Helicopter Mom – You Are Grounded!

Veronica Writes!

“A mother is only as happy as her saddest child,” a close friend’s grandmother used to say.

When I first heard her say this, all three of my children were young and safely in the nest so I could totally relate. Somehow I thought once they were grown up this would change.

It didn’t.

Trouble finds its way into everyone’s lives – and as much as we hate it – trouble finds our adult children.

Whether it rears its ugly head in a personal relationship, at work or at school, it is challenging for an ex-helicopter Mommy like myself not to want to swoop in and fix everything. I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t.

My first major hurdle into non-hovering was a bad break-up my eldest daughter, The Piglet, went through back in college. Sending that first one out of the nest was hard enough, keeping my nose out of her business was even harder.

The Piglet had her first real relationship during her freshman year. It was serious enough that he was brought home to meet the parents. When it fell apart, it fell apart bad. The Piglet was not forthcoming with the details and I’m pretty sure I did an adequate job of avoiding the desire to pry. I don’t know the gory details to this day, but I got the feeling she was more mad than hurt.

Because I wasn’t aware of all the details, as a mother, I made up the worst. The worries grew faster than the scenarios I made up. Was she crying in bed, alone? Were her friends being supportive? Was she eating? Do I need to fly up there and club the boyfriend like a baby seal?

Turns out she handled it well and has learned from the experience. Her criteria for a suitable companion are more honed. She sees relationship warning lights clearer. She grew by leaps and bounds. These are lessons she might not have learned if I had been there clubbing the seal.

Our middle spawn, Decibel, used to be a disaster with money. She couldn’t save it. This was not a good combination with the feast or famine income of a NYC freelance artist type. Frankly, the whole situation scared the crap out of me.

Decibel went to college in the city, fell in love with it and proclaimed she would never leave. She was hit by the you’re an adult now freight train upon finishing school and was on her own monetarily. New York City is EXPENSIVE! Add in a toxic job market with a tanking economy, things were scary and bleak indeed.

It wasn’t long before we were hit up for a loan. Decibel knew our policy, we raise you, we put you through school and then it’s time to grow up. Period. For her to ask, I knew she was swimming through dire straits. It was SO hard to say no.

It’s a lot harder to enforce a policy than to make one. As she told me how rough things were, I heard myself saying gems like “get a second job” and “maybe you should move to a less expensive city,” when I REALLY wanted to say, “Honey, I’ll be right there and we’ll work this out together,” or the more dangerous, “how much to you need?”

Caving in was not an option. Decibel was devastated by conversation’s end and I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I was in a funk for a good long time. Sometimes parenting really sucks.

Decibel did go out and get a job she hated, continued to freelance and is now established in her field. To my knowledge, has never been flat broke again. Going hungry is a valuable lesson.

Most recently, The Boy was whacked with a whopper. He was slapped with flu during exam time at college. Tending to a sick child from a distance is typically enough to launch the strongest of Mommies into a funk. Couple the flu with getting a poor grade on a crucial exam – The Boy was inconsolable. In his weakened state, he saw no light at the end of the tunnel, and nothing I could say made him feel better. As a matter of fact, I sensed I was making it worse.

It’s harder for me to connect with The Boy. His older siblings are girls – and I know how to talk girls off of the ledge. Heck, I usually have them laughing at the situation by the time I’m done.

Not so with The Boy. Maybe it’s because he’s not as emotional in the first place but he’s just not a “talk it through” kinda guy. At least not on my timetable.

Because I AM a talk it though kinda gal, this adds to my Mommy stress. I feel completely unhelpful and helpless. It is SO hard for me not to continually pick up the phone to try a new angle out on The Boy. But all of my “this won’t seem so bad in week, month, year… while, trust me” and “let’s walk through the situation together” lines sounded ludicrous as soon as they spilled out of my mouth.

