Up to Here with Helicopters! (Confessions of a Former Parachute Parent)

no helicopter parentingI have had it up to here with “Helicopter” Parents  – with the name, with the description, with the concept, with the articles praising them, defending them, explaining them.

(Nancy – tell us how you really feel!)

For those of you not living within the reach of any media, “helicopter” parenting is a term coined in the early 2000’s in connection with the college application process to describe parents who constantly “hover” over their kids, overly-controlling and excessively-involved in all aspects of their lives.

My two kids were in high school in the early 2000’s – but I was much too busy to hover! (Wasn’t I, kids? please submit your rebuttal comments in writing at the bottom of this post.)

I had a full-time job the entire time my kids were growing up, a house to take care of, volunteer groups to show up for, friends to see – and, last but not least, a husband who wanted my attention every now and then.

But – True Confession: I was, often, but not always, just a step above the hovering helicopters. I liked to call myself  a “parachute” parent.

Parachute parents don’t hover or linger but we did swoop in from time to time to solve a problem we thought our kids couldn’t manage on their own and then we lifted ourselves back up awaiting the next parachuting opportunity. And what did I learn from my parachuting days when my kids were in their teens and early 20’s?

That I shouldn’t have done it. Each time I parachuted in to fix something – what was the message I was sending to my kid? – I was telling them that they weren’t able to solve their own problems. But I was undermining them. I was depriving them of the chance to figure out a solution.

Which, of course, is the exact opposite message we want to send as parents, isn’t it? And for years I was as guilty of parachuting in and out as often as the most helicopterish of parents. I would defend myself (as I am doing here) with this very Talmudic (o.k. to look that word up) exercise to explain why parachuting was somehow more acceptable than helicoptering. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Pro Tip: neither parachutes nor helicopters should we be.

Even jokingly. We owe it to our kids to let them fly the nest unaccompanied, to let them learn to handle the tough stuff on their own. They are way more resilient than we may like to think.

Yet this helicopter thing just won’t go away.

Today I read (yet another) article about “helicopter” parenting. In a semi-joking, semi-serious way, the author defended the concept. About how helicoptering intentions were honorable and it was only out of love that they made an appointment to meet with the head of the math department to complain when Emily or Josh was not put in a sufficiently advanced pre-calculus class. Or why it was necessary to “edit” (a/k/a write more than a few sentences) their college application essays.  Or to FedEx rolls of quarters to them while they were away at college so they could do their laundry and not have to walk that very long distance to the bank near campus to get their own quarters.

Or when the helicopter parents visit on College Family Weekend and actually do laundry for Josh and Emily who were too busy “studying”. (After all, What’s a Mom for?)

And when these same hovered-over, parachuted-upon kids graduate from college and leave for their first jobs, new cities, own apartments, the most helicopterish among us mount a new line of defense. They miss their kids so much that they delude themselves into thinking that the best way to stay close to their kids is to find new high-tech ways to hover. To “stalk” them on Facebook, check their twitter feeds, text them constantly, follow them on Instagram.

Really, fellow-parents, doesn’t this extreme “keep in touch” behavior fall into the “Get a Life, Mom” category? Our kids know how to reach us if they need us. Trust me on that. Shouldn’t we lessen up on needing them at about the same time that they lessen up on needing us?

My husband reminds me that he was a “1st generation to college” kid. He went on his own to a distant college in a state his immigrant parents had never heard of. While his classmates from Scarsdale showed up on the first day of school with their parents in their packed station wagons, he flew by himself, carrying one old suitcase across the old campus and miracle of miracles, managed to settle in without parental assistance. He then spent the next four years of college on his own talking to his parents once a week, if that. His Mom and Dad saw his university for the first – and only time – on the day of his graduation, 40 years ago.

Obviously we cannot return to the old days with their more limited methods of communications. But just because current methods of technology – email, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — snapshut, whatever is coming next –  now make it possible for us to parachute in or hover above, let’s rise above those urges, shall we? We aren’t doing our young adult kids any favors. Let them show us how capable they are of independent existence.

That whirring sound you hear? Could it be the sound of the helicopter parents lifting up into the clouds to disappear forever?

15 Comments

Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Communications, Email, Letting Go, Moms, Parenting, Women

15 responses to “Up to Here with Helicopters! (Confessions of a Former Parachute Parent)

  1. I would default to this, were I parent. And that makes me think the Divine knew what s/he was doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jess H

    My parents were SO great at leaving me to live my life and make my own decisions. I remember begging them to “tell me what to do,” and they would talk me through it but always left me to make the decision and live with the consequences. It was painful and felt unloving when I was a kid but in the end it was the best gift. I only hope I can do the same for my son in our very different world.

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  3. greg

    Did Judy read this?

