Those Crazy Helicopter Parents, and Why They Need to Eject

Thanksgiving has come and gone. Such a happy celebration, and a welcome reminder to me to stop being such a cranky old bag of dog farts.

Except that I was born a cranky old bag of dog farts (or, at the very least, a vocal observer who calls out the dog farty behavior of others), and so I have to post about something that makes me want to tear my ears off. By way of just a little bit of background, I attended a seven sisters school; my oldest also attended and graduated several years ago, and my youngest is now a student there. I recently discovered a College Family/Friends/Alumnae/Way Too Involved/Go Get a Freaking Life/Parents and Community Facebook Page.

So much material to scorn, so little time to be smug and superior.

At its best, the Community Page is a nice place to post pretty pictures of this idyllic and impossibly gorgeous wonderland that is perennially acknowledged to be among the Top 10 Most Beautiful Campuses in America (pause for a moment and reflect that my alma mater is, at its core, a bastion of fiercely independent warriors who brook no Polo-reeking Frat Boys and who enjoy spending a Friday night using words like “hegemony” and chiding their parents for uttering phrases such as “third world” or “developing nations” given their inherent arrogance and ethnocentrism. Yes, the campus is pretty, but woe to the person who believes it to be a “Catholic girls school” whose students pursue non-controversial majors while binge drinking on weekends, and where the focus of student unrest mainly concerns the wilted lettuce at the salad bar).

Though its value lies primarily in producing critical, independent thinkers and strong, capable leaders, there is no question that my school is spectacularly beautiful. As an alum, the parent of an alum, and the mom of a current student, I enjoy seeing snaps of my beloved alma mater bathed in the glorious jewel tones of October, blanketed in pristine white snow during the long winter, and gleaming resplendent in greens and pinks and puppies gamboling about the green as spring approaches.

It’s a pretty magical place.

So it’s nice that the Community FB Page provides this little slice of nostalgia to the likes of me whilst we pluck inch-long hairs from our chins and rub liniment into our creaky joints.

I also appreciate that it’s a forum where parents can voice legitimate concerns – the new dining commons, the design of which assumed an undergraduate enrollment of perhaps a third of the actual population (with the result that it is very difficult for students to eat sitting down during the high-volume lunch rush); the similarly short-sighted decision to admit far more students than current course offerings can accommodate (such that underclassmen are finding most of the courses they want filled before their registration time slot even opens); or, perhaps most importantly, the botched handling of an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by a professor that, it appears, was known to the administration since the 1980’s but was essentially ignored until just recently. (Badly done, Alma Mater).

These are all important issues that concerned parents want addressed, and as far as providing a forum to discuss those issues and share information, the Community FB Page is a helpful resource. Thank you, Community FB Page! #accountabilitymatters

What the Page also does, however, is nurture and encourage helicopter parenting at its absolute worst. Initially open to current students and faculty, the Page recently booted anyone who wasn’t family, friend, or alum after a kerfuffle in which, near as I can tell, a current student who was also a Page member blew the lid off those pesky, intrusive parents concerned about students smoking weed on campus (hardly something to write home about 30 years ago, and basically legal now) and wrote a searing article in the campus newspaper basically telling parents to BACK THE FUCK OFF.

In her piece, this woman criticized parents for being invasive and for inserting themselves into the minutiae of their children’s lives. She was RIGHT. Thank you, Brave Muckraking Journalist. #factsmatter

But then bunch of parents got all bent out of shape that this student dared criticize them, and one called her out like a spinster Presbyterian schoolmarm from 1873.

Then, in an unrelated matter, another parent went on a tirade directed at a professor for not being immediately available to meet with her kid, and the faculty member weighed in with some lame excuse like “we set up an appointment and your kid didn’t show up – twice- and I’m the (unpaid) coach of the rugby team and had to chaperone the women for an away game, but here’s my email and phone number, so have your helpless pudding cup of a child call me and I will meet with her whenever it’s convenient, even if it’s in the middle of my weekend while I’m out spending all the money I make as an assistant professor,” which I guess wasn’t a good enough explanation.

