On Wednesday, my daughter and I drove to Auburn for her session of Camp War Eagle, one of eight orientation and registration sessions that Auburn University offers its approximately 5000 incoming freshman. We arrived a day earlier for a couple hours of the Honors College orientation. My Southern Man drove down Wednesday night and we all crashed at our son’s place. Thursday morning, we dropped our daughter off on campus; she stayed in the dorm Thursday night with the other students in her session. Late Friday afternoon, after waiting out an impressive lightning, wind, and rain storm, we went home.
While at CWE, we parents got to attend many different meetings of our own, where we learned much about the university, student life, classes, and basically everything a parent may need or want to know about what the next few years, especially the freshman year, will entail. The parents, separated from their children most of the time we were all there, were fed several meals by Auburn catering service and also got a couple free lunch passes so we could try out a couple of the other dining options. The first day, we tried out Plains to Plate, the nation’s first certified gluten-free, on-campus university restaurant. I don’t necessarily need gluten-free, but was intrigued because as much of the food as possible is locally sourced and the menu was pretty healthy–and quite delicious!
Anyway, the time we spent there was nice, interesting, and while I did learn some things (my Southern Man had attended Camp War Eagle once before, when our son entered AU), much of it seemed to be done to assure (and reassure and re-reassure) the parents that their children are now adults and will be just fine. Which brings me to what I really want to talk about: helicopter parenting.
As a mother and a primarily stay-at-home one, I have had my struggles with various things over the years: occupation/income/money issues and parenting issues, primarily, and the guilt associated with them, wondering if I did enough or should have done something differently. When my two children were younger, my own mother encouraged me to let them do things for themselves that my generation seemed to just do as part of their job–making them breakfast and/or lunch, for example. Doing their laundry. Even playing with them. I remember Mom telling me that she rarely, if ever, played with us, that her schedule did not necessarily revolve around us all the time, and similar things. And I do, in fact, remember those things. When I was growing up, she didn’t wake me up for school or work, make me breakfast or lunch, tell me to do my homework or ask if I had, or constantly remind me of my chores and she didn’t have to; I just did it. She did do our laundry, but once washed, it was often my job to take over with getting the clothes out of the washer and, unless it was raining, hanging them out to dry. Yes, even in the frigid New England winters, I hung the clothes out to dry. They never dried completely, often froze, in fact, at which point I’d bring them in and wonder if they would crack as I stuffed them into the gas dryer in our cellar. (They never did, but I swear the jeans–dungarees, as we called them–came close!). So my parents, while as good a set of parents as any, were a bit more hands-off in their parenting style as were, I believe, most of their peers. Enter my generation….
After observing many of the AU students’ parents and hearing some of the stories that the AU faculty, administration, and counselors told, I had some thoughts. First off, while I enjoyed the session, I commented that it is SO different from when I went to college. Basically, one of my parents dropped me off and that was that. There were no cell phones, internet, social media, and so on. We were not in constant contact. My life was my business and they rarely asked about my grades, sleeping, eating, etc., and I even more rarely volunteered the information. Yes, the first two years they helped me get loans out and throughout college, Dad would occasionally call, ask what I was eating (usually spaghetti or some form of pasta), ask if I needed money (I usually said I was fine), and until I got my first boyfriend in my junior year, would send me flowers on Valentine’s Day (a sweet, sweet memory). When I moved to Alabama to go to graduate school, and quickly surmised that riding a bike in downtown Birmingham would probably cause my early death, Dad bought me a $1600 deathtrap of a cool car that I’d found. So there was some interaction and help from my parents. They did care. Perhaps if the technology we have now was available back then, there would have been more communication, but I kind of doubt it. My parents knew I had to grow up and I proudly and fiercely wanted to be independent and be able to take care of myself. Me asking my Dad for money to buy a car was an act of near-desperation and a major swallowing of pride situation. Asking for help is not and has never been easy for me and that’s not always a good way to be, I’ve learned.
What my parents did not do and what I have not done and will not do are: fill out my children’s scholarship or college paperwork, even the dreaded FAFSA, book them for their Camp War Eagle session, make their college schedules or hover over them and question them while they do it, choose, decorate, or clean their dorm rooms or apartments, log onto their academic college account, unbeknownst to them and for whatever reason, mistakenly take a test (subsequently failing the test and the student was not allowed a retake–true story), call or text them on a daily basis, call their professors, the housing office, or administrators when they are having academic or social problems–do you get the picture? Now, are we available to call or help if our children need and request it? Absolutely, especially if it’s advice…actually, mostly if it’s advice and I often give that whether they want it or not, but they and I both know that they can choose to follow it or not. Yes, we help in other ways, too, but we have brought our children up to be independent and they are doing a pretty good job, so far. Our son has had some challenges along the way, usually financial, and I’m sure our daughter will have challenges, as well. However, while we do try to help out when asked, we are not going to come running to the rescue every time they make or are about to make a choice that may not turn out to be the wisest one they could have made. We are not going to hover over them whether in person or via phone, text, email, Skype, Facetime, Messenger, homing pigeons, or whatever other form of communication is available to try to run their lives.
Unfortunately, many in our generation do not seem to be of the same mindset and as a result, some messages that were repeated to the parents at CWE were that our children are adults. We are to drop them off and LEAVE. They will be FINE. They have plenty of resources to help them and guide them, that they will figure things out and will be OKAY. If they need us, they will call us. All they need to know is that we are there for them, if need be. Basically, the message was: it’s time for your children to grow up–LET THEM. LET GO.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that I believe this part of parenting is the most difficult. When your children are born, people tell you that the colicky stage is difficult, then the walking stage, then the “terrible twos”, then it’s the tyrannical threes that no one warned you about, then they go to school and gain an attitude they never had before, then it’s the “tween” years, and everyone knows about teenagers! During most of that time, you are able to exert your influence and will on your child, if you so desire. No one really tells you that the hardest part of parenting is when the little birds leave the nest and you have to watch them learn to fly, unable to do much else but watch while they fall or fail, which they will do–many times. Giving them advice (that often goes unheeded) and praying for God to give them wisdom, discernment, and guidance is often all you can do–and it doesn’t require their permission or even their knowledge. What we as parents need to work on for ourselves and our sanity is having patience, understanding, forgiveness, and faith, all part of letting them go. It’s hard, very hard: an ongoing learning experience that has occasional backsliding. I still find myself starting to go into “Momma Bear” mode, sometimes, and I have to remind myself and force myself to step back and be the watcher and the prayer warrior. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s all part of life.
One thing I have been “warned” of: when this next stage of life is over, when our children have successfully gone from our dependents to independent, and have started the cycle with their own families, the letting go doesn’t end. My Mom has said on several occasions, that watching her children raise their own children, her grandchildren, isn’t always easy, either. Perhaps we’ve done things that she wouldn’t have agreed with or done, but it wasn’t her place to do anything more than maybe offer her opinion–and pray. Then, there’s the grandchildren: even more loved ones to watch and worry about. She said that the concern/worrying never ends, if anything, perhaps it multiplies, but that is life. That is the price of loving others and it’s well worth the cost.