I did not.

...But consider their temperament and safety

Around toddlerhood I realized I couldn’t always follow my child’s lead when it came to balancing independence with helpfulness. I had to consider both his safety and his temperament. With kids who are particularly strong-willed or adventurous, their desire to do things independently is often strong. They are not intentionally trying to be difficult, they just have a keen sense of confidence, and they take it as an affront to their strength if you try to help too much.

Understanding your child’s temperament can be helpful for avoiding power struggles. The key I found lies in allowing them to feel empowered as much as you can, while still maintaining their safety.

In real life terms, this often means choosing your battles wisely.

Consider each situation independently—are there ways in which you can allow a bit of freedom without compromising safety? Maybe that means you allow your child not to hold hands on the sidewalk, but hand-holding is a must in parking lots. If your toddler insists on putting on her own shoes, try to allow enough time in the morning for her to at least try.

Sometimes the balance between independence and helping can involve tag-teaming a task—mom or dad does one part and your child does the other. I found this helpful when my toddler wanted to try to buckle himself in his car seat. He didn’t have the motor skills to do the bottom buckle, but he could (with much trying and patience) do the top buckle. So the rule became that I clipped the bottom buckle and he did the top one.

Little strives towards independence are great, but they often require a lot of patience on our part.

Language matters

Another key in finding the balance between independence and assistance is using language that empowers your child. If your child wants to do a task that you know they are unable to do on their own, flip the situation around and talk about how she can help you complete this difficult task.

This often works well with kitchen tasks. Little hands always want to help cook, cut (yikes!) or mix while you’re in the kitchen. By showing how she can help you, you empower her to feel independent, but you still have a bit of control over the task.

Let go of the outcome

In the struggle between independence and helpfulness, the aspect that often trips up parents is the outcome. If I allow my toddler to put on her own clothes, she will be mismatched or disheveled. This is not the outcome that most of us prefer, but if it fosters a bit of independence and prevents a meltdown, then I feel like it’s worth it.

As with all things, there’s a time and place for everything. Perhaps allowing your toddler the freedom to dress herself on school picture day may not be the best idea, but if it’s just a random Sunday at home, why not? Letting go of the outcome often helps parents get more comfortable with their children’s strive towards independence.

Ultimately, our children’s strides towards independence are signs that we parents are doing something right. They feel confident and secure enough to try new tasks on their own. Finding the right balance between helping and not hindering their independence is a tricky task we will undoubtedly be working on until they reach adulthood.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

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Vanessa Firme/Instagram

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