Recently I have seen and texted my kids a bit more than usual. I am not sure why this has occurred. It seems that the gods of parenthood have just been kind to me in the last couple of weeks. Even in the face of this unalloyed gift I began to wonder if this was a good thing for them. Am I talking to my kids too much? Was I impinging on their lives? Was my more frequent presence impacting their independence?
And then I got a grip on myself.
Helicoptering isn’t how much you talk to your kids, it is how you talk to your kids. We have become so inundated with warnings that we are ruining an entire generation that we risk trying not to stay too close to our kids and that…is insane.
If we don’t know what is happening in our kids lives we will soon become like beloved old friends who share a past, care about each other deeply but aren’t an integral part of each other’s present day life.
For all of human history parents and their grown children lived in each other’s daily lives and interacted constantly. Families lived in the same towns and villages and seeing or speaking to your parents, siblings and kids most days was thought unremarkable.
Then, in the middle of the 20th century, that changed. Weekly phone calls, kept brief because of the expense, became the norm. And we believed somehow that independence and maturity came from this infrequent contact despite the fact that every generation before us had remained in close contact. Only two generations in human history, baby boomers and their little siblings the Gen Xers, were raised believing that growing up meant growing away.
[More on how families can stay close even as they grow apart here.]
Now we are caught in between. Our kids often travel far afield but our cell phones give us the means to live like we are still in the same small village. Through a myriad of means our daughters and sons can share the ongoing narrative of their daily life. Yet somehow we have become convinced that contact with us is bad for them, that it will keep them from growing into the adults they need to be. We believe this despite the fact that frequent family contact is how every generation before our own was raised.
Helicopter parenting is a very real thing and there is no question that it can quash maturity in teens and young adults. In How to Raise An Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims offers chapter and verse on parents who cannot keep from interfering in every aspect of their children’s lives in an effort to steer them towards the perfect college and then the perfect job. She breaks apart overparenting into three categories, overprotecting, over directing and hand-holding and reminds us that helicopter parents remove risk, pain, and accountability from their kids lives.
Yet the frequency of contact is not the measure of that type of parenting. Just because you spoke to your college kid three times this week doesn’t mean you have committed the very real transgressions Lythcott-Haims outlines. Yes, helicopter parents speak to their children frequently, but not all parents who have regular contact with their kids are helicoptering. The relationship is not causal.
Being an adult means taking responsibility for your life, not necessarily curtailing contact with your parents. As parents I think we have all too often bought into the myth that our kids should grow up like we did, that distance and infrequent contact with our own parents is what made adults out of us. But Millennials spend far more time with their parents and are much more honest and forthcoming with them than was true a generation ago. And that seems a wholly good thing.
I know more than a bit about helicoptering parenting, as my sons will surely tell you. I hovered over my kids for all I was worth and it did them no favor. But I have also seen that sometimes our kids just want us there to talk about their days, to bounce around their ideas or to keep them company as they walk across campus. It is this day-to-day intimacy when we are doing nothing more than sharing the trivialities of our lives that keeps us close.