helicopter parent finance

Plenty has been written about the drastic downside of helicopter parenting — or the practice of hovering over our children, protecting them from every discomfort and failure, that they grow up to be incompetent, anxious adults with a sense of entitlement so crippling it stands to undo our economy (sorry to blame you for everything, Millennials. Just regurgitating what I've read).

Once again, the discussion focuses too heavily on the poor children. What about the parents — and our bank accounts?

Helicopter parenting and the legal and social pressure to ensure our children are supervised full-time into teenhood and beyond is financially devastating for parents.

The website for the Office of Family Services for New York, where I live, addresses the issue of how old a child can be to be left alone with this:

 There are no straightforward answers to these questions. All children develop at their own rate, and with their own special needs and abilities. Some children are responsible, intelligent, and independent enough to be left alone at 12 or 13 years of age. Likewise, there are some teenagers who are too irresponsible or who have special needs that limit their ability to be safe if they are left alone.

That is right — the state STARTS the left-at-home-alone conversation at age 12! This lack of freedom and void of risk-taking for the child is not only guaranteed to stunt that kid's development, but also his mom and dad's financial viability. If that tween is not home alone, that means that he needs to be with an adult — either a sitter in his home, or another's home, or in an after-school program, which all parents know is usually exorbitantly expensive.

In a discussion on Facebook about this, someone asked:

[clickToTweet tweet=”Is helicopter parenting the new status symbol?” quote=”Is helicopter parenting the new status symbol?”]

Others pointed out that helicopter parenting is race and class specific. In other words: It is only rich white communities that insist on hovering over their children, because it is mostly rich, white people who can afford it. In lower income neighborhoods, kids have more freedom because there are no other options, since there are fewer full-time, at-home parents, or money for expensive, constant sitters.

Examples of how the helicopter parent mentality costs you financially

Lots of ink has been paid to the high cost of child care pre-kindergarten, a phenomenon so dire that it can be solely blamed for the ever-stubborn gender pay gap, as it discourages mothers from remaining in the work force, investing in their careers and building wealth. What has not been reported, is how our current dysfunctional parenting culture promotes and enforces child care mandates well beyond any historical precedence — and parents are required to pay a financial price for it.

Example 1: I believe my 7 and 9 year old are perfectly fine playing at the playground across the street from my apartment by themselves, but other parents and the law think otherwise (last year I received a threatening phone call from my 7-year-old's first grade teacher after she learned on that one day he walked two blocks to the bus stop alone. The threat is real). So, instead of working, I am there after school staring blankly at children play. Or, I pay a sitter $10-15 per hour to stare blankly and watch them play. At the crowded playground I see parents of all classes, races and nationalities (I live in Queens, where the immigrant population is high), all of whom look like they have any number of better things to do than watch their children climb uber-safe playground equipment with other children whose parents are also standing within feet of them — reducing chances of exploration or brawls to zero. The main thing I would like to be doing at 4 p.m. is working and earning, and I am a lesser professional, mother and citizen as a result.

Other mothers do pay for this care. A fellow single mom who lives in Chicago is forced to pay $20 to a sitter every weekday afternoon her 12-year-old daughter has tennis practice at courts inside of her gated community, located 1/4 a mile from her front door. The tennis program's policy is that the kids cannot leave unattended by an adult. Since the going rate in this urban area is $20 per hour, and the sitter charges a one-hour minimum, this mom (who works like 70 percent of U.S. mothers of minor-aged children), forks over the sum.

Example 2: At age 11, instead of being coddled by my own single mom, not only would I spend hours at home alone or with my younger brothers, I sometimes babysat young kids. Babies, even. Because I was young, I would be paid a nominal sum, say $5 per hour in today's dollars — which was a great help to many parents of young children who did indeed need child care. By age 12, I had a summer job detasseling corn for minimum wage. Today, many parents would believe an 11-year old needs a sitter, as does the younger child, of course. So now, between those two families, instead of total output being $5 per hour, the total is $30 per hour for sitters ($15 per hour x 2 families — the skyrocketing rate for babysitters is yet another example of our collective heightened value of safety for our kids).

