Monday, June 20, 2011

Helicopters: Bad; Thanks, Dad: Good

A quote from my daughter, who has recently moved on her own for the first time (previously she’s either lived at home or in college apartments with roommates):

“I don’t like asking other people for help, except you.”

I’m flattered, of course (I guess), that my daughter wants my help. And she’s half-joking, because she did actually get someone else to do the thing she said I could do when I came to visit.

But there is a broader point: part of the independence we hope our kids will learn is building their own systems of support apart from their parents. It’s not that parents don’t want to help (we do!), but we also know our kids will not always have us to rely on.

If the helicopter parents of the world had their way, their children would never have to do anything for themselves. Bad, bad idea.

I know my wife was a little proud inside when our oldest complained that he was the only one among his freshman roommates who knew how to clean a bathroom. She was proud, of course, that he could do it. (Whether the others couldn’t do it or just didn’t isn’t clear.)

Another son quickly became the prime chef in his community of young adults when they realized what a great cook he was. (Thanks again, Mom!)

I know we watched with nervousness when another son moved out right after high school, refusing our help, except to cosign his first lease. Yes, he had bumps along the way. He had to kick out that deadbeat roommate. (Did we warn him or did we bite our tongues? It doesn’t matter; had we warned him he would have ignored us, but in the end he learned the lesson he needed to learn.)

Part of a kid’s job growing up is to separate from his parents, to become independent. I know few parents who, at a child’s 18th birthday, write them off forever, but we do want our kids to need us less and less.

My wife grew up in a family of 12 kids. There just wasn’t much time for helicoptering in that home. My own mom had a favorite mantra when I was a kid: “Fight your own battles.” I don’t remember her ever intervening, even when I was a high school sophomore and my “fighting my own battles” ticked off certain students at my high school who broke into my locker and stole everything – textbooks, notebooks, my winter coat. She did not stop me, nor did she rescue me (well, she did buy me a new coat). Thanks, mom.

To be sure, there are some scary moments when we allow our kids to make their own choices, fight their own battles, blaze their own trails. They sometimes make choices we think are dumb (and maybe even dangerous). I’m not advocating that parents allow their children to live recklessly, but that they allow their children to enjoy the dignity of the consequences of their choices.


  1. The sort of approach you describe is where my own inclinations lead, but I've seen some cases that make me wonder.

    A few years ago there was a girl in our ward who was the top volleyball player in the region. Her father played a large role in marketing her to colleges to find the best place that would award her a scholarship.

    A boy in my current ward has had a very good record in 2A track and cross country and was wondering if his level of accomplishment is good enough to even think about walking on with the high-ranking track program at the large university he will attend this fall. His father called the coach to chew over that question with the man who could answer it.

    I'm left wondering if I undervalue my role as a manager promoting and helping along my children's interests. Having a good manager can make a difference for someone new to the social structures of the world, and not only in sports.

  2. Your posts are consistently thought-provoking and wise. Thanks again.

  3. JM, I think you're right -- sometimes part of what we do is to help our children in transitions. That's another post I'm working on...