I discovered that I’m a submarine parent, without even knowing it. The first time I heard that term was when I was asked to write an article on it.
After getting more familiar with the term, I realized that my style of parenting, which involved monitoring my child from a distance, until they actually need me, or face an emergency situation, is actually known as submarine parenting.
What is submarine parenting and why are parenting experts singing its praises?
Unlike “helicopter parenting”, which involves micro-managing your child to the point of doing everything except actually breathing for them, submarine parenting is the art of nurturing from a distance, and keeping track of your child without being over-involved.
Hope Perlman calls it the perfect median between neglectful and helicopter parenting. Teen coach and author, Todd Kestin, defines submarine parenting as staying out of sight, under the surface, letting kids manage their lives as things come up, while keeping the proverbial periscope up.
It’s about being aware of how things are going with your teens, noting how their decisions are turning out, and being available to step in as needed. This approach empowers teens to work their way out of problems, issues and take their own decisions.
So what does a Submarine Parent do that is different from, say, a Helicopter Parent? They help their child learn the lessons they need to survive without them.
Here are the 5 essential lessons that submarine parents teach their kids.
They teach their kids independence
Instead of micro-managing their kids all the time, doing everything for them, as helicopter parents are wont to do, submarine parents allow their kids to experience life without planning every step their offspring will take. They stay just out of sight until they are needed, allowing their kids to deal with deal with issues their own way.
Sending their kids to summer camp with other kids of their age, allowing them to spend time away from home, learning essential life and survival skills, are all ways that you can teach your child the skills they’ll need to survive when they’re grown up and no longer have you to depend on.
They teach their kids to believe in themselves
Submarine parents allow kids to make their own decisions with regards to their lives, with the option to ask for guidance whenever they need it. It gives kids the confidence and the self-assurance to deal with issues without having to run to their parents for every little thing.
When you respect your child to make their own decisions, they will learn to respect themselves and their own ability to function as an adult. This has the added benefit of teaching your child to “believe in themselves”, which will hold them in good stead as they navigate the challenges of growing up.
They teach their kids that it’s OK to fail
Because they know that making mistakes is the best way to learn – and that we learn to make good decisions by making bad ones – submarine parents teach their kids that failure is just a stepping stone to success.
What might seem, to onlookers, as disengaged and uninvolved parenting is actually “parenting with intention”, says Kestin. “Purposely giving them the room they need to succeed and to fail and bounce back again.”
Submarine parents don’t obsess about preventing their child from falling down and scraping their knees, or making even bigger mistakes in life. They know that learning to bounce back from mistakes is the very skill that builds resilience in a child, and teaches them to deal with failure as an adult.
They teach their kids to be happy
By backing off and letting their kids handle their own life issues, submarine parents give themselves the freedom to be happy, and a happy parent is the best role model a child can possibly have. Because they take responsibility for their own happiness, submarine parents teach their kids to be responsible for theirs.
They teach their kids to follow their dreams
Instead of laying their own expectations on their kids, submarine parents let their child decide their own life path, teaching them that their dreams and goals are important and matter to them.
This gives kids the freedom and the confidence to choose their own path, instead of being forced to do what their parents think is “right” for them, or being held back by the burden of fulfilling their parents’ unfulfilled expectations.
So if you find yourself becoming a helicopter parent, doing more for your child than is healthy for their growth and development, take a page out of the Submarine Parenting book.
Learn to back off and let your child do more for themselves, so that they can grow into a self-assured, confident and independent adult. And if you’re a submarine parent, give yourself a pat on the back for doing right by both, your child and yourself.
Visit Loving Your Child for more parenting tips and resources.
Very valid, but I think we can also have some level of choice there. Of the two question ‘how will my child turn out?’ and ‘what kind of parent will I become?’, the second is definitely the more important one. Both questions correctly imply that there is a certain lack of control; at the end of the day, we do not have 100% control either over our kids or over ourselves – there is too much passive programming involved. However, one defining characteristic of adulthood is that we’re expected to know what we’re doing, which correctly implies that we have at least some level of control. In their earliest formative years, children have no control at all over the world around them or the people who make up a large part of their world – their parents. That means that for quite a while, they are genuine victims. If something goes wrong, their case will stand up in court – ours won’t. We can’t be parents unless we’re biologically capable of being parents – and by that time, a certain amount of awareness of and control over what we’re doing are operative factors. In the years when their base personalities are formed, children will turn out to be whatever their parents are forming them into. In those very years, we will be the parents that we choose to be.
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