My hands shook as I packed my sons’ brand-new lunchboxes. At ages 6 and 9, they were headed off to their first day of school after years of being homeschooled.

The house was quiet when I returned from dropping them off. I waited for waves of grief or guilt to wash over me. To my surprise, they never came.

There was nothing particularly unusual about this transition—except for the anxiety I’d had beforehand. I embodied the idea of “helicopter mom” long before I heard the term bandied about on the Internet.

Helicopter parents are the philosophical opposites of “free-range” parents, a phrase popularized by Lenore Skenazy. The columnist garnered controversy in 2008 when she wrote about the time she let her 9-year-old son ride the subway by himself.

As I prepared for the arrival of our firstborn a decade ago, I determined to be a great mom. I read all the books. I formed opinions, lots of them. And regardless of what my mother-in-law and mother said, and regardless of the kindly offers of help and support, I was convinced that my kids’ well-being depended on me and only me. Homeschooling was just one way that I would pilot my parental helicopter.

Oh, there were other good reasons to homeschool. By the time my oldest was 9, we had lived in four different countries, and I couldn’t bear uprooting my children from school again and again. But I homeschooled mostly because, for a time, I was unwilling to trust my kids’ education to anyone other than me. In other words, I was terrified of taking my hands off the control panel. I was worried that something terrible might happen to them if I wasn’t there.

In Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead, protagonist ...

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