Loosening the Apron Strings

Helicopter parenting. Right. We know what it is. Hovering. Over-protecting. It’s a phenomenon dealing with little kids, right?

Apparently not. At least, depending on who you talk to. Perhaps some would consider me a helicopter mother. Others? They would call me “engaged.”

Times are certainly different than 30 years ago. Families are different. Surely economic pressures have a hand in the way we are raising our children. Comparisons to generations gone by? Are they relevant? Are they inevitable?

21st century parenting

With violence in schools, worries over homes and jobs, single parent guilt, gargantuan price tags on education and competition in every arena, is it any wonder that parents hover over their children? Or that we pass along our stress, whether we wish to or not? Our performance anxieties? Our anxiety in general?

Do we unwittingly take on so much for our kids that we’re robbing them of necessary development? Of lessons in coping?

When the New York Times ran commentary on the impact of helicopter parenting on college freshmen, I paid attention.

According to the Times,

… college administrators are struggling to keep up with what their students need. Are social, academic and financial pressures on freshmen becoming more intense? Have freshmen changed? Does the fact that many students are used to “helicopter” parents monitoring and guiding all of their activities affect the transition to college?

First experiences of independence

Linda Bips, psychologist, assistant professor at Muhlenberg College, and the author of “Parenting College Freshmen: Consulting for Adulthood,” writes of the lack of coping strategies she observes in college students, and notes:

The number of students who arrive at college already medicated for unwanted emotions has increased dramatically in the past 10 years. We, as a society, don’t want to “feel” anything unpleasant and we certainly don’t want our children to “suffer.”

Barbara Hofer, also a psychology professor (at Middlebury) and parenting author, mentions the added requirement of staying in contact with parents and friends, for moral support, and much more.

The explosion of means for staying connected – cellphones, texting, email, Skype, Facebook – has also created its own set of pressures.

Students have an unprecedented number of ways to stay in contact with others and this can sometimes become a time-consuming task. No longer do college students have just the Sunday night call from parents nor do they wait till Thanksgiving to check in with high school friends.

Where does it start? Where does it end?

Does adolescence in fact start sooner now than in previous generations? Certainly, watching my own children and their friends over the years, I think so. And does it last longer? Too long? Are college administrators and faculty forced to finish raising our kids because we as parents are perpetuating dependence in ways we don’t realize?

I think about my sons – both teens – one in college now, and the other, a senior in high school. They couldn’t be more different. They stay in touch via cell phones, and thank goodness.  As a single parent, juggling schedules can be a logistical headache and a half.

My elder calls from college every three or four weeks, mostly to chat. Occasionally we connect on Skype – for a birthday, or if he has particularly good news to share. When my younger was away last summer, he also called every few weeks. Or when he needed something. I consider these communications appropriate, and valuable.

More than that? It’s up to them, though for my younger I insist on knowing his whereabouts more or less. Teens and cars? Scary stuff. And I’ve loosened the apron strings as I’ve seen him step up to the plate with increasing confidence, in every area of his life.

Teaching kids life skills: permission to succeed, the hard way

As parents, do we ever feel that we’ve done enough? Is that one of our problems?

We understand intellectually that our kids must make their own mistakes. That missteps and hardships build character and offer critical life lessons. Still, we want to reduce their risks, while hoping to lead by example – with accountability, with responsibility, with respectful communication. Sometimes, just by showing up. But have we forgotten to teach independence, out of fear?

Is it really about giving our sons and daughters permission to fail, or permission to succeed – the hard way – as many of us have had to do?

  • Where is the happy medium in terms of guidance and independence?
  • When do we, as parents, start loosening the apron strings?
  • How much is a matter of the individual child and circumstances?

© D A Wolf