Time To Ditch the Helicopter, Parents

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/09/05/time-to-ditch-the-helicopter-parents/

We walked into the football stadium for Mass, to pray and say our goodbyes. I will give the College of the Holy Cross kudos for its credible transformation of a sports venue to a worship center. With help from a brass quartet, even the traffic sounds from nearby I-290 were occasionally drowned out.

But the music could not calm the warring emotions.

This is good … I’m a wreck … It’s part of the job … I can’t think about it.

This time of year, my emotional rollercoaster was not a solo ride, I suspect, as parents delivered their freshmen children to college.

Difficult and, if you want to get dramatic, heart-wrenching.

But, yes, it is good and, yes, it goes with the job.

And, parents, you do have a job to do. This is not about you … or did you forget that?

Before I drove my oldest to college, in 2007, another mother approached me about the experience of her first going off to school.

“The worst day in my life,” she said.


You raise a child to be a good person, a good citizen. You teach the child morals and instill a work ethic in the child. Then your child is empowered to attend college – still considered a privilege in most parts of the world.

And it’s the worst day?

I understand the angst (did I mention heart-wrenching?) and how challenging it can be. But you’re a parent. If it wasn’t challenging from Day 1, you weren’t doing it right.

Did I mention that it’s not about you?

The college won’t tell you that – they can’t offend the likely source of tuition payments (after the grants and loans … but hopefully not too many loans. There is a reason why my daughter chose Holy Cross).

During orientation programs, when students and parents split into separate groups, there are often talks to Mom and Dad about letting go and the dangers of the helicopter parent. These are nice ways of saying it’s not about you.

The helicopter parent, for those new to the term, is the one who can never stay out of the kid’s life, interfering, making the most the routine choices or performing the smallest chores for the child (who is no longer a child).

When my previous offspring prepared to attend a military academy, we read posts on a parents’ Facebook page, asking how to pack for their child. These young people were going off to college to learn how to become military leaders in battle, and they couldn’t pack their own duffle bag?

Love is not coddling. It about knowing when to let go.

Every parent wants to be needed. And as I helped Abby move into her dorm, there were plenty of parents hard at work, lugging boxes and assembling furniture. We were no different.

Then I tried giving advice to Abby about her laptop … when I stopped myself, because we both know her abilities with modern technology run circles around mine.

I was just trying to, you know, be a dad.

But I have been a dad, faults and all, giving her time and attention. I hope she is a better person for that. I know she’s a finer young woman because of her mom (see posts from both my wife and Abby on Nancy’s blog talesfrommykitchentable.org).

My parenting with Abby reached a new level last week. She is on her own – sort of. The family is always there; support, love, friendship, and all that (vital) jazz.

Still, her parents’ job is not to hold onto her for as long as possible, but to prepare her for the time to let go.

After Mass in the Holy Cross football stadium, a speaker informed us that we had a few minutes before the parents needed to leave in one direction, while the students left in another.

I turned to hug my beautiful girl, and found myself holding on. For a few selfish moments, it was about me. My heart was beating hard, my eyes watering. This hurt. I was really going to miss her.

But then I was back on the job. I whispered how great she will do, how she will set the world on fire. This is her time to shine, and my time to step back, out of her way. Why? Because I love her.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.