And so there was much wringing of hands by the HP’s (helo rental units) because, of course, this incident was the very thing that was going to permanently derail this kid’s entire college career and position her, certainly and forever, as someone who will never shop at Whole Foods or donate to PBS or spend two weeks each summer in a rented home in Tuscany with friends discussing the elderberry and nutmeg topnotes of the montepulciano they sipped at a vineyard near San Gimignano.

Some parents rightly chided the parent, pointing out that it is the student’s responsibility to address whatever issues she has, that inserting herself into the matter did nothing to assure that her daughter would learn to handle such matters on her own – which is sort of the whole point of college, itself a safe space where nearly adult humans are confronted with modest challenges and either succeed or, better yet, make mistakes and learn from them in a supportive environment where the consequences of making the wrong choices are relatively benign.

But the HP’s again fretted and expressed their hurt and outrage over the insensitivity of those who dared to express an opposing viewpoint.

It should come as no surprise, however, that parents who send their kids to eastern liberal arts colleges tend to get uncomfortable when people take a stand against anything other than Ted Cruz and disposable plastic straws (Query: When did it become a crime to use a disposable plastic straw? You’ll take my disposable plastic straw when you pull it out of the Gallon Bucket of Soda I just threw out the window).

So it was that the site moderators took swift action by ousting current students and most of the faculty/administrative presence (although a few college employees – those whose job it is to address non-academic issues – remain active to weigh in where helpful or necessary). In so doing, the moderators (themselves HP’s) seem to be striving for a controversy-free venue devoted to Happy Talk and photos worthy of Moho admissions department publications.

And that’s the Community FB Page in a nutshell.

After I joined the group this year after being alerted to its existence over the Family and Friends Weekend, I mostly ignored it, but my husband likes to watch my head explode, so he occasionally updates me as some of the truly asinine behavior masquerading as responsible parenting. For example, there were a slew of posts leading up to the Thanksgiving break in which parents attempted to manager their kids’ travel plans. I read with amazement as mommies and daddies turned themselves inside out making sure their offspring didn’t have to worry their pretty little heads about how to make it home for the holiday.

I turned to my husband (who often wishes he could shove an ice pick into his eardrums), and said, “When I was in college, I figured out ON MY OWN how the FUCK to get home for Thanksgiving!” Which often involved a variety of train, bus, and car rides that weren’t necessarily convenient or direct but which got me home safely and cheaply, and Lo, I lived to tell about it.

The point is, I made the arrangements. It never occurred to me to ask my parents to do that for me, any more than I would have called them to ask them to take care of a roommate situation (not because I didn’t have one – I did – and 30 years later, she’s still one of my best friends even though I made her wear peach when she was one of my bridesmaids). I know I probably had many complaints (I always do), although with 35 years in the rear view mirror – mostly I recall the blessings and gifts of my college years with gratitude for the woman they helped me become.

But things are different now. The brilliant Julie Lythcott-Haims has written extensively from her position as a former dean at Stanford about how today’s college students have been so micromanaged by their parents that they arrive on campus minimally prepared to deal with the challenges that await them (and let’s be honest: the vast majority of those “challenges” are of the 1% kind…a C- on a chem test LORD HELP US!). Julie has said everything there is to say with far greater insight and empirical data than I, but the point remains: Parents are WAY to involved, at their children’s expense.

Don’t believe me? Here’s another example from the Community FB page.

Last night, a parent asked for advice concerning her daughter’s plant.

You read that right.

As in, who would take care of her daughter’s dorm room plant over the winter break?

In the interest of fairness, I should probably add that, during first year orientation, students are invited to select a small plant from the college’s incredible arboretum – you know, to make their dorm rooms a little more cozy. I don’t recall this being a thing in the Fall of 1982, but maybe it was.

