I wrote this when my son graduated college and was starting in his adult career. I realized I had lost control over his life choices and it was time for me to let go.
As an empty nester, there are times I wish I had more control over my kids’ lives. I don’t have much anymore. I remember the days when they’d actually do what I asked them. They believed the same way I did about everything including religion, politics and what books to read.
They watched the movies I’d check out from the library, and because I picked them out, they loved them. One day my son asked, “Mom, do they make movies without singing and dancing?” Yikes. I guess I was a little too into the classic musicals. I am happy, though, that my kids got to share that part of Americana. Many millennials never learned the words to On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe from “The Harvey Girls.” My aunt was surprised while visiting us when my son invited her to watch a movie. She was expecting Disney or Barney. She was thrilled to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” with him.
Somewhere along the line of those perfect days, I lost control. Today, my kids have their own opinions about religion, politics, and life in general that aren’t exactly the same as mine. For example, I want to tell my son to pursue a career in business or law. My husband and I send him job openings in the Bay area, where he’s currently living. (FYI, We don’t want him to live that far away. We don’t like how expensive it is. It’s all wrong to us.)
Does he listen? He’s polite. Every time I text an employment opportunity, he thanks me and says, “that’s a good idea.” Then he goes and applies to one of the worst school districts where the standardized test scores are 2 in math and 7 in English. He decides to teach instead of what I want him to do—and in one of the most difficult situations possible. He thinks it will be a challenge.
I can’t stop him. He’ll have to live his own life and learn his own life lessons. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. So, I guess I need to learn to let go since I’ve lost control anyway. I am proud that he’s an adult with his own dreams and goals.
UPDATE: The teaching career ended and our son went into business jobs. He’s loving the job and company he’s working for and also wants to pursue a masters degree in data science. We’ve tried to stay out of his decisions and only offer advice when he asks. He’s making a great life without us telling him what to do! Imagine that?
What is your reaction when your kids make choices you disagree with?
I’m on day 29 of sheltering in place. I think about parents who used to drop their kids off to school and go to their offices. Now they’re home — with their kids — trying to teach and do their jobs. How do they do it all? I fortunately am not in that situation. I have myself to keep going and I don’t have kids at home who are bored or need to be taught.
I ran into an interesting article on this subject written by psychologist John Rosemond called LIVING WITH CHILDREN: Bored kids at home? Stop parenting. You can read the entire article in the Gazette-Virginian by clicking here.
Here are a few excerpts:
One website is titled “How to Cope with Kids During Coronavirus.”
Another, featuring a staged photo of an obviously frazzled mom with a toddler on her lap, tells the reader that “Parents are losing their minds having kids at home during coronavirus!”
There’s yet another, advising on “How to Keep Kids Entertained During the Crisis.”
On and on it goes, website after website counseling parents on how to deal with being confined at home with one’s kids.
The early 21st century may be remembered as the “Age of the Personal Soap Opera.” A person makes a soap opera out of a life situation, claims victimhood, garners sympathy, manufactures more soap opera, garners more sympathy, and so on. Soap opera begets soap opera. Forty-plus years of counseling experience has taught me that once a person becomes caught in the soap opera loop, it is harder than hard to get out.
For thousands of years, it was normal for children to be at home. It never occurred to parents that they might need “support” or advice to deal with that circumstance. Everyone was in the same sturdy boat. Furthermore, the boat had two paddles and was helmed by one or two adults who obviously knew how and in what direction to row. No one went running pell-mell down the road screaming that their kids had pushed them over the edge.
Rosemond explains in his article that the concept of “parenting” is new. Parenting is putting our children in the center of our lives. We live to make things easier for them. We want them to be happy and not struggle. It’s not that our parents didn’t care, they understood viewed their role as a parent differently. They new life was never perfect and at times hard. They understood that their number one job was to get us out of the nest and to be able to fly on our own.
Growing up, I was blessedly deprived of a mother who “parented.” My non-parenting mother, who was a single parent during most of my first seven years, did not put me at the center of her attention and hardly felt it was her job to keep me occupied. That responsibility fell squarely on my little shoulders.
“Bored, eh? If you can’t find something to do, I’ll find something for you to do.”
And just like that, I found something to do, knowing that Mom’s solution would not be at all to my liking, as in “You’re going to wash the kitchen floor and if you’re still bored, I have plenty of other things with which to un-bore you.”
