Helpful or Hovering? Draw Your Own Line

Now that school has started, I'm faced with similar decisions every day: Do I lobby to get Josh the teacher he wants for AP Environmental or step back? Do I rummage through Ryan's backpack for papers I need to sign or let him get a zero if he doesn't follow through? And the big one this week: Do I follow up with the mother who threatened to go to the dean if Ryan calls her kid a mean name again (which he denies) and try to keep her calm, or do I let the school's anti-bullying system take its course?

Deciding when to step in and when to keep away is a daily dilemma for today's conscientious parents. This is newish stuff. Our mothers didn't follow our progress in their wombs through books like What to Expect When You're Expecting. ("Now he has a pinky!") They didn't suffer over decisions like when it's okay to slap us or when to turn off the TV (never was fine) or whether to feed us fruit juice-sweetened cereal instead of Cheerios or if we should be driven to school because the middle school bus is too scary. They cooked, they cleaned, they asked,"Did you do your homework?" and they went about their lives -- and left us to ours.


I've been thinking even harder about these decisions since receiving comments about my last blog entry. My friend Jeri  jumped on parents for living their kids' lives for them, while my cousin Rona (yes, same name) staunchly defended mothers being very involved in her kids' business. A key topic was"helicopter" parenting, a term that refers to mothers and fathers hovering even when their young adult offspring leave for college. These parents might go so far as to call the school if the child is having roommate issues. A recent New York Times article article used the term "Velcro parents." The point: Colleges have separate orientation events for parents for the sole purpose of ripping them away from their inbound freshmen. But talking every day? Texting every hour? We called home once a week during my college years, when phone rates were high, so I assume it's best to forgo communication for a few days at a time when my boys are away. Is that true? Just because that's how I grew up, when there was no alternative?


I've always pondered, too seriously for it to be healthy, when to step in and when not to. But to have such strong reactions to the H word! Jeri's reasoning is 100 percent sound. Let 'em flop and learn, baby. But Rona's kids seem amazing -- well-adjusted and close with their parents yet fully independent. So who's wrong?


Wimpy as it sounds, I think the answer's in the middle. Will kids become more independent if we leave them the heck alone? Surely. Will they feel loved and gain self esteem if we butt in when they need support? Yup. All the area in between is gray, and individual. Every mother I know gets involved to a different degree, and every mother I know pooh-pooh's other mothers' decisions. "I would never let my child jump in the mud." "I would never stop my child from jumping in the mud." "If Johnny is failing English, let him fail. He has to make his own way."  "I heard the 10th grade English teacher is bad so I'm pulling Johnny out every afternoon so he can take the class at the community college."


I make my own decisions every day, never too extreme, as far as I can tell. It's tough: If I don't nag Ryan to study for his tests he might not, and then he might get into crappy high school classes and become friends with kids who aren't college bound and ... . Then again, no one said a word when I let my middle school work go. Oh, there were Fs! Big fat red ones! Then in ninth grade I started caring on my own and worked hard forever after. Shouldn't Ryan have the chance to do his own caring? But considering he's in Florida public schools, is backing off worth the risk?


I'll bet you folks have opinions and lots of them -- not about my sweet Ryan, I'll handle that one thank you, but about helping versus hovering in general. Bring it on!