What I’m certain was NOT a thing is the so-called “college lore” (not really) that you won’t graduate if your firstie arboretum plant dies. Uh-huh. I know.

I sighed when I learned of this little nugget, along with others I heard for the first time during my youngest’s campus visit and which purportedly date all the way back to the school’s founding over 175 years ago (notwithstanding the four years I spent there in the 1980’s or my oldest daughter’s tenure there almost 30 years later in which there was nary a peep of such things). I suspect they were manufactured in recent years to add an extra bit of pixie dust to a legacy that needs no further burnishing – aren’t M&C’s, class animals, and Laurel Parade tradition enough?

As to the claim that the continued well-being of the Arboretum Plant plays any role in one’s successful completion of her Moho studies, if this “tradition” were true, the Amphitheater would be pretty empty each year at commencement. Truth be told, if anything is going to prevent a student from graduating, it’s probably going to be the PE requirements or organic chemistry.

And I have to add – because it would be criminal not to – that to predicate a woman’s ability to obtain her diploma on whether or not she can nurture a life form for four years seems firmly rooted in patriarchal oppression and entirely at odds with the overarching goal of educating women, but perhaps I am being overly dogmatic – indeed, I have a home filled with plants (although neither my success nor my access to opportunity is intrinsically tied to said plants’ viability).

I digress.

To recap, supposedly there is this “tradition” (there isn’t) and Sikorsky Mommy was concerned that her “DD” (darling daughter, that is – yes, I agree – barf biscuits all around) will not graduate if her Arboretum Plant DIES while said DD is home making merry over the holidays. God, those Syrians who had chemical weapons dropped on them by their own leader have NO FUCKING CLUE what it means to daily grasp, in the midst of overwhelming and utter hopelessness, at some chance for survival.

I thought, at first, that it was a joke. Then I read the comments that followed and realized that she, and her compatriots, were very serious indeed.

I was able to restrain myself for exactly as long as it took to finish watching Episode 5 of the 2017 season of “The Great British Baking Show” (just not the same since Mary, Sue and Mel left – and I feel appropriately shameful that Noel freaks me out even though he seems really nice and supportive), and then I had to respond. I think I said something like, if DD was responsible enough, old enough, and smart enough to go to college, she should be able to figure out how to take care of a plant. I don’t know exactly what I wrote because as of this morning, the whole post had been taken down. Thanks, Brave Page Monitors! #helicopterparentfeelingsmatter

I don’t care that my post was taken down (I suspect others who saw it agreed with me but refrained from weighing in in the name of cordiality, and also because the whole issue is so staggeringly dumb), and I’m actually surprised that my membership in the Safe Space for Parents to Invade Their College Students’ Lives Like Scabies was not revoked.

But here’s the thing: This is EXACTLY what the People Whose Politics We Don’t Like mean when they demonize millennials, except that they should be demonizing the parents who insist on infantilizing their children. If my kids EVER called me from school to ask me to arrange to have their plant taken care of for four weeks so they wouldn’t be at risk of NOT GRADUATING, after I mopped up the kitchen floor of the pee I expelled as the result of hysterical laughter combined with sorely challenged pelvic floor muscles, I would have told them (1) look it up on the interwebs; and (2) if you don’t graduate, you’ll need a better excuse than a dead plant; and (3) you need to be studying, hiking, or getting arrested for attending a protest march.

Except I doubt that DD ever mentioned her stupid Arboretum plant, except perhaps in passing, as in, “I really wanna binge watch “Friends” on Netflix, Mom…” and probably never even considered that if you don’t water a plant for a month, it often dies.

BECAUSE THEY’RE COLLEGE STUDENTS!

As another example of the sissification of America’s youth, yet another parent posted and generated 35 – THIRTY FIVE – comments on what snow boot to buy her never-spent-a-winter-in-New England daughter. I guess her kid has never bought footwear on her own before.

You know what happened to me when I bought shoes or clothing that did not keep me sufficiently warm and dry? I GOT COLD AND WET, AND THEN I LEARNED.

