I never thought of myself as a helicopter parent. Even though raising my kids was my primary focus until they went to college, I felt like I allowed them agency whenever possible. I knew it was crucial that they make their own choices, bear the consequences of their actions and follow thru on their decisions unless they were in danger of causing irreversible damage to their future before the cerebral cortex was fully formed.
But both of my kids moved home last month for the summer. And even after successful first years at prestigious colleges despite the hardships of COVID, it’s difficult not to swoop in, as if they never left. Clean up your room; get out of bed; make your bed; don’t leave your clothes on the floor … and worse, are you sure you want to spend so much of your savings on that? Is it really a good idea to go to a music festival the summer after COVID? Have you finished your cover letter? Have you done your work for your class tonight?
It’s not that we have been distant for nine months. I think we communicated almost every day, mostly via text, but often by phone or video, and more often than not at their instigation. They sought my advice on what classes to take, what paper topic I thought would be most interesting or how to manage a roommate situation. Or they just wanted to tell me about a success, an insight or a funny moment. But as much as we shared, the fact is that I never did know if their laundry was done, if they ate vegetables or how often (or if) they changed their sheets. I had stopped overseeing their growth from child to young adult, and my role had deepened into advisor vs taskmaster. I liked that role – I think they did too.
We all leave home because we are ready to form our own habits and live by our own rules. I have known this since I did it over 30 years ago. But until this summer, I never thought about the reverse. Parents love and enjoy their children, but they also struggle when their adult kids move home. The truth is that we thrive in our advisor role, always more than excited to be consulted, but also proud we can be absent when not requested.
Summer with my kids home makes me wonder if I will ever be able to let them fly without a net? While the parental instinct to prevent harm never ebbs, that urge to instruct has also come screaming back. I know I should resist, but the opportunity is so hard to turn away from – It’s just in your face more often.