I have not failed as a mother. The picture to the left is of my son in his dorm room, taken yesterday. Last year his room was awful. This year you can see his floor.
I have not reared a total slob.
Rob seemed glad to see us on Family Weekend at Vanderbilt. He had gathered four other hungry guys for “dinner on the parents”. I don’t know if it’s his ease or mine which made it all seem more comfortable – probably both. Two of the boys I had met before. All bright, interesting.
We have had several good visits during the rest of the weekend. And I have listened and learned about the life that he is busy building here. That’s when I found it. How my husband and I could help. Appropriately.
I have been hearing a lot about helicopter parenting lately. Parents who are constantly involved in their adult kids’ lives, to the point of the adult child having difficulty separating from the parents. There is a significant amount of debate going on about it at the moment. With texting especially, having Mom or Dad involved in the simplest of decisions has become too easy. It’s not bad in and of itself. But it can be easily abused. If you combine this with the dynamics of empty nest, the two together could be a real problem for both parent and child. It’s just the delay of letting go – but to the max.
I used the analogy last year in my post Separate Houses that I didn’t belong where Rob was living anymore. In the house that he was building. I still don’t. I don’t need to ring the doorbell 20 times a day either to see how he’s doing. If there is a specific reason to get in touch with him, if he needs something, if he is struggling with something, if he is sick, then a call or text from Mom, that’s helpful and healthy.
Oh, what did I find? I found a healthy zone for involvement in his life. Rob’s fraternity has no parent support organization. I am a decent starter of things so I volunteered my husband and I for that project. (He of course was delighted). Went to a party, talked it up. I had found a place in Rob’s world. And boy, did it feel good.
Not helicoptering. Orbiting.
If we want our children to believe in themselves, we need to let go enough to allow them to make decisions on their own. To maybe struggle a bit. To let them be responsible for themselves. I personally was highly over-protected as an “adult child” by my parents and not expected to be responsible for myself. Thus it took years for me to gain the developmental maturity others had that were my biological age.
So I will orbit. I invite you to join me. If you are in the habit of helicoptering, you can break that habit. Just talk to your kid about it, and tell them you are going to start to love them differently from now on. It just takes practice, like any habit you are trying to break. You will have some time on your hands, and that will be hard at first. Talk with them about how it will be different for them as well, and what skills and/or support network they need to build without you in the picture quite so much. You might even need to build in a gradual structure for this departure, to set it up for success. But you will know you are giving your child the gift of independence.
Believe me, it’s a great gift to receive.