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  4. When I began a a master’s program in 2005, I was in my late 20s. I COULD not wrap my head around the fact that students just a few years younger than I was would get out of class and immediately call their parents. I started college in 1993 and I might have talked to my parents once a week. Now that I am a parent, I try to strike a good balance. I didn’t have the best relationship with my own parents and honestly could have benefitted from a little more guidance. Still, helicopter parents drive me insane, if for no other reason, they make the rest of us look bad. I didn’t show up for the Veteran’s Day program at school this week because I had a work deadline. My son actually asked when he got home if I was there. When I told him that I wasn’t he got upset. I gently explained that when he is at school, I am at work and I can’t make it to EVERY program even though I try my best to hit the biggies. Apparently there were so many parents there that he assumed I was there, just lost in the crowd. Great post!

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  5. I couldn’t agree more. I’m (at times) a parachute mom. I’m at least aware of it and trying to break the habit. Last night my son couldn’t find his suit for his swim meet today. I knew I could find it within 5 minutes flat, but I refused. I told him “I’m no longer enabling your inability to find things” and this morning he found it himself! Score one for hands-off Mama! I will say I’ve never been a helicopter mom. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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  6. As mom to an only child, now approaching 17 years on this earth, I hover. I know I do it. It’s like an out of body, dream state thing. I see it and tell myself to back off and there I go anyway. Sorry, son, for the damage I do. It is with loving-ness . . .

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  7. Anne

    This coming week we will fly to St. Louis from California to have a memorial service for and bury our 39-year-old son Josh suffered with bipolar disorder and was placed in a Missouri state prison for aggravated stalking (calling his wife who divorced him when he became ill). Josh hung himself while in solitary confinenment (he was afraid of being in the general population and had requested it). The prison didn’t have enough staff coverage to watch our son and he hung himself three weeks ago. We’ve been on this awful journey of mental illness for four years now. How I wish now that I’d been that helicopter parent of an adult son so that I could have rattled more cages of officials in the state of Missouri. My son might still be alive.

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    • Anne – I am very knowledgeable about the world of mental illness – we have it in our family too. I am very sorry for your loss. I want you know that I wrote my post about parents of kids who are “neurotypical” – not about the parents of kids who are struggling with the challenges of mental illness. 5 years ago I started a support group at my synagogue for parents of young adults who struggle – its still running today. We talk all the time about when and how to help our kids – and when not to. I’m also on the board of our local NAMI chapter. What you went through was a true tragedy and it is sadly continuing today for many parents of kids/young adults/adults with serious mental illness.
      If you haven’t done so already, please look at the website for Treatment B4 Tragedy (a new group) and the Treatment Advocacy Center.
      Wishing you healing,
      Nancy

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  8. Nancy, I’m with you but I had to be trained. I asked my kids to tell me when I was too involved. Sort of along the lines of “help me help you.” They were able to know I cared enough to want to know what was going on, but respectful of what they wanted to keep to themselves. It seemed to work. But I have friends who have made that call to the math teacher, and I just shake my head.

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  9. I’m not quite the opposite of a helicopter parent, but almost. My mantra, from the time both kids were born, was that our primary job was to help our kids not need us any longer. Sure, I’ll offer help if asked, but the help usually takes the form of “let’s talk about this, and then you go ahead and make the choice that you think is right.” While I have been know to go into a slow burning rage when I think either of my kids has been mistreated, I let them handle their own battles. I want them to feel empowered to act on their own behalf, and to know that their loving parents will be there to act as resources if necessary. So far, so good!
    ~K.

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  10. I think you are right – how will they learn how to solve problems if all of their problems are solved for them. I think that is where this very aggravating sense of entitlement has come from. Parents should guide, not control.

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  11. I’m guessing my older two kids are about the same age as yours since they were in high school in the early 2000’s, too. I don’t think I’ve been living under a rock, but I am just know hearing the term ‘helicopter parent.’ So, I guess it’s pretty safe to say I definitely am not one. My sons navigated their own way through the college process and made their own decisions. They’re now 30 and 28. I’m doing the same with my 13 year old daughter. I totally echo a comment above. It’s our job to raise them so that they don’t need us any longer. They’ll never learn to make decisions as as adult if they can’t make basic decisions while still at home.

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  12. Oh, Nancy, I totally agree. I’ve been guilty of parachuting in at times, too, and it’s rarely the right thing to do. I’m afraid we’re raising a generation of kids who feel entitled and unable to figure things out on their own. I’d like to things their intentions were good but the helicopter parents have ultimately done a real service to their children.

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  13. I love this perspective and I try SO hard to stay in this mindset. My husband is a good grounding force for me (get it?) and if he sees me about to fly in an rescue in a situation when they really can do it themselves, he will remind me (force me?) to let them try first.

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  14. Minou

    I just wonder when the “mommy wars” are going to end. No matter what you do, why do you feel the need to attack what others do? If you’re happy, yay! (FYI, I don’t helicopter, don’t parachute unless asked directly for help. But I am sick to death of the mommy wars. Enough all ready!)

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