(CNN)The fear of being a helicopter parent began years before I had my first son. Back then, I was fairly certain I could avoid overparenting, and would give my children a healthy amount of freedom.
How to know whether you're a 'helicopter parent' and why it matters
Now, seven years and two kids later, I have no idea if that's the case. If I get down on the floor to do blocks with my toddler, am I guiding or hovering? If I help my kindergartner with a school project, am I inspiring or overbearing?
While "helicopter parent" was first identified decades ago, the concerns surrounding it have evolved. First, we largely worried about the effect this style of parenting had on kids, who were being raised in a pressure cooker and suffering anxiety and depression as a result. Then we became worried about the effect it had on parents, particularly working moms who couldn't keep up with the relentless demands at home after a day in the office. Now we are contemplating the way helicopter parenting feeds the growing gap between the rich and the poor.
In their new book "Love, Money, and Parenting: How Economics Explains the Way We Raise Our Kids," economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti look at how parents in more unequal societies, like the United States, tend to push their children harder than those in more equal societies, like Sweden. The more we perceive the world as one in which the winner-takes-all, the more we are likely to do whatever we can to ensure that our children are the winners.
My hand-wringing over possibly being a helicopter parent takes into account all three of these issues, along with one more complicating factor. Research shows that some degree of hands-on parenting can actually be beneficial for children, helping them emotionally and cognitively. My own life also tells me that some degree of hands-on parenting can be fulfilling for the parents too. I'm not pining for the days of benign neglect, but I also don't want be buying my children's toilet paper for them while they are in college -- a college they got into with the help of the thousands of dollars I spent on tutoring, or worse.
How do we know how much parenting is the right amount? And how can I figure out if that is the amount I am doing? Or, in other words, am I a helicopter parent?
One reason I am so confused about whether or not I am a helicopter parent is because the definition of it is unclear. "Helicopter parenting" is often used as a synonym for intensive parenting, and, more confusingly, both permissive and authoritarian parenting. But these are all different.
Intensive parenting means you put