Example 3: Since we have determined that an 11-year-old is too young to be alone, and therefore earn money at a part-time job, that thrusts more spending pressure on the tweens parents, just as the cost of extracurriculars, clothes, devices and other expenses skyrockets year-after-year.

Example 4: Aside from financial expense, managing, booking and communicating with a host of sitters and nannies takes up valuable mindspace, which is disproportionately taken on by women who could better use this energy to build careers, give back to their communities, or develop hobbies. Or, just think about other things than managing babysitting for capable teenagers.

Example 5: Since mothers are disproportionately the caretakers of children — both inside and outside of marriage, whether they are employed or not — all this pressure to compromise everything in our lives to constantly supervise children holds us back as a gender. When women are perpetually doing the math on whether to work late to earn a promotion, or rush home to be in proximity of a middle-schooler as he gets off the school bus, then the freaking pay gap will never close.

What is the answer? How can we turn this around?

How to stop wasting money on child care when your kid is too old

  1. Get hip to Free-Range Parenting. This is a movement and book by the same name, by my friend Lenore Skenazy, who has been called “the worst parent in the world” because she wants your kids to play outside, get exercise, develop into a cool person and generally be normal. She has all the facts about how the world is way safer today than it was in 70s, 80s and 90s when  you and I were growing up, running around the neighborhood and spending hours watching Price Is Right reruns with no parent home.
  2. Do what you feel is right as a mom. If you want your kids to play outside, or walk to the bus stop or stay home for a few hours while you go to dinner with your friend, then do that.
  3. Change the parenting culture. This means promoting your newfound free-range parenting with other parents. In a fit of frustration, two hours ago I posted my thoughts on the economic impact of helicopter parenting, and have gotten hundreds of commiserating affirmatives. I am guilty of cowering to the pressure from other parents to hover over my kids, but I do buck it, too. My children walk together two blocks to the bus stop most mornings. I run errands while they play at the playground. Saturday mornings they walk around the corner from our building to buy fresh croissants for the family. It really takes one person to give others permission to do the right thing. Then the snowball takes effect. Be that one person.
  4. Make your own alternative child care options. If you do need your kid watched — scream it loud and clear and recruit other families in your neighborhood to create collaborative systems. Maybe you take turns stalking your collective brood at the playground. Rotate houses where the kids play. Chip in to pay a teenager to take the a bunch of families' littles to the pool. Whatever. Do what you can to decrease the adult-to-kid ratio, and the increase your bottom line.

About Emma Johnson

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder  Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.


  1. Anna Seewald on October 7, 2018 at 11:39 am

    I love your solid, grounded view as always. Would love to have you on my podcast again to discuss this or perhaps single motherhood related topics (I have several topics in mind). The first time you were on my podcast I was new (like you in the podcasting sphere). So much growth has happened. By the way, your book has been one of the most recommend books by me this past year:)

  2. Jean Winstead on August 22, 2017 at 3:39 am

    As our children grow up, we will be in a delimma that should we just stay at home to be a housewife. Personally speaking, I don’t think so. I believe that each mom should have their own work no matter what it is and how much we can earn. At least, we should work and only in that way can we realize our own value. I’m glad that our ideas and beliefs resonate with me so much! Thanks a lot!

  3. Sam Davey on July 28, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Hi Emma,

    I always enjoy reading your e-mails. I really like your advice and raise some valid points – especially re children aged 11 and above. I’ve known parents to feel that someone has to be home – even during the day, in a safe area – for children as old as 13 or 14! It also seems bizarre for tennis lessons where an adult instructor (hopefully!) is already present.

    However, I am less certain about younger children and I am not sure about your advice to mothers to go out and do what you’ve admitted that you wouldn’t do yourself due to potential legal intervention and peer pressure (assuming these examples are all from your own experience, which they may not be).

    If there is anything I’d like to challenge, it’s the perception that work and children need to be separate. I think it’s a false assumption. What about educating/training out children to such a level that they are able to come to work with us? My daughter comes with me sometimes. It took a level of maturity to get there but if child care isn’t possible, she comes with me and feels quite proud to do so.


