Helicopter parents: Mothers who smother

Cassidy Ferguson grew up in a religious household and attended a Christian school for 14 years.

Her only friends were the people she went to church with. But even then, her mother didn’t allow her to hang out or attend parties unless she knew the parents.

“I couldn’t do anything,” said Ferguson, now a sophomore psychology student at Florida A&M from Fort Lauderdale.

For those similar to Ferguson, the phrase “helicopter parents” or “smother mothers” rings a bell.

Ferguson said trying to reason with her mother was out of the picture.

“I always confronted her and asked why I never did anything,” Ferguson said. “She would always say, ‘Well, I’m your mother, and whatever I say goes.’ “

Although Ferguson said her mother was overprotective, she said she’s happy she was kept from certain things.

When she started dating, she understood what it meant. And because she attended a Christian school, she was able to see life from a religious standpoint.

A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies showed that if a child has parents who are overly involved in their lives, it can have a positive outcome. However, if not nurtured properly, the child can suffer from anxiety and depression.

Huberta Jackson-Lowman, an associate professor of psychology at FAMU, believes overprotective mothers stem from their over-identification with their children, almost as though they are protecting themselves by protecting their loved ones.

“It’s like they aren’t necessarily seeing that their children have to have certain experiences for their own development,” Jackson-Lowman said. “Perhaps they’re reflecting on some of the mistakes they made in their childhood.”

Jackson-Lowman said a child’s development depends on ecological influences and how parents adapt to the environment they raise their children in.

“If they’re in an environment that’s unsafe, some parents will be very protective of their children,” Lowman-Jackson said. “If they’re in an environment where they feel comfortable, know their neighbors and there’s less crime, they may be much more relaxed.”

Some people, such as former FAMU student Tyler Lawson, face a harsh reality check when the mother stops smothering.

For a long time, Lawson said, he had a comfortable lifestyle because of his mother. She traveled from Tampa every two weeks to wash his clothes and make him dinner while he lived in Gibbs Hall. She also did his homework and gave him spending money.

“I had no motivation to grow up,” Lawson said. “How could I when she gave me no reason to?”

According to Lawson, his mother’s overbearingness goes back to when he played high school baseball. Lawson said he was only allowed to participate in school functions if his mom attended.  

When Lawson began his freshman year in the fall of 2011, reality set in. He was not attending classes and his GPA plummeted. He was forced to become an adult and learn responsibility.

“I always thought my mom was going to be my safety net,” Lawson said. “It was coming to the point where she was more like a personal assistant rather than my mom.”