I Failed as a Helicopter Parent: Am I Wrong to be Sad?

They say that a mother’s job is to teach her children not to need her anymore. And intellectually I get it –  my whole job as a parent is to prepare my children to function independently in the world, to make their own choices, to know their own minds, blah blah blah.  But I have to be honest, I think I over delivered.  Deep down, I wanted to be a helicopter parent Or more accurately, I wanted my children to need helicoptering. But honestly, I am devastated that they stopped needing me – way before I was ready to stop being needed by them.

Working mom wanted to be a helicopter parent

Today, I am the mother of a ferociously, independent daughter who graduated from college and is entering the work force.  She found her own apartment with her friends, and will build a life in the Big City.  She won’t ask for my help and really won’t need it, and I will hang in the shadows hoping against hope that a mother/daughter trip to Bed, Bath, & Beyond is in my near future.  Anything.  I mean throw me a bone.  And I shouldn’t be surprised.

This is the same girl who at 2 years old walked into pre-school with barely a backward glance.  A mother standing right next to me said, “Is that your daughter who just walked into her new class.  That was her separation?  That, was it?” And for a moment, I think she envied me as her son clung to her leg for dear life, crying as if the classroom contained wild lions ready to rip him to shreds. But later, reality hit me like a ton of bricks – that other mom knew what I didn’t yet know –  that the little girl who ran in the 2’s with her braids flying would look back less and less with each passing year.

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And I have a maddeningly, self-sufficient 18-year-old son who is graduating from high school and is ready to move into his college dorm – and honestly, truly does not need me to help him move in – which I would never miss unless I was run over by a herd of wild animals or an 18-wheeler. He would be fine throwing a pair of underwear in a backpack, a couple of photos (maybe), his computer and cell phone and go.

So much for my fantasy of hours spent going through his room, packing the right photos, telling stories and crying (me not him) as we reflected on the end of one chapter and the start of another – reminiscing about the day we brought him home from the hospital, taught him to ride a bike, celebrated his first pair of big boy underpants, his first swim, his first sleepover. I will be crying by myself.  And again, I shouldn’t be surprised.

This is the same child who when I asked if he liked a girl at school, said, and I quote, “NEVER SPEAK OF THIS TO ME AGAIN.”   And the same child who called me one afternoon asking me if I was coming soon to pick him up from school as he was on his way home from a class trip.  To which I replied, “Sweetie, do you remember this morning, when I was wheeling a suitcase to the door and said, I will see you tomorrow.  I am going on business trip to California.  That was me, your mother.  I am in California now.” And did he feel bad that I wasn’t coming to get him?  No – certainly not as bad as I felt that he hadn’t even noticed I left the house.

I mean I don’t ask that much.  I require one thing of them when they are not at home for a day – 1 thing.  Just text me, I say, one word – just text “dead or alive.”  And imagine what I get most of the time from these 2 children I nurtured, whose noses and behinds I wiped, whose meals I made, one word just like I asked – “dead”.   They are SO adorable.

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I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I adore my kids and I know they love me.  And I do have memories – albeit fading – when they needed me.  Like when my daughter wouldn’t leave my lap during ballet – once – when she was three.   Or the times, I left on business trips, and their sweet little faces were framed in the kitchen window, faces wracked with sadness as their mom got into her car with a black rolling bag – the international sign of working moms everywhere abandoning their children.  I remember feeling my chest tighten as I tried to take deep breaths to manage the overwhelming physical and emotional guilt.

But, to be brutally honest, I miss it and I miss that role.  I miss being the only one who understood their rudimentary vocabulary as they were learning to speak, I miss being needed, I miss being central to their decision-making, I miss having them whisper things to me, I miss helping them fall asleep, I miss reading to them.  But alas, those days are long gone. My only shot now is to see if I can be more successful in my second act – as a helicopter grandparent.  Well, here’s hoping.

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Rachel Braun Scherl has a long track record of success as a growth strategist, marketing expert, Vagipreneur and public speaker. Rachel focuses on driving growth for female health and wellness companies In addition, she speaks broadly on entrepreneurship, leadership and women in business and is a monthly contributor to Huffington Post and a frequent contributor to Inc. She earned her BA from Duke University, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa and her MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
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