Later, I realized The Boy WANTS to work things out on his own – an ultimate good parenting goal – and my over-supportiveness is just plain hindering his progress. It hit me like a I don’t need you to fix everything Mommy ton of bricks. Wow, no more kissing boo boos.

Hmmm…could this mean I’m hovering – or wanting to hover – just to make MYSELF feel better? If it is true that a mother IS only as happy as her saddest child, could I be just trying to “fix” my own situation?

Is this what meddling is? OH JEEZ. How in the fudge am I supposed to know the difference between helping and meddling?

All of three of these episodes helped me realize that all any parent can really do is listen, listen, listen.

And in the end, listen a bit more.

Veronica, GypsyNester.com

Delve Deeper:
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What if My Adult Child is Addicted to Online Gaming?

YOUR TURN: Help me out here! Any tips on dealing with an adult child who’s hurting? What IS the difference between helping and meddling? How do we know when the line is crossed?

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49 thoughts on “Helicopter Mom – You Are Grounded!”

  1. Mother of four girls; crazy hard to keep from biting my tongue off sometimes – especially when they have been hurt! Recently, I listened for two hours while my youngest sobbed into the phone about her impossible job and her abusive boss and try as I might, I couldn’t help give that Mom advice…..edited muchly but still! She listened, calmed down, stepped off the high ledge of hysteria into a safer room of just angry and agreed to keep in touch – maybe meet up for coffee in a few days – never happened. Wise enough to step back but oh how I hurt for her! Thanks for taking the “words out of my mouth!” – it resonated.

  2. My mother has always been extremely involved in her kids lives – even now that I am 50 years old! So much so that I don’t think she really had her own life so I think of that when I want to give direction and advice to my kids . I try very hard not to hover. My husband likes to tell me that I no longer need to “parent” now that they are grown – we raised them to be responsible adults and now we can lend an ear but don’t need to give advice – they’ll figure it out like we did. Hard to do but it does help me when he reminds me of this.

    1. It’s a tough balance, isn’t it? Parenting is a huge learning experience – and even when the kid are grown, we’re still learning! And you’re right, it is so hard not to hover. Thanks for sharing your experiences Jill!

  3. Great blog! I’m getting wonderful advice for the future. As well as the present with a dependent mom and brother. I may be speaking out of turn, but I think it would have been fine to club the ex-boyfriend-just make sure there are no witnesses! And kissing booboos at any age is perfectly fine. But listen, listen, listen is great advice. I think as parents though we tend to hear more loudly what’s not being said, regardless of the age of our children.

  4. Funny that a helicopter Mom was able to say no to a loan. Somehow doesnt fit, but okay.

    What I have done is tell my kids to always ask if they need something. Feedback, etc. and that I may not be able to give it or choose not to, but at least we can talk about it.

  5. Your post resonated with me. I have a 21yo son who left college after 2yrs; good grades, but says he doesn’t know what he wants to do. He’s working manual labor while he ‘figures it out.” keeping my mouth shut is tough, but so far, so good.

    1. Thanks for your comment. On the bright side, he is working, but are you making things too easy for him? Is he living on his own and having to pay all of the bills? If not, perhaps he needs a dose of the real world.

  6. I’m still learning from you, while I’m improving myself. I absolutely enjoy reading everything that is written on your blog.Keep the stories coming. I enjoyed it!

  7. That has to be so tough to do. I liked your wise advice/lesson – policy is easy to set, harder to enforce. I tend to be one who worries. I am not sure how I will deal with situations, especially kids getting hurt, when it comes. My hope is that I can train and raise my child in a way in which they use their wisdom and skills in a way that helps them make the best decisions. I can only hope I give them a great environment growing up so they can come to me and I will listen too.

  8. These are all difficult situations. Once the kids are grown, at least in theory, I try to apply the same criterion: what would I do if an adult friend was in the same fix? Would I offer a lend a pal money? Would I tell them their clothes smell? Or they drink too much? If yes, then I don’t feel like a helicopter parent. Though I may be a helicopter friend….

