It’s an Epidemic. It really Is. One that is just as destructive as a serious illness sweeping across our nation. It is one so serious that it will slowly erode the strength of our societal fabric. And, more frightening is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be slowing.
The Helicopter Parent
I have no idea where they came from, these overly involved helicopter parents. I am not a psychology major. I don’t research the mindset that has brought us to this odd juncture in life. I read articles about parents who cannot get their kids to move out of their house. I talk to physician friends that tell me that parents accompany grown children into the exam room and then ask questions for them. College professors talk about parents calling them on behalf of their kids. And, now, in the latest of this saga, I just received a note that parents in my sons Bootcamp are being asked not to call the BOOTCAMP TRAINING CENTER to ask why they haven’t heard from their kid yet? I wanted to scream – because it It’s F**king Bootcamp. (???) The fact that it would even cross a parents mind to call and ask that question absolutely stunned me.
It’s hard to comprehend. At what point did parenting begin to extend beyond 18? At what point did parents become the final word on all that concerns their grown adult child? (Grown Adult – I know that is redundant but I felt like I needed to say it twice.) Basically, at what point did people stop allowing their child to grow up?
Let’s back track. Was it in Pre-school when a child was scooped up at every fall, coddled at every cry, praised at every effort? Was it in elementary when they were able to call at any moment to have a parent bring a forgotten lunchbox, musical instrument, or piece of homework? Was it Middle School when kids began to have opportunities to correct problems on testing so that they wouldn’t end up with a poor score at any point? << I mean, heaven forbid that they don’t think they are smart. >>Was it the moment that their parents began to dedicate their entire lives to league sports, spending tens of thousands of dollars to haul them from event to event for years on end? Was it high school when the parents would make it a full time mission to ensure that they got all of the boxes checked? Volunteer Hours, Kindness Training, Special Tutoring, Leadership Awards – anything and everything to make sure that their kid looked great on paper? Was it the moment that getting into a “Great College” became a greater focus than asking a teenager what they actually like to do and then comparing their natural aptitude to what they enjoy?
I have no idea. But, I DO know the epidemic is based on fear. Fear that kids won’t be successful. Fear that they won’t find their place in life. Fear that they aren’t actually the smartest, fastest, strongest, and most brilliant kid that they were told they were when they were little. Fear that they can’t handle something on their own OR that they won’t present themselves in the best light possible. Parents are scared.
But, why? The scariest thing that I can imagine is crippling my kids. I have never told my kids that they were destined for some great success. That is not mine to tell them. I have zero idea what they will do with their lives because, (brace yourself), I have zero to do with it. My job, and the job of every parent in the world, is to care for children when they are young. It is to provide them with a formal education, a physically safe and emotionally safe environment that will allow them to grow. Of course, feeding them and watering them is a nice touch, too.
Parents will all do it differently and that is perfectly OK. Some will be more hands on than others. I was more of a “Tough love and learn from your lessons” kind of mom where my sister was more of a ‘Let me help you with it” kind of mother. Despite our different parenting styles, we both had one thing we did exactly the same. When they became adults, we let them go. My sister and I aren’t exceptional. There are many parents who have done the same and their kids have grown beautifully into their adult lives. That being said, there are as many whose kids are not thriving – and the parents don’t know how to help. The problem is, the parents can’t help now. It’s too late. Helping while they are adults is a detriment – not an asset. The “Help” should have been there when they were young.
Formal parenting stops at 18. After that, we can guide, advise, (when asked), offer encouragement and be a good listener when things don’t go well but if a young adult is to succeed in this life, they must be able to move forward on their own. They will make plenty of mistakes. That’s OK. I did. You did. People make mistakes. It’s part of the process. The problem, though, is that too often parents didn’t let the kids fail when they were young. They fixed every mistake. So, when the kid grew up and things didn’t go well, they had no point of reference. They didn’t know what to do. In those cases, mistakes will seem overwhelming and suffocating. And, once again, the parent may want to jump in to make it better. This odd cycle of inability to cope leaves many scratching their head and blaming the young generation.
Now, shame on me for saying this – but it is NOT their fault. (I know, I just said everything was their fault. So confusing!) It’s the parents fault. If we, as parents, quit coddling them, they will be just fine. Take your hand off. Remove the training wheels. Let them go. They are smart, and strong, and resilient. And, honestly, if they aren’t – they will learn to be. They might fail, or drop out of college, or choose not to even go. (Gasp!) They might get fired from a job, drink too much one night, or get an F in a class. They might go to bootcamp and get their ass handed to them. They might get to a doctors office and not have a single f***ing clue where to go, what papers to fill out, or what to do. They might not know how to buy groceries or balance a checkbook. BUT – if you stop doing it for them – they will figure it out. Let them.
I know. Hate mail is coming my way. It’s OK. I wrote a blog 9 years ago that suggested parents should make their kids move bricks around the yard to teach them about manual labor (LOL) and I received it then, too. I don’t care. What I DO care about is that we acknowledge the intelligence and the capability of our young adults. We did our part raising them. Our time is over. They don’t need us now. And, that is EXACTLY how it should be.