  4. Jenny DiCicco, single mom on July 28, 2017 at 1:43 am

    In my opinion, this is just as much of an EMOTIONAL & MENTAL DISASTER….as it is a financial one!!! Let’s teach independence, self reliance, trust and autonomy (age appropriately of course)… Rather than codependency, PLEASE! This is how we can serve ourselves, our children and, as a result, our communities better. Yes, our bank accounts would also benefit from this as well. Free-range parenting = taking our power back…our children are ours.

  5. Rayo on July 27, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I think parents are the problem, most of the working moms that I know working is there excuse to avoid the responsibility of being a parent. They complain about the high cost of babysitting but they don’t do anything about it. I’m a single mother and even before I got divorced I take the time to be a real mom I always worked and I never pay for kids care because when I’m at home I teach them to be responsable and respectful with each other I give them responsibilities starting at the age of 3. when I get separated my older daughter was only 11 yrs old and the little one 6yrs old and they are mature enough to be alone for couple of hours until I back from work.
    We made the choice of being parents but no many are happy with that decision and blaimed the poor choices they make on successful careers, work, the economy or that they need time for them selfs.
    Children are growing with out moral and with no respect neither for adults or children because they don’t have the attention of their own parents and we leave to others the responsabilty of their education. (That way we have some vary alse to blame for our poor parenting behavior)
    One question how is that posible that we complain about the “high cost on children care” that in my opinion is not enough competing with the cost of animal care for exemple walking and fitting a dog with private companies $30.00 for 15min walks? Hope you can understand my point of view.
    Thank you!!

    • Jennifer on July 28, 2017 at 10:24 am

      I am a single mother with my ex in my 10 year old daughters life the minimally, although I would love for him to step up and be there more. Financially i support my two children and all that it entails by myself. Barely and sometimes it’s barely not. However st the age of 10 I started leaving my daughter home alone. I do not leave her long periods of time with my two year old son because I think he may or on a stress level for her and the idea is that she can behave and be safe while I am not there every minute of the day. Bt with my two year old, things can get risky and accident s do happen, especially with two kids and no parent around so I make it a rule not to leave her home alone with her brother if he is awake.
      So for instance I can run and go get some groceries while my two kids are at home, while the baby takes a nap.
      The law in California is there is no age limit but varies based on if you think the child is capable and mature enough to stay at home alone. Kind of like the children in the middle of a parent a seperation. In California a child’s opinion on where they can live can be taken into consideration at any age level where the judge feels that the child is capable of making an intelligent decision on doing so. The judge has the option to call upon child in those type of cases if he feels it will benefit the child in some way.
      One thing that I can say is at least we as parents still can decide what our child is ready or capable of doing on their own or not.

    • Megan on July 28, 2017 at 10:52 am

      Childcare versus animal care is definitely an apples and oranges comparison. While pets are certainly part of the family, they are also a luxury. Children are necessary to the continuation of society and our species. (Yes, I know we have a lot of people on the Earth right now, but if no one made any more babies, it would still be a problem.) So it makes sense for our society to invest in children (from solid prenatal care, early intervention programs 0-3, high quality and accessible childcare, and finally strong educational opportunities). This is an aside from the general conversation of the costs of helicopter parenting.

    • shawn mc on September 6, 2017 at 6:57 pm

      hey rayo
      how are you anyway im Shawn..I just read your post and im like wow you must be a wonderful mom well im also a single dad and I know how it is to raise kids alone..I think you must be a very strong woman which ofcourse I respect you for and i know your kids are gonna be so proud of you I have a son which is my entire life and I love him so much hes growing so fast lol.anyway I will like us to be friends but since we can’t talk here I will drop my number 740 673 0125 i will be waiting on ur text since we are in the same shoes I hope we have lots in common..forgive me if im talking too much lol and did I forget to tell u you have a nice name rayo..have a nice day

  6. Ginger on July 27, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    Preach Sister!!

  7. Ann on July 27, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    I get it and agree but check the laws and be careful when you leave your children in a public place unsupervised. The last thing you want is child protective services to start an investigation of your family. This is nothing to overlook especially if you are not lucky enough to be in an amicable relationship with your children’s father. So while I don’t like helicopter parenting either, there is the very real factor to consider that something could happen while you are not there and there could be real consequences.

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