I’m really glad my children were all grown up before I ever heard the term “helicopter parent.” It’s supposed to refer to the kind of parents who are always at their child’s side, organizing things just so, arranging and scheduling every moment of their child’s time and in general doing their best to make sure that their child’s life goes smoothly, in all ways and at all times. Helicopter parents are a frequent subject of ridicule in the media and on the internet, with no one admitting that they are one and everyone blaming them for all the ills of the current crop of children and young adults. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit a dirty little secret: I’m pretty sure I qualified, if not as a full-fledged helicopter parent, at least as a drone wannabe.
All I can say in my defense was that I had the best of intentions. I didn’t want my kids to be the smartest, most popular and most athletic kids in the class, but I did want them to be happy and well adjusted, and spared from the kind of pain I remembered all too well from my own childhood. And so I stayed too close, was overly protective, was too quick to try to right a wrong, and too often took their pain and disappointments as personal affronts to my parenting skills. I might not have over-scheduled my children, but I was over-involved in details of their lives that would have best been handled all by themselves.
I know part of the problem was my own personality, as I am a natural worrier and organizer, and not at all the type of person who is able to easily “just go with the flow.” I think many of us have unrealistic expectations of what we can and cannot accomplish as a parent. Recently, I read a blog where a young mother stated, “I know that my job is to make all my kids’ dreams and wishes come true.” There was a time when I would have agreed with her, but now I just wanted to tell her that her job is only to help teach her children how to make their own dreams and wishes come true.
My son and daughter are both in their late twenties, are each either married to or engaged to a wonderful person who loves them, are working hard at building their careers and are busy exploring their own interests. In other words, they managed to survive my helicopter parenting without any major damage. And they are patient with me when I backslide and begin to inquire as to whether or not they are exercising and eating right, remembering to lock their doors at night, and in general treating them as if they weren’t smart enough to manage their own lives just fine.
I think the final job of parenting is learning to let go. That means letting go of the guilt that we weren’t the perfect parent we wanted to be, letting go of the desire to constantly guide our children’s lives, and letting go of the child they were in order to accept the adult they have become. For every parent, there comes a time when the only thing worth hanging onto is the love.