How not to be "The Helicopter Mom"

04.25.22 07:36 PM Comment(s) By Adrienne Towsen

As the mom of two college kids, I can tell you this thought NEVER crossed my mind! For most, when kids go off to college, it's the first time they will live away from home. This is a major transition for both parent and child. While it can be a difficult adjustment at first, it is also a very exciting time. If we as parents have done our job well, our kids will be ready and capable of moving into this next chapter of their lives. There will be no need to be a "helicopter parent", which will ultimately make for a much better young adult child/parent relationship. We will always worry... that comes with the territory, but if we have prepared them well, it's the best we can do. 

I feel like as working moms, the transition can be a little easier since we are used to spending time away from our kids on a regular basis. Of course the work day is much different than weeks or months at a time, but I think it helps prepare us. That is not to say we won't miss our kids, but we will have more "distraction" with our work schedules which can be a good thing. If you have multiple children, like with anything we do as a parent, you will learn from your experience with the first. and that can also make it easier as subsequent kids go off to school. However once you have that "empty nest", it is definitely something that takes some getting used to. 


My Top 5 Dos and Don'ts when parenting college kids:


1.DO: encourage independence...if they want to go far away for a good reason and it's feasible financially and otherwise, let them go! 


We live outside of Philadelphia and my oldest went to Boston. While this is not across the country, it is also not just a couple hours away. She wanted to be in a city and her first choice school is the best in the country for her major...without a doubt I wanted her to be there (p.s. she graduates in 2 weeks! so proud). She has had an amazing experience in this incredible city.  My younger daughter is closer in an another amazing city, New York. which has been nice, but it just happened to be that her first choice school is located relatively nearby.


DO NOT: move to where they go to school 🤦🏻‍♀️


2. DO: develop some type of check-in system which is not overly cumbersome...especially these days it is very reasonable to want confirmation that your child is alive and well on a daily basis. 


I started out wanting to text my daughter every morning and every night to be sure she was safely back in her dorm. That worked during her first semester freshman year,  but then we went to just a text in the morning every day. I routinely have my phone on silent at work, but I gave a special tone to her text messages (and ultimately a different tone for my other daughter), and I have those sounds on bypass so I can always hear them.  I often text them early before I start work, and on days when I am in surgery, it is the most comforting thing to hear those sounds when I can't check my phone right away. I've learned not to get too worried if I don't hear from them in the morning, but if it's early afternoon and there is no repsonse, a second text goes out! 


When my kids travel by plane or other public transportation, we also check in along the way. Texts like "boarded" , "landed", or "back in my dorm/apartment" are simple but powerful.


DO NOT: text them incessantly throughout the day or call unannounced. Remember they are in school and although they are not in class every minute, they are likely busy much of the time. 


I like to text my kids and arrange a time to call or FaceTime, so I am not interrupting them (unless there is an emergency of course). This has worked really well for us, and it is not uncommon for me to have much more communication with my kids each week than just those good morning texts. 



3. DO: plan time to visit, meet some of their friends and let them show you around their new location... the campus, the city. Attend parent's weekend, sporting events or anything they invite you to!


DO NOT: show up unannounced.....WAY worse than simply calling unannounced! 🤦🏻‍♀️🤦🏻‍♀️


4. DO: remember that when they come home they are used to independence... so while, yes, they are back under your roof, realize that they are used to being on their own and they are adults. 


DO NOT: hover over them and expect them to spend all their time with you or tell you everything they are doing... they will most likely want to be out with friends much of the time when they are home for breaks. It is still nice for them to give some estimates on timeframes or a general idea of where they will be for safety purposes, but every detail is not necessary. 


My daughters use the locator app on their phones to keep track of each other which I think is wonderful. I do not do this with either one of them, and I don't think it's the best idea for a parent to do with a kid this age. However, if it's a sibling or close friend and they want to keep tabs on each other this way, it can definitely offer some peace of mind.



5.  DO: help guide them as they make decisions about majors, study abroad, sports and other activities, and last but not least, their plans after graduation.


DO NOT: make decisions for them


Encourage them to seek out guidance from their advisors, coaches and other resources at school...encourage them to think about what they really want and what is best for them. Allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. As graduation approaches, make them aware that they do not have to map out the rest of their life at age 21 0r 22. If they have a specific plan, whether it's grad school or the job of their dreams, that's amazing but certainly not mandatory. 



My last thought is a definite "DO " for college parenting...send care packages!!! In this day of instant gratification and communication without much letter writing or card sending, it can still be so nice for our kids to get the notification that they have a package waiting. My mom and I routinely put packages together for my daughters on Halloween, Valentine's Day and Easter. They love getting them and we love making them. Whether it's for an occasion or "just because",  I highly recommend this. 


No matter how old our kids get, they will always be our kids, and we will always feel protective over them. Some may need more guidance and continued support when they leave home than others, but remember to also encourage the independence necessary to be a responsible adult. If you don't let go, it will more than likely backfire. If you hold on too tightly, it can lead them to rebel and possibly get into things they shouldn't. There is a balance there somewhere which we as parents must strive to find during those years prior to and including college which will allow our kids to feel supported but not restricted. 


My advice...don't hover... we have to "love and launch"❤️👋(phrase courtesy of Mike Keenan)

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