Lest you think I am a prickly, unsentimental ogre with an apricot pit for a heart, you should be aware that (1) I hate fruit; and (2) if my heart is other than a four-chambered organ intended to pump blood throughout my aging, cellulite-ridden body, it would be a Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll emblazoned in beautifully piped royal icing, “I love my daughters with every fiber of my being and frequently wonder what to do with these arms when they aren’t enfolding said daughters and pressing them to me, teary-eyed with pride and a love so fierce it you could install it on the Southern Border to successfully repel all those Islamic Terrorists in diapers that keep trying to infiltrate our nation.”

Which is a long, politically-charged sentence that conveys my love for a truly awful dessert treat while neglecting to mention my Bingo Wings (if you don’t know what they are, message me and I will tell you).

No mother ever loved her children more, nor yearned more profoundly that they become functional adults with meaningful lives than I – EXCEPT FOR PRETTY MUCH EVERY OTHER MOTHER OUT THERE and that’s the WHOLE POINT:

Sikorsky Mom et al., your “DDs” are no more precious or lovely or brilliant or WORTHY OF A MAGNIFICENT LIFE EXPERIENCE than every other young person out there, even if you have a lot of money and are yourself well-educated.

Helicopter parenting, it seems to me, finds its origins in the self-esteem movement of the 1980’s and 1990’s and from a desire of baby boomers to be more available and nurturing to their kids than their parents were to them.

At it core, though, Helicopter parenting is an ugly combination of “my child must be successful in order to validate me as a parent” and “my child is better than all other children and I will use my advantage and privilege to make sure he/she – worthy or not – gets pushed to the top in every circumstance and in every setting.”

My kids are now 27, 24, and 19. From the age of 18 to 27, the oldest was sometimes 5, sometimes 25 hours by car from home. During those years, she got sick, homesick, scared, and overwhelmed. She was even monumentally shafted during her graduate school years in the way that forever inscribes on your heart and etches upon your entrails that Life, in fact, is not always fair. Wherever she was, whatever she was doing, we always took her calls, checked in, listened and helped when asked. But we didn’t try to solve her problems for her. She now has a masters degree, a good job, and a caring and devoted husband who is also gainfully employed. They have and pay for their own housing, cars, and insurance. She survived.

My middle daughter, who has intellectual disability and is on the Autistic Spectrum, spent 9 months a 7 hour drive from home in a remote corner of West Virginia pursuing an education in equine care. Her school was 2 hours from a regional rail station or airport. Her roommate moved out a week after she got there, there was no student support whatsoever, and the promises that the school could and would make accommodations for her never materialized. We asked her if she wanted to come home, and though she was desperately lonely (she spent her weekends holed up in her windowless cinder block room, because no one could be bothered to get to know her), she opted to grind it out until the end of the year. She now has an internship in her field, a part-time job, is in a book club, rides, can cook a mean Chicken Francaise, and is doing just fine.

The youngest still isn’t fully baked, but she’s on her way. To put it succinctly, she can take care of her Arboretum Plant on her own or, if she chooses not to, can handle the repercussions.

I say this not to brag (though I’m quite proud of these kids), and with the understanding that no one knows how to parent well unless they don’t have kids. I’ve made many mistakes along the way, but my guiding philosophies as I raised my girls were (1) teach them to be resourceful and optimistic; and (2) make yourself obsolete.

Our children don’t need us to solve every problem for them. They benefit from learning how to cope with frustration and failure, for no life is so charmed as to be free of sadness, disappointment, or hopelessness. Being able to endure hardship is the only way that mankind has ever been able to persevere and ultimately succeed.

So, to the good people at the Community FB Page, if you truly want what’s best for your kids, leave them alone. Let them neglect their plants and go without snow boots and make their own travel arrangements. They will thank you, and you will have more time to watch “The Great British Baking Show.”

Also, you can’t go wrong with LL Bean footwear.

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