Chores were a part of my daily life as a kid as well. But I wasn’t given a choice of entertaining myself or doing chores. Chores came first, then we got to play. Also, my mom had a secret weapon. A timer. We practiced piano to the timer. We weeded to the timer. We vacuumed to the timer. And then she had the nerve to tell us that we had it so much easier than she did as a kid. I’m sure she’s right. We had all those new-fangled inventions like washing machines, dryers and refrigerators. She grew up in the day of ice boxes where an ice truck delivered chunks of ice to keep the food cold and wringer washers.
A wringer washer
For parents who are home with their children, it’s a perfect opportunity to instill some chores into their daily routines. I do believe a routine is helpful to get through the days that seem to run together.
What type of chores are you having your kids do while you’re sheltering in place? What games, books or other activities are they doing to keep from getting bored?
There’s something to be said for failure. I look back on my younger parenting days and realized I was interfering too much day to day. I wouldn’t let my kids face consequences or fail. I would rush to school with forgotten homework or swim suits. I talked to teachers about tests scores and homework grades that were less than perfect. What a pain in the butt I must have been–although I thought I had good relationships with teachers and coaches.
Without the chance to fail, we are robbing our kids the chance to learn from their mistakes. My son would sleep through his alarm and I’d wake him up for school on a daily basis. My dad advised me to let him be late for school and he’d learn. I wasn’t sure he would learn, so I always woke him up and got him going.
In an article on the NBC Tulsa 2 website called The Effect of ‘Snow Plow’ Parenting by Travis Guillory, I learned some statistics that show the negative effects of rescuing our kids from failure.
TULSA — We’re taking a look at a new trend in parenting styles called “Snow Plow” parenting, where these parents make a clear path for their kids with no obstacles.
Experts say it could be setting them up to fail.
So we’re showing you the impacts of being a “Snow Plow” parent and why taking a step back, may be your best move.
You may have heard the term helicopter parenting, even lawnmower parenting, now we have “Snow Plow” parenting.
Child Development Expert Katey McPherson says, “It’s a newer term, snow plow parenting where they are just plowing through everything for them.”
6th Grade English Teacher Jordan Madura says she sees it constantly.
Madura says, I’ve definitely had times when I’ve spoke to a parent and the parent is like I don’t understand why this test has to be this way, like isn’t there a way that you can postpone because of x,y, and z? Asking for more things that I would expect that the kid could ask for.”
McPherson says whether it’s helicopter, lawnmower or snowplowing parents, all of it based out of fear.
“We really are afraid of the world, this is an unsafe place, so I’m going to hunker down, I’m going to protect my babies. I’m going to carefully engineer play dates, club soccer schedules, junior high, high school path to college etc.,” says McPherson.
And how exactly does it affect our kids, take a look at the numbers:
30 percent of 18 to 34-year-old men are living at home with mom and dad
Getting a driver’s license and driving is not a priority
And many times after their first year of college, they come back home, for good.
“They don’t have the life skills to deal with a mean roommate or a mean professor,” says McPherson.
Educators and experts say the same thing: Failure is and will always have to be part of success.
There’s an interesting book called “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success” by John C. Maxwell that is helpful in this area. Failure and mistakes are certainties in life. It’s how we react to failure that counts. Successful people move on and learn from mistakes. We should look at failure in our children’s lives the same way. Everything and anything can be a learning experience. Let our children learn and grow. Perfectionism can be stifling to growth.
Now I’m trying to let go of my adult children and allowing them room to fail.
What types of failures have your children experienced and grown from?
How much support should parents give their kids — emotionally and financially — when they’re technically grown up? When I was young, in my early 20s, I was on my own and didn’t receive help financially or emotionally from mom or dad. In fact, I moved to California, got a job and was married within a couple years. Several months after college, I was basically on my own.
Today, parents are helping their kids by paying rent or giving monthly stipends until their kids are “on their feet.” My best friend from college explained to me, “The less you do for them, the faster they become independent.” While that may seem like contradictory advice, it’s really the truth. If you do too much for your young adults, the more dependent they become and the less likely they will grow and learn life lessons. I have two separate friends with daughter’s the same age as mine who said something like, “The Bank of Dad ends in six months after graduation.”
In a Wall Street Journal article called Parenting Isn’t Over When Kids Grow Up by Mark McConville, he explains the challenge of how to help your kids without undermining their independence.
My daughter after she finished college.
Let’s say that you have recently launched your son or daughter toward college—or a job, or the armed services or perhaps graduate school. In any case, you are done with parenting, ready to collapse into an easy chair, pour yourself a drink and reflect on a job well done.
