Call me an old-timer, but moms and dads just did things differently when I was a child. The overall approach to parenting seems to have changed so much. My parents fostered independence in my siblings and me. They wanted us to learn early on that we needed to be able to speak and do things for ourselves, and the sooner we understood that, the better off we’d be.
I’m glad that’s the way it was. I truly believe my parents’ refusal to coddle me and fight my battles contributed greatly to the sense of personal responsibility I take great pride in today. They were not at my beck and call, nor should they have been.
These days, however, I fear that any parent who refuses to get completely wrapped up in their children’s lives runs the risk of being judged and labeled as inattentive or even neglectful. The folks who do become totally absorbed in their sons’ and daughters’ daily routines are called “helicopter parents” and, in my opinion, they’re spoiling things for those of us who still want to raise capable, sensible, determined, self-supporting children.
When I was a child, my mom and dad came to my sports games, school plays and awards ceremonies when they could. If these events were held after work hours or on weekends, they’d usually come. They would not, however, rearrange their schedules or their lives to be present at every single function — day or night — that I even considered attending. They had jobs, adult obligations and other children to worry about. And that was that.
The summer before my freshman year of college, I was required to attend a two-day orientation on campus, which was about two hours away from my home. This orientation fell on two weekdays. Luckily, my dad was a teacher who had the summer off, so he accompanied me. My mom had to work, and it never occurred to any of us that she should take time away from her job to watch me register for classes. She’d already seen my new school plenty of times, and felt comfortable with the choice I’d made.
That fall, when it was time to move into my dorm, however, my mom was happy to help me. You see, move-in day happened to coincide with the first day of classes at the school where my dad taught. Once again, I never expected him to miss work for me. As long as one parent was along for the ride, we’d manage.
A few years later, when it was time to select my first apartment, my soon-to-be roommate and I grabbed the for-rent ads, circled a few options and headed out to tour our choices. She did not invite her parents. I did not invite mine. Our families were several hours away from us and, besides, they weren’t the ones who’d be living in the apartment we selected. They raised us to be sensible and fiscally responsible, so it was simply understood that we’d pick an affordable, well-maintained apartment in a safe area. And we did. My roommate and I signed our lease and put down a deposit without any of our parents ever having seen the place. And it all turned out fine.
My family occasionally came to visit me when I was away at school — once, maybe twice, per year. It was a nice treat to have them, but I never expected them to make their visits to my college town a top priority. If they dropped in, great. If not, I had plenty to do.
I want to stress that I never, at any time, felt that my parents ignored me. I never thought that they didn’t care about my life. On the contrary, I knew they were interested in my education, friends, extra-curricular activities and part-time job. (Yes, they even expected me to work as a teenager. In exchange for driving privileges, I had to pay for my own gasoline and auto insurance.)
I was a straight-A student, in National Honor Society and countless other clubs. I made good decisions and never messed around with alcohol or drugs. I managed my time well, had plenty of positive social interactions and did my household chores. My parents did not babysit me, hover over me or clean up after me. They raised me to know right from wrong and trusted me to take it from there.
I’d like to take this same approach with my daughter, Reese. However, as I said earlier, I fear the ever-increasing crowd of “helicopter parents” would think me an awful mom. It’s basically grown-up peer pressure. If a mother or father doesn’t drop everything and race to their child’s side for every occasion that even slightly deviates from the family’s normal, everyday routine, then they’re supposedly not “involved” enough. I, of course, beg to differ.
I could write much more on this topic, but I won’t even go into how I feel about parents who continue to finance their adult children’s way through life. They are out there, though, just perpetuating this vicious cycle so that when my daughter is in her mid-30s, struggling with different parenting theories and ideologies, she’ll likely be feeling the same way I do now — torn between what she knows is good parenting vs. society’s ill-conceived notion of good parenting.