This article was originally published as a guest post on Kate Pieper, LMFT’s blog on March 17, 2016. In honor of college orientation and registration time, and with Kate’s permission, I decided it might be a good idea to revisit this subject.
We are all guilty of it at some point in our kids’ lives. It just comes naturally, and we can’t help it. Parents wind up driving their kids crazy by being a wee bit overbearing. The more common term for it is helicopter parenting.
Learning to let go can be a painful, slow process in a parent’s life. You have to make yourself do it, especially when they go off to college.
I found myself “helicoptering” once when my oldest child, Jacquelyn, was in her freshman year of college. I learned that she had overslept and missed one of her classes. Well, I just could not let that happen again, so I did what any good, long distance parent would do. I called her the next morning in time for her to get up for class.
Big mistake. Here’s why.
- She was in college and old enough to get up on her own.
- If she did not get up, she was old enough to deal with the consequences.
Understandably, she got angry with me for calling. Really, Mom! I don’t need anyone reminding me to get up!
Yep. I got the message, and I learned my lesson. Back off, Mom! She can handle this.
I learned the hard way not to let one mistake define how I was going to treat her from that point forward. Besides, her grades were always very good. She did not deserve such scrutiny. (She ended up graduating Summa Cum Laude from engineering school. I should have just chilled.)
Perhaps you think your child does deserve the scrutiny of “helicoptering.” Perhaps your teenagers are still at home and sometimes exhibiting irresponsible behavior. We as parents have to make it clear to our teens that it is vital for us to trust them, and the only way we can do that is to give them opportunities to be trusted. Small at first, then larger as they prove they can handle more, and be sure to be liberal with your praise when they do.
Think of a dog on a short leash. Maybe this is a bad analogy, but I am going with it anyway. On the short leash, the dog has extremely limited freedom to move and run and explore. He can get easily frustrated and try harder to pull away. But, the more leash you give him, up to a point, the more chance he has to learn how to walk on the leash properly, at a good distance from you, without pulling to get away. He is still tethered, still safe, but he feels as though he has some freedom of movement.
Certainly once your teen is in college, shouldn’t you give her the chance to at least prove that she is able to handle some of the freedoms that come with being away at college? At this point, you do your college student more harm than good by being so hyper involved in her life.
We hear all manner of horror stories about how college kids party and do things that don’t exactly make their parents proud. But if we give them a chance to be responsible at home first, then maybe they will exercise that responsibility later when we aren’t around to police their every move. Maybe responsibility is a learned behavior.
You’re probably thinking, “But you don’t know my kid!” Well, you’re right. I don’t. But I do know from my own personal experience that eventually you will have to let go and step away. I know you are going to miss them. I know it is hard to let go, but it needs to happen.
Have you ever been a helicopter parent? If you have, then you are in great company! Scroll down and leave a comment in the section below to tell me how your helicoptering might have affected your child, and what you learned from it. Maybe you were glad you did it! Maybe not. Let me know.