You see us everywhere. We’re easy to spot, as we line up at the post office to send out care packages or mope near the entrance to American Eagle Outfitters. We’re the helicopter parent generation—that notorious group of ever-protective, over-anxious, and hyper-controlling parents—and many of us are new to the empty-nest game.
I have to tell you, we’re not handling the transition all that well.
Now, if you’re thinking that we brought this on ourselves, we couldn’t argue. If you say we fixated on our kids to an absurd and entirely unhealthy degree, we’d say you’re right, we went overboard. But back in the 1990s, all we wanted was to be the best parents possible. We embraced parenthood with an obsessiveness that our own parents reserved for their careers, their homes, or their vodka tonics.
No regular piece of childhood equipment was good enough for our children, who inhabited a dangerous world that somehow we had survived. We buckled them in tank-like strollers, strapped them in infant seats that could withstand a nuclear meltdown, and released them at home only after we had locked every toilet, gated every stairway, blocked every outlet and padded the corners of every piece of furniture. Ever wonder how some simple plastic prongs and fasteners turned into a retail juggernaut? We do too. And then we look in the mirror.
But if we were obsessive about our children’s safety, we were downright crazed about their development. Gymboree, Mommy & Me, baby gymnastics, baby music, baby yoga, baby swim—we never saw, heard of, or read about a class without filling out a registration form.
And as our babies jumped and sang or clapped, we wrestled with the deepest, most profound puzzles of our time: Let him cry, don’t let him cry, let him cry a little, let him cry it out. Take her into bed, don’t ever take her into bed, create a family bed, create an independent sleeper. Juice or no juice, or watered-down juice, or juiced-up water. Give us a topic—like what to pack in a diaper bag—and our debate would last longer than a Congressional filibuster.
And then our kids reached school age, and our vistas became panoramic. Math tutors, science tutors, writing tutors, chess coaches, baseball coaches, preschool advisors, camp consultants—they all were our new best friends. Our kids’ natural skills or talents were not things to be taken for granted, but treasures to be coaxed and perfected. A clear note played on a school-owned violin was an immediate sign to take private instrument lessons; a water bottle hurled into a trash basket was a call for a private basketball coach.
Which begs the question—did we really think our kids could be world-class musicians or professional athletes? Strangely that didn’t matter, because regardless of how they performed on the sports field or in the auditorium, they all brought home boatloads of awards. Yes, we’re the parents who decided that if our kids were going to try something, they were going to excel. We’re the reason that even the most bookish students have a shelf at home loaded with soccer, basketball, and assorted other sports trophies.
Of course, we have our critics. Some say that because of our oversized egos, we’ve raised a bunch of entitled, spoiled kids who will fall apart the moment we’re not around to protect their feelings. And truth be told, our motives weren’t always selfless.
Yes, some of us saw within our parenting role a way to rewrite our own life stories. But I truly believe that our intentions were mainly honorable. Maybe we were misguided, and we made some wrong choices for our kids. But by and large, we did it because we loved them.
And while the outcome of our adventures in parenting may haunt generations to come, we did get a few things right. We’re the parents who helped bring bullying out of the schoolyard shadows and into the light of day. And thanks to the heartfelt efforts of many of us facing particular and serious challenges, we’ve helped make sure that autism, learning differences, and food allergies are issues being addressed locally and nationally, in both the medical and educational arenas.
So if you saw us flying through the rows of Whole Foods or Trader Joes’s and the local farmer’s market in the past months, as we planned welcome-home feasts for our offspring home on winter break, keep in mind that we’re doing our best. After all, we let them leave for college. And we’re trying to respect their independence. We’re okay with not knowing what they’re doing every single moment of the day. Sometimes we even get by without a text from them for 24 hours, or more.
Hey, isn’t there a trophy for that?
I Failed as a Helicopter Parent: Am I Wrong to be Sad?