Family Matters

Why an Easter Egg Hunt Brought Out the Worst in Helicopter Parents

Easter egg hunts are for kids. But when pushy parents in Colorado muscled their way in and grabbed all the eggs — for their children, of course — an annual hunt was canceled.

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In an April 23, 2011 photo, children dash to collect as many eggs as possible at the Old Colorado City Easter Egg Hunt on in Colorado Springs Colo. Organizers have canceled this year's event, complaining of parental behavior.

I don’t know much about Easter egg hunts because I’m Jewish — the eggs we focus on in April are on our seder plates — but the little I do know is that eggs are hidden by adults and found by kids.

It’s up to children to discover them, collect them and deposit these multihued, hard-boiled ovals of protein in prettily decorated Easter baskets. It’s a tradition of Norman Rockwellian proportions.

So you can’t help but pity the poor kids in Old Colorado City, which has nixed its annual event due to a particularly egregious example of helicopter parenting: last year, some very aggressive moms and dads grabbed the eggs. And they didn’t bother to share.

Can you blame them? The plastic eggs were simply splayed out on the grass, hundreds of them beckoning in plain sight, just asking to be scooped up. A rope demarcated the borders of what was intended to be a kids-only area, but these overzealous moms and pops handily stepped over the string — what’s a skinny little piece of twine to big, tall parents — and gathered up as many eggs as they could. What was supposed to be a fun and leisurely hunt — I’m picturing little girls in flowered frocks, although pictures from last year show kids in hoodies due to the chill — was over in mere seconds.

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Blame pushy parents hell-bent on making sure their kids got their fair share. Mazie Baalman, owner of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and sponsor of the event, told the Associated Press that the fracas resembled a domino effect: “If one parent gets in there, other parents say, ‘If one can get in, we all can get in,’ and everybody goes.”

Don’t we spend much of our lives imparting just the opposite lesson? You know, just because someone else does something doesn’t mean you should do it too?

Where’s the common sense here? The decorum? The recognition that parents can’t and shouldn’t participate in every aspect of their children’s lives? Might it be true that parents who help their kids with every little thing run the risk of raising children who can’t fend for themselves in the real world? That’s the underpinning of the helicopter parenting generation, a type of parent that refuses to let her kid struggle, much less fail.

I tend toward the opposite extreme. I make my kids do as much as they can on their own. When one of my kids wanted some paper for drawing at a coffee shop over the weekend, I told her to go ask a barista. When another needed to know how to get to a bathroom at a restaurant, I said, Go find out. No hand-holding here — unless we’re crossing the street.

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If there is a rough Jewish equivalent to the seek-and-find of the Easter egg hunt, it might be the bar or bat mitzvah tradition of lobbing sugared gummies at a kid as a candied congratulations on their special day. The sweets land on the ground, and other children scramble to collect as many as they can. When my 4-year-old recently came up empty-handed, my husband intervened on her behalf, trying to coax a much older girl to fork over one of the handful she’d collected. The big girl had no mercy. Which prompted my husband to crawl under the pews in search of a candy. Which he found. He felt a little foolish, but the hug he got in return made it worth it.

And that’s why you can kind of feel for Lenny Watkins, who took his friend’s son, then 4, to the Colorado egg hunt in 2009. “You have all these eggs just lying around, and parents helping out,” he told the AP. “You better believe I’m going to help my kid get one of those eggs. I promised my kid an Easter egg hunt, and I’d want to give him an even edge.”

This is what it’s come to: Easter egg hunts are now exercises in honing a kid’s competitive streak. Or maybe not. Lenore Skenazy, who makes a living chronicling stories of parents gone crazy on her Free-Range Kids blog, tweeted about the egg hunt on Monday. She had the final cautionary word on the tale of dads and moms gone mad. “As much as I’d like to say we’re going to hell in an Easter basket,” she says, “it must be an aberration or it wouldn’t be getting national play.”

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