  9. Raised two sons with the usual problems but once they left the nest, they were on their own. Tough to enforce sometimes, but enforced it was. The youngest did come home once with a list of dislikes about his new wife. He had decided to come back to my home for a couple of weeks, just to decide what to do about this new marriage and the woman he found so perfect BEFORE they married. Dad said nope, go back and work it out. You married her. I changed the locks when you left and you don’t get a key. 15 years later, and he still thanks me for showing him the “light”! And yes, he is still married to the most wonderful girl I know. He knows it too.

  10. My husband and I practiced a lot of tough love over the years. All we had to do is look around at all the other helicopter parents and say we did not want kids like they had. They still have a lot to learn about growing up, handling money, etc., but both are out of the house and surviving (thank goodness they’re still on our health insurance). We have gotten over the urge to solve their problems because we realized we were working harder at that than they were. And we told both of them that if they need help with something (e.g., money) the more we see them helping themselves, the more willing we’ll be to jump in and lend some support.

  11. I just “unfriended” myself from my 20-something sons’ Facebook pages because apparently I cannot keep myself from commenting which it seems is counter productive.

    1. YES! The Boy refused to friend me until his senior year in college. Was a bit miffed at the time, but understood his need for privacy. It IS hard not not to comment on things – you’re right. Weird modern times problem! 😉

  12. Veronica, This is an excellent post!! It is so helpful to hear others are experiencing the same situations that you are. I share your parenting style and concerns and plan to share this with my two 20 something daughters to give them a little insight into what parents go through. Love what you and your husnabd are doing!! Thank you!!

  13. Great post. The most we can do is be supportive, like we would with any other adult. Our daughter would never ask for a loan. Son (11 years younger) stil asks for loans for big ticket items like car tires, but does jobs around the house to pay it back. But when he thought about buying a dirt bike, he knew better then to ask for a loan!

    1. Depending on the situation, we agree. Our point is to make asking a last resort because the offspring want to make it on their own. Can’t be done if they’ve been bailed out too many times.

  14. A friend of mine who has adult children once told me that the hardest part of being a mother was knowing her children were making a mistake and letting them…ugh!

  15. Wow, are you sure you weren’t talking about MY son??? Your words resonate and reassure me that I am NOT alone in my quest to be the perfect, just involved enough parent. Thank you for sharing your experience and making me feel that I’m walking the right path to parental nirvana.

  16. Very well said. I’m going to work hard on learning from your experience and remembering when my time comes and *almost* 17 goes off to college! Phew!

  17. I’ve always wondered, is it still my right/job/responsibility to correct their grammar? I’ve not yet been told “Mom, I’m an adult, I can speak however I want.” But I keep expecting it.

  18. Oh I can so relate to this post having kids the same age also 2 girls and then boy.

    Unfortunately I tend to “fix” things, especially with my girls, my boy is much more independent and will only ask for advice, nothing more.

    To answer your question, I am most happiest when I know my children are happy.

    Thanks for the great post

  19. What a good blog! Thanks. I’ve always thought that my kids learned to detach a lot better than I ever have! And lots of times it hurts me. And that’s MY problem. Not theirs… a very hard lesson.
    Keep up the good work.

  20. I hear ya ladies. Maybe sons dont grow up till mom does. Im trryingg to. That old saying, ” a sons a son till he gets a wife” doesnt hold true either.

  21. we need to let them go but still love them. i really want all my kids to be happy but we need to let them make their own decisions.

  22. Veronic,
    Thank you for sharing. I feel your pain and tears and rejoice at the out comes.

    I’m thanking you, because: I’m always there trying to fix it.

    Its comforting to know that not fixing it, and listening, listening, listening (is fixing

  23. Waaaaah! Sob sob blubber gulp Waaaaaaah! OK then. Uncle. (splashes face, breathes deep.) Gotta go pick up Seventeen. And keep my mouth shut.

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