Helicopter Parents

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: Recently, I learned about helicopter parents, and it really hit home. I am afraid that I am one of them. Why do I have such a hard time letting go of my children? How do I let go of my adult children and encourage them to be adults? When I graduated from high school, my parents didn’t seem to have any trouble pushing me out the door and sending me on my way.

Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay coined and defined the term when describing “ineffective parenting styles” in their 1990 book Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Since that time, the term has caught on with the news media, college professors, schoolteachers, summer camp leaders, and even human resource departments, probably due to its rather intuitive description of a modern-day phenomenon. University of Georgia professor Richard Mullendore described this hovering as “the world’s longest umbilical Cord.”

In an NPR story a number of years back, Jennifer Ludden stated, “So-called helicopter parents first made headlines on college campuses a few years ago, when they began trying to direct everything from their children’s course schedules to which roommate they were assigned. With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf.”

Margaret Fiester describe warning signs that you might be a little too involved in your child’s professional life:

• Sending a child’s resume to prospective employers on his or her behalf

• Urging an employee to hire your son or daughter

• Contacting a child’s prospective employer to advocate for better pay or benefits

• Accompanying a child to a job interview

• Calling to negotiate better salaries or vacation time for your kids 

• Complaining when their child isn’t hired

You asked “Why” you have a difficult time letting go of your adult children. Several reasons have been suggested: 

• Fear of Failure. It is hard for some parents to stand on the sidelines and watch their children experience discomfort. They feel it is their job to protect their child from all unpleasant feelings. But remember that failure is one step on the road to success.

• Lack of Good Relationships. Some believe that a lack of good relationship between mother and father is at the root of helicopter parenting. Instead of relating to the other spouse, the parent becomes reliant on the child to fulfill the need for love and affection. Stop and think. That sounds rather incestuous and probably means it’s time to reevaluate boundaries between parent and child. It’s time to let junior go and for Mom and Dad to work on their own relationship.

• Living Vicariously through Their Children. Some parents try to fulfill their dreams through their child’s successes. That is why they take it very personally when their child fails. Instead of living through your child, allow your child to have his or her own dreams, even if they are quite different from yours.

• To Keep Their Children Young. Other parents do not like to see their children grow and would like to keep them young forever. They need to be needed, constantly and forever. This is unfair and borders on abuse. Your child was meant to grow up and not need you.

• Need for Control. For some, it’s an inherent need to control all they can, including how their child spends time and with whom they spend it. This kind of parent lives in fear of losing control, and eventually drives their children away.

How to go about helping your adult children transition to self-supporting adults may be a challenge, but it can and must be done. Do not enable your child to remain a dependent adult child. Establish rules, expectations, and boundaries for living at home sufficient that he or she may choose to find an apartment of his or her own. Also, as your child transitions, do not rescue him or her from the many possible discomforts of life. Experiencing those things is how people mature.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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