Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Parents, your adult children will be safe, so learn to let go
Q: How should I stay connected to kids who are off at college, without being a helicopter parent? I want to let them gain experience with independence, but sometimes it's hard to hold my tongue when they do something that seems dangerous: (1) travel to some countries during junior year abroad without phone or BlackBerry contact; or (2) wander around New York late at night after indie rock concerts.
Carolyn: You see danger, I see paths well-traveled by generations of young adults (and some old ones). The vast majority of them were fine, and the minority who met with peril would likely not have avoided it with speedier invention of the BlackBerry. Let go, parent, let go.
Re: College parent:
Whatever Did Parents Do Before Cellphones?: You worry because they might be out of cellphone range? Really?
I'm in my 30s and no one had cellphones in college — and kids still wondered around New York and Europe and were perfectly fine.
I say this as a parent: If you are expecting your adult children (because that's what they are) to be able to have contact 24/7, then you are being a helicopter parent.
Carolyn: That's actually a great, meaningful typo — "wondered around New York and Europe." Thanks.
A cellphone certainly can make someone safer in the sense of 911 access — but that's a narrowly defined safety blanket. With holes in it, too, even in nervous-parent-friendly non-urban US of A.
Parents' ability to reach children, meanwhile, has almost no bearing on their safety — and yet it conveys the message, loud and clear, that you're afraid they're not competent enough to live independently of you. If you want kids you can believe in, then teach them well — and believe in them.
Being a responsible parent can be demanding and exhausting
Q: Our son is in kindergarten, and we are constantly on the go with school, homework, work, after-care, sports, etc. We are exhausted and have admitted to each other that it's a struggle to be responsible parents. We get the occasional break when we hire a sitter, but I feel like the worst mother in the world for not wanting to help my child with his homework or take him to soccer practice. What is wrong with me? I love my son dearly, so these conflicting feelings really concern me.
When Does Life Get Fun Again?
A: It gets better. It is hard to be a responsible parent. It's a demanding job that many can't handle. You love your son dearly, get him to school and activities, feel responsible for helping him with his homework? You're doing fine, and admitting it's a struggle doesn't count against you. Just keep hiring sitters occasionally, and maybe rethink some of the activities.
More important, give yourself permission to see the exhaustion as completely compatible with the joy. Soon enough, you will get more sleep, your boy will have less immediate and insistent needs, and he'll become more interesting company.