Then the phone call comes about an intolerable roommate or unfair professor, or hours cut back at work, or a request for a small loan for recording equipment or perhaps a donation for a three-month trek through Europe. And it suddenly dawns on you: You’re parenting in overtime.
How does this happen? Forget the myth that adulthood begins at age 18 or 21. Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett has famously charted the developmental stage that he calls emerging adulthood—“a gradual transition from adolescence to full adulthood that stretches from age 18 to roughly age 30.” His research shows that only in their late 20s do most people feel like an adult “most of the time.” Young people must accomplish a host of big and small developmental tasks to help make the transition, from getting their own living quarters to changing the oil in their car. And one of the paradoxes of growing up is that true independence involves learning when and how to ask for help.
Meanwhile, for economic reasons, more emerging adults remain intimately connected to their parents than ever before. A recent U.S. Census Bureau study shows that over 30% of young adults ages 18-34 still live with their parents. A 2019 Pew Research survey found that the majority of these parents provided financial (60%) and emotional (77%) support within the past year.
So, like it or not, your job isn’t finished. But what should overtime parenting look like? Fortunately, there are some principles that can minimize your sense of powerlessness and frustration while maximizing your ability to support your transitioner’s growth.
One of the ideas I liked the most in the article was the rule that if you’re invested more than 49% of any task, financial support, etc., then in essence you own it. You’ve taken over and you’re doing more than you should. That’s a pretty good guideline to go by.
Follow the 49% rule. Most 20-somethings need emotional support and practical coaching as they face unfamiliar hurdles—filling out applications, opening bank accounts, interviewing for jobs. But however much initiative, energy, or emotional investment is required to accomplish a task, limit your contribution to 49%. Once you drift over 50%, you own it, and you’re likely to see your transitioner’s motivational investment diminish.
That is what happened with a 19-year-old client of mine the summer before beginning college. He was highly anxious about the transition, and this manifested as foot-dragging on a variety of mundane but necessary tasks: submitting medical forms, selecting courses, confirming dormitory placement and so on. His father, anxious about his son’s stalled initiative, stepped in to “help” by tracking due dates, completing forms and generally nagging his son to take care of business.
Unwittingly, his father had crossed the 49% line and taken ownership of the transition process. I said to the dad: “Think of yourself more as a consultant than a supervisor—ready with your wisdom and guidance but allowing your son space to wrestle with the key challenges of initiative and ownership.” He did, and in a few short weeks, the young man got his act together and headed off to a successful college experience.
Another important tip is to allow our children to learn from failure. If we get worked up over their failures or impending tasks and act like everything is a crisis, then we’ll probably jump in and take over. That doesn’t allow our kids to learn from mistakes and become competent adults. Life is a learning curve. I’m continually learning about how to improve — even with parenting my 20-something-year-olds. My kids should be allowed to learn at their own rate, too.
Me at around the time I graduated college.
How do you help your adult kids and set limits so you don’t do too much?
After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.
My son giving his high school graduation speech.
“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.
Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.
Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.
What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.
All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.
Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?
I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.
But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.
Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic!
Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice.
Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.
How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?” Hmmm. Good question.
Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type.
Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!
Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
My daughter with Waffles.
What other essential life skills would you add to the list?
My son learning to dive with the swim team. He’s third from the right.
Four years ago, we had our first VRBO trip to the Santa Barbara area. We traveled their often and used to camp at Carpinteria State Beach in a tent, stay in a hotel or with friends. I wrote this in 2015 after our one week’s beach vacation with our kids. How fun that we got to relive this special vacation experience again two weeks ago. I’m proud to say my kids are doing good.
“Do good. Be good. We’ll be doing good.”
These are the words my son recorded for our voicemail message when he was four years old.I saved that for years. What a thoughtful thing for our young son to say! My husband and I adopted that saying as our family motto.
A walk on the UCSB campus during our vacation.
I try to do good. Be good. Some days it’s a bigger struggle than others. But, it’s something to think about, too. What are we doing with our lives? Are we making a difference? Is the world a better place because we are in it?
A lot has to do with our outlook. I’m definitely one of the “glass is half full” types. I try to look at the positive and stay away from those who are negative. Turning on the TV can put you into negativity land. I truly believe that we can stay positive by removing negative influences around us. Turn off the TV. Listen to music. Read interesting books and essays. Swim! Like Ray Bradbury said, “Garbage in, garbage out!”
My kids at the age when my son recorded the voice mail message. Vacation pic from years ago.
After spending a week in paradise—otherwise known as Carpinteria, CA—I look back on our vacation as perfect. We have great friends who live there who inspire me. I always come home with so much energy from being around positive, hard-working entrepreneurs.
