How to Lay Low as Helicopter Parents

By: Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.& Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D.

As your college student is settling into the dorm, are you discovering that letting go is more difficult than you imagined? Even with the pressures you feel as a member of the Sandwich Generation, are you ambivalent about cutting the apron strings?

You may be stuck in a new phenomenon that falls under the colorful moniker, Helicopter Parent. If you find yourself 'hovering' over your kidult, attempting to protect him or her from life’s ups and downs, you fit the description.

Is it technology - cell phones, email and instant messaging - as some say, that keeps parents overly involved, or is something else at work? Maria worries, “I’m far too enmeshed with my daughter and afraid of keeping her closer than is healthy. I’m trying to step back and minimize our contact - for the emotional growth of both of us." Like Maria, you can do this, too.

1. If you want information, contact the parent-relations specialist that many colleges now employ. The telephone hotlines and email support services they provide allow you to stay connected in a healthy way.

2. Adjustment to communal living – roommates, dorms, personality differences - takes time. Be more supportive and less directive as your sons and daughters learn new problem solving skills.

3. Your adult children will be faced with many choices about courses, assignments, extra curricular activities. Be supportive, but let them make their own decisions and then deal with whatever consequences occur. It’s been said before, but experience is a great teacher.

4. Make sure that parents’ weekend is on your agenda. It’s a natural and positive means by which to feel reassured that your children are adjusting to their new home environment.

5. Resist taking on chores that now should fall to your kidults. As much as washing their clothes and cleaning their rooms have been part of your job description for years, it’s now time to pass the baton.

6. Focus on your kidult’s positive qualities and think of reasons to support their unique ideas. Remember that they are learning more about the joys and responsibilities of independence.

7. Take courses so that you have some common areas of interest with your children. Or better yet, enroll in the college classes you want and follow your own dreams.

In the end, having your emerging adult children be accountable for their own actions facilitates their personal development, sense of self-sufficiency and positive self-esteem. Isn’t that what you really want anyway?

Her Mentor Center, 2006

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