Helicopter Parenting and Butterflies

Dr. Sharon Furman-Lee

Once, I heard in a lecture about addictions and how most children who turn to drugs and alcohol rehab come from normal houses where parents are protective and active in their children’s lives. It reminded me of a story.

Why Did the Butterfly Die? / Henry Miller

A little boy in India went up to a guru who was sitting and looking at something in his hand. The little boy went up and looked at it. He didn’t quite understand what it was, so he asked the guru, "What is that?"

"It’s a cocoon," answered the guru, "Inside the cocoon is a butterfly. Soon the cocoon is going to split, and the butterfly will come out."

"Could I have it?" asked the little boy.

"Yes," said the guru, "but you must promise me that when the cocoon splits and the butterfly starts to come out and is beating it’s wings to get out of the cocoon, you won’t help it. It is important not to help the butterfly by breaking the cocoon apart. It must do it on it’s own."

The little boy promised, took the cocoon, and went home with it. He then sat and watched it. He saw it begin to vibrate and move and quiver, and finally the cocoon split in half. Inside was a beautiful damp butterfly, frantically beating its wings against the cocoon, trying to get out and not seeming to be able to do it. The little boy desperately wanted to help. Finally, he gave in, and pushed the two halves of the cocoon apart. The butterfly sprang out, but as soon as it got out, it fell to the ground and was dead. The little boy picked up the dead butterfly and in tears went back to the guru and showed it to him.

"Little boy," said the guru, "You pushed open the cocoon, didn’t you?"

"Yes," said the little boy, "I did."

The guru spoke to him gravely, "You don’t understand. You didn’t understand what you were doing. When the butterfly comes out of the cocoon, the only way he can strengthen it’s wings is by beating them against the cocoon. It beats against the cocoon so it’s muscles will grow strong. When you helped it, you prevented it from developing the muscles it would need to survive."

So, what is the connection between parenting and butterflies?

As parents, we need to remind ourselves that our children should grow up to become independent butterflies. Like the butterfly, our children should experience the challenges that life brings them so they can acquire the appropriate strength that will provide them a safe exit from their cocoons.

The term "helicopter parent" was first used in Dr. Haim Ginott's 1969 book Parents & Teenagers by teens who said their parents would hover over them like a helicopter. It became popular enough to become a dictionary entry in 2011. (Kate Bayless, 2019).

When we act as a Helicopter Parent, we interfere with our children's life experiences and learning. We think we help them avoid unpleasant moments, but we could very well impede them from strengthening their wings to fly as adults. It is especially significant when children become teenagers. Adolescence starts when they feel intelligent and mature enough to make their own decisions. Without making small mistakes and successes as young children, they are more likely to make mistakes as young adults with much larger consequences.

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