Also, my children spent a bit of the week with us. What a treat that was for me! With two college-aged kids, having them together was priceless. We rode bikes, hiked, swam in the ocean, sailed, shared meals together. It’s hard to leave them, but I’m so thankful for the time we had together. That’s my glass half full talking as I sit in my lonely, quiet house once again.
Our main mode of transportation on our vacation.
I’m proud to say my kids look truly happy. They are definitely doing and being good.
There is hope for helicopter parents, according to an article in a UK news source, The Sunday Times. In “Family: how to reverse the effects of helicopter parenting” by Lorraine Candy, there are several novel ideas of how to stop hovering. One of them involved blindfolding your kids, throwing them in the car along with their bikes, and driving 10 miles from home to a place they didn’t recognize.
Would I have ever done that? No, I doubt it. I would let my kids ride their bikes with friends from DeMuth Park in Palm Springs along the bike trail all the way to Rancho Mirage. Of course, my husband was riding with them. I’d ride part of the way, too. But, I’d stop at Tahquitz Creek Golf Course, because I was too scared to cross the street to where the bike path continued. Seriously. It’s amazing my kids are as normal and self-assured as they are. My fear of riding bikes across a busy road with cars speeding is not without reason. I’ve been “scarred for life” after getting hit by a pickup truck while running across a busy highway.
From the article:
How do you reverse the effects of helicopter parenting? This question has been vexing me since I read the latest guilt-inducing survey, which followed 422 kids from the age of 2 to 10, and revealed that parents who “hovered” over their toddlers in an excessively protective manner produced less likeable, more incapable, academically underperforming children.
The research reported in the journal Developmental Psychology last month concluded that it’s best to let them fight their own battles. This is a little depressing if you are among my generation of parents (I’m 49) who gave birth just as the trend towards child-centric families gained traction. It was a parenting zeitgeist that didn’t help those with a tendency to interfere — mums including one I knew who secretly took the chocolate out of an advent calendar and replaced it with raisins. Recently I witnessed parents refusing to leave the house for a sibling’s wedding in order to hover over a revising teen.
We’ve all done it to some degree, so we need to learn how to reverse the effects in a smart way. I got advice on how from Simon Howarth, a clinical supervisor at the charity Crisis Text Line, which supports teens in need of urgent mental health guidance.
“Try to understand why you may feel guilty,” he says. “You were trying to protect your child, and what is deemed to be wrong now may not have seemed wrong at the time. The key to changing parenting style is to listen more to your teenager. You are moving from protector to enabler. Stop solving problems for them, defer to them to make the final decision even if you know it is perhaps a mistake. You are building resilience, which you have to do gradually if previously you have been overprotective. Tell them that from now on you will trust them to make their own choices.”
I used to love to problem solve for my kids. But then it was the light bulb moment when my daughter told me she was venting–and didn’t want my help. And that if I kept trying to tell her how to solve her problems, she’d quit confiding in me. I like it when my son calls and says, “Can I get your advice on something?” That gives me a clue that yes, he wants to hear how I’d handle a problem. We end up discussing what it is, whether it’s trouble with a roommate or a disagreement with a co-worker. He usually figures out on his own how he’ll handle the issue, but it’s always nice to have someone listen and bounce ideas off of.
Another excerpt from The Sunday Times article about how to stop helicopter parenting:
David McCullough Jr, a teacher of 26 years and a father of four, is the author of You Are Not Special. He became famous when 2.8m people watched his 2012 end-of-school speech on YouTube, which urged graduates to get a grip. He tells me we can indeed recover from earlier overparenting.
“When you make a mistake, admit it, learn and make adjustments,” he says. “If one’s innards churn a bit when a child bears the brunt of a parenting mistake, deal with it. This will show the child his mum and dad are fully dimensional, less than perfect human beings, which for some would be a revelation.
“Show confidence in your children. Believe (outwardly, at least) in their ability to handle things alone. They will sense this confidence, which will help them develop their own.”
He adds: “When two of my children were 10 and 12 and suffering some summer doldrums, I blindfolded them, threw them and their bicycles in the car and drove them 10 miles into territory they wouldn’t recognise. I left them and drove off. They had a fine time together and wanted to do it again as soon as they got back to the house.”
Isn’t it nice to know there is hope for us helicopter parents? It’s like anything else in life, there is always room to grow and improve.
“Everyday in every way I’m getting better and better.” —Emile Coue
With his favorite blanket, he named “Ahhh.”
What is one of the worst helicopter parenting things you’ve done? Or, seen another parent do?