Commentary: To hover or not – that is the question

December 04, 2012|By Dr. Allyson Brooks

My dad has cancer. He is 74. The cancer is in his bones, and he has trouble walking. I'm a doctor, the oldest of four children. The role I could be playing in this family crisis is obvious.

But I've learned something from parenting three boys that is helping me navigate through this turbulence differently than I would have expected. I'm not dive-bombing my way into my parents' lives. I'm not micromanaging my father's care. I'm not — with great difficulty, I might add — issuing orders to my dad's doctors, my parents or my siblings.

We've all heard a lot about "helicopter parents," the nervous hand wringers who hover over their children and dive in to "fix" any problems that may arise. As our parents age, and my generation increasingly faces the responsibility of caring for ailing moms and dads, we run a real risk of helicopter parenting our own parents.


Instead of swooping in on my helicopter, I'm trying a new and, I have to admit, somewhat unnatural role: wingman.

A few years ago, I read an article about wingmen that resonated with me as a mother of teenagers. A wingman offers support and physical presence. A wingman helps to ensure safety, but a wingman does not take the lead.

This idea is particularly relevant as an adult daughter. Know how much a 16-year-old fusses if you try to tie his shoelaces? Imagine the reaction you get from a 74-year-old.

My dad is sick, but he's also a practicing attorney. He's been a husband for 50 years, active grandparent and avid sportsman. Neither he nor my mom wants any of us — even "Dr. Bossypants McFirstBorn" — to come in and "fix" things.

That was abundantly clear a few weekends ago when the four of us siblings descended upon my parents' home in Ventura and immediately assumed our childhood roles. While we moved furniture around to make it easier for our dad to safely navigate his house, he cautioned us not to make his home into a "hospital ward."

My mom pushed back whenever we tried to impose our way of doing things on them. I particularly had to bite my tongue when it came to our dad's care. While I think it would convenient if my parents stayed with me in Newport Beach and received their care from my colleagues at Hoag Hospital, they didn't quite see it that way.

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