Thursday, August 7, 2008

I’m not flying this helicopter, but if I were, I’d hover a bit less

Quite a few of my friends are the parents of teenagers. Lately there's been a lot of publicity about helicopter parents, generally baby boomers who are over-involved in their own childrens’ lives. (Read this Subsidized in the City essay in Newsweek for a first-hand account of twenty-something “kids” who don’t know how to balance a checkbook, and the parents who don't seem to care.)

In the past week I personally have had two separate encounters that illustrate how helicopter parents are actually holding back their children:

Incident one: Last week, my friend L called and asked me to run over to the Walmart nearest me to scoop up some 5 cent notebooks for her son, who is heading to college in the fall. Without questioning, I jumped in my car because L, a single mother who has ably stretched a buck to send her son to private schools since the third grade, deserves a break. (Alas, Walmart was sold out, proving that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. It also proves my "Walmart is evil" theory, but more on that another time.)

The drive there, the frustrating and ultimately futile search through the giant store, and the empty-handed ride home gave me plenty of time to think. First, I was peeved that in the era of $4/gallon gas, I was driving all around metrowest for a 5 cent notebook. But second, why is L buying her son his college supplies? Why isn’t this 18 year-old, gainfully employed, legally adult person getting his own damned notebooks? Not to act like the old man shaking his fist at the folly of youth, but you can bet that I bought my own notebooks before heading off to college. And my pens, too. (And I even had money left over for the $3 cover for the keg parties.)

Incident two: A few days later, we had friends over for dinner when the phone rang. Normally, I would not interrupt dinner to answer a call, but caller ID told me that it was the girl I had hired to babysit the following week. I picked up the phone, hoping she wasn’t cancelling, and was surprised when her mother, my friend S, greeted me. S informed me that she had good news and bad news. The good news was that her daughter could still babysit, but she, S, wanted to let me know that since her daughter is a sophomore in college, she normally charges $15/hour for babysitting rather than the $12 she quoted me. But, since we’re such good friends and she adores my children so much, she offered me a friends and family discount. And S, being a self-employed lawyer, educated her daughter on making business connections and discounting her rates for good customers. I was too dumbfounded to answer her…was she telling me to pay her daughter $15?

So, if this girl is such a good babysitter and worth $15/hour, why couldn’t she tell me herself what her going rate was? I think S should have had the conversation with her daughter, and let the girl learn a lesson: you get what you ask for. Maybe next time a customer asks her her rate, she’ll tell them the truth.

(Oh, and totally unrelated, the bad news was truly bad: S’s dog and beloved companion for more than a decade passed away; the juxtaposition of these two bits of news only confused me more.)

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So, what will happen to these kids as they go through college? I don't know, but I'm also not sure that they're prepared well to do it on their own. My friend L (buyer of notebooks) has created a poster-board schedule for her son, showing him when his classes are, when he has time to study, and when he can go to the gym. S the lawyer is equally involved in her daughter's campus life, texting her between classes and scheduling her time off.

I'm trying my best not to judge, but I'm failing. I can't help but think this is too much, and I hope I learn from them so I fly a bit higher when my kids get to be young adults. The worry, to me, is that they're not helping these kids grow into productive, self-sufficient adults. And, ultimately, isn't this our job--our duty--as parents?

I wonder if these parents, who want to give their children the world, are raising a generation of people who wouldn’t know what to do with the world once they got it in their hands.

1 comment:

momworkingmom said...

Hi Dichotomom,
I like your blog a lot. You have such an honest voice—sharp, but loving. There’s frustration but real hope and optimism in your writing. I'm not in the exact same boat as you, but I'm definitely sailing close by on the same lake.

I too am appalled by the helicopter parents. But my 12-year old son is away at camp this week. And in addition to missing him tremendously, I just want to know he’s safe and happy. And, intellectually, of course, I do know that. But I can’t help wishing I could hide in a bush and see for myself. Which is stupid, I know. (I’d just be sunburned and bitten by bugs.) If I’m not careful, I could turn into one of those HPs…rats.