Helicopter Parent? Who? Me?

As a mother of three, I’ve always been slightly behind. I had never heard of the Home Shopping Network till my younger son reported that his friend Jake’s mother watched it daily. She made the best nachos el grande, too. (El what?)

I never knew pugs wore tuxedos to pug parties till my oldest and his wife sent me pictures of our granddog at one. (Tuxedos?)

But I had to drop the youngest at college last month to learn the latest. My husband and I may look like parents, but we are actually helicopters.

The news came in an address by the dean of students. “Many of you are up there hovering,” he explained, “ready to swoop down at a moment’s notice to save your student before they try to solve their problems themselves.”

Like pug parties and TV shopping, I don’t know how I missed this. A Google search revealed that campuses around the country are hiring staff just to deal with us baby boomer helicopters.

“Cell phones,” said one report, “have become the longest umbilical cord in the world.” It went on to tell about overprotective parents who e-mailed their children daily, registered their students for classes, chose their majors, argued with their professors about their grades and later attended their job interviews and negotiated their salaries.

“These have been the most protected and programmed children ever,” the report said, quoting one university dean who mentioned car seats, safety helmets, play groups, soccer leagues, cell phones and e-mail, for a score of 100 percent at our house.

“Do you think we’re really like that?” I asked my husband, who had sent a letter a day to our daughter at summer camp.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

At times like this, when my parenting has been questioned, I reach for evidence of model behavior, no matter how relevant.

“I never let the boys eat sugary cereal,” I said. “And I stopped doing her laundry around fourth grade. She told me her friends’ parents still did it, so that would not be hovering.”

My husband joined in. “This summer, when she said we had nothing to eat, I told her, ‘Go buy groceries yourself.’ And I just e-mailed her that she’d be fine on her own.”

“Her computer isn’t even set up yet.”

“I wanted to be the first,” he said.

“It’s really her brothers who are the helicopters,” I told him. “They called her twice during the senior prom.”

“Brothers,” he said. “They’re so overprotective.”

I failed to mention that I was still carrying around her class schedule in my purse so I’d know where she was during the day, that my cell phone was in my pocket so I didn’t miss any calls, and although her brothers’ speed dials eluded me, I knew hers was 3.

But I knew better than to call her. I’d checked out an online survey (“How do you know if you’re a helicopter parent?”) and I wanted badly to pass. There were four categories. The first was “You are in constant contact with your child.” Constant contact was defined as calling at least once a day or getting a call from a child “at any sign of stress or trouble.”

“I have not called her once,” I announced to my husband 18 hours after leaving her, “and she has not called me.”

I was also relieved to note that I had not crossed the line in any of the other three categories. I had not been in constant contact with school officials, decided on my child’s major, researched a paper for her or felt bad if she failed a course. Never mind that classes had not yet started.

“No one can really know if you’re a helicopter except your child,” her father opined.

As usual, he made lots of sense.

“Let’s call her and ask,” I said.


Copyright Pat Snyder 2006

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