Hard Lesson Learned from a Broken Hearted Helicopter Parent

Hindsight is 20/20, and as I sit here with a heavy heart and teary eyes, I can say that I have to accept a lot of blame. Check my old post from a year ago or so, and you will see that my son, who just completed his freshman year in college, was immature in high school and did just enough to get by. Smart kid, but lazy. Enter Mom… I checked the high school’s website daily and made sure he completed his homework, studied for tests, etc. Nag, nag, nag. He was too smart to fail, and there was no way I was going to let him blow his future. I’m doing what’s best for him, I told myself, because he will thank me once he’s in college. It will all pay off in the long run!

But it didn’t. He was so excited to go to college, and he quickly made friends. He liked his classes - loved his professors - all was great! Until the work started piling up. Read this, write that, study-study-study! He wanted very little to do with it. It was all about the fun, and doing just enough to get by. He pledged a fraternity, started partying too much - you know the story. It’s cliche, but it fits him like a glove. I wasn’t there to nag him anymore, and without mom to keep him straight…he veered.

So now here we are, one year and $25,000 later. DS just informed me that college isn’t for him. He’s moving near his college, will stay with friends, and work at a grocery store. That way he can continue to have his fun, not deal with mom and dad house rules, which he thinks will help him grow and mature.

So here is my hindsight lesson - let them fail in high school. Let them get a Zero on their homework, flunk a test, and fail a class, even if it means summer school in order to graduate. LET THEM FAIL!!! They won’t get into college, but then again, they weren’t ready for it anyway. As a parent, I wanted it so badly for my son, and he wanted it to, but he didn’t want to work for it. So I helped him work for it. And it backfired. It taught him nothing. But it taught me a great deal, just a few years too late.

My lesson isn’t limited to academics. I should not have done all the research of colleges. He wouldn’t have done it, but then again, he would have ended up in the same place he is now, so it wouldn’t have mattered. Let them go to community college until they are mature and motivated enough to work for it themselves.

I never dreamed I would be the helicopter parent that I have become. My parents certainly weren’t that way. I did the research for colleges, looked into potential majors -all back in the 1980’s when there was no internet. My parents had no part in it, not because they weren’t interested, but because it was my responsibility to do it. And yet I plunged right in with my son because I wanted it so badly for him - much more than he wanted it for himself. And now he’s continuing down the path of immaturity, leaving behind the shattered dreams that were once mine and mine alone.

So sorry to hear how things worked out. Hopefully after working in a grocery store for a while, seeing how hard it is to make ends meet, watching his college friends moving forward while he is in a dead-end job (if his college friends even want to still hang out with him) will quickly inspire a change of heart for your son.

No parent does everything right so don’t kick yourself for things you would do differently. At this point your son must start to take responsibility for his life.

OK, deep breaths. And sincere sympathies.

And perhaps a little perspective from a high school teacher, who has dealt with varying levels of immaturity for 30+ years in the classroom.

By pushing your son to get a high school diploma, you ensured that he could have the future he chose. You couldn’t ensure that his choice would match yours, but you and I both know that, without that high school diploma, his options were severely limited.

Nope, he’s not at the level of maturity of so many of the kids here on CC… or at least what strangers here would have us think. But he’s like so many kids!!! Not everyone hits their stride on schedule by age 18. Not every kid is ready for college at this point. But you nagged and pushed and helped, and now he’ll have options. You gave him the gift of options. And down the road sometime, he’ll look back, realize it, and appreciate all you did on his behalf.

I’m one of 5 siblings. Of us 5, only 2 graduated from college “on schedule.” One got a GED, another stopped going to CC without telling our parents… Now, 40 years or so years later, all of us have college degrees, and I think 3 of us have our Masters.

And I’m teaching summer school to a kid like your son, but whose parents didn’t push. He takes a makeup final this week. If he doesn’t pass, he doesn’t get a diploma this weekend, it’s as simple as that.

I know you want the best for your son; we all want that for our kids. And you and I both know that the easiest path is to just attend classes, do the work, and get the degree. But, contrary to the belief around here, kids are stupid. Sorry to any teens reading this, but it’s the truth. They simply can’t see the forest for the trees. Look at all the posts from kids here who were smart enough to take a bazillion AP classes, and are now posting by the droves, asking whether they’ll be rescinded by some great colleges… they played too much and studied too little, and are now dealing with the possibility of not going to the colleges they’ve been accepted to.

Your son will learn soon enough that it’s tough to live the good life on minimum wage. And that if you don’t get your tush out of bed and attend work, you don’t just fail; you get fired.

The good news is that he has a mom who loves him enough to hurt for him. When things go south with his new plan, he’ll have you to offer an adult perspective, and to remind him of those options. There’s no age limit on college; he can decide in 6 months or a year or two that he made a mistake and re-apply. Only this time, of course, it will be on his dime. And that’s OK… one course at a time, he’ll get it done. He’ll see what you have, and realize that the path to the life you’ve been able to provide for him is with an education and the job it can get him.

Big picture: he did no lasting harm. He wasn’t arrested, no one is pregnant, he’s just a dumb kid who blew a great opportunity. He’ll learn from it, and find his way.

I don’t have a lot to add to @bjkmom’s excellent post. Some people are late bloomers. Keep loving your kid. There are many paths out there and even those on the less direct path can do well, support themselves, and be happy in life. Hugs.

Don’t beat yourself up! You did what you thought was best at the time. It’s possible that if your son had crashed in high school, he would not have picked himself up. It’s possible that he’d have learned a hard lesson and soared as a result. You will never know. Parenting is filled with second guessing and worry.

You are where you are now. You can love him for who he is and support his efforts as he finds his way. You can listen (if he shares with you. ) We are not all on the same time table. You may not share the same dreams. But at some point, he will realize that you wanted the best for him and you believed in his ability to achieve. That’s a great gift in and of itself.

I read your other thread. You mentioned your middle son has academic issues even though he works hard. Have you ruled out learning disabilities? Your eldest could have executive functioning issues which would make organization, studying, and keeping track of homework difficult. I’m sure there are smart but lazy kids, but kids with these issues are often labeled as lazy.

There is one thing I’d ask if he were my son. Was it his choice to leave college? I’d make sure he’s not running from a bad GPA or academic probation. Those things are fixable, but sometimes kids are too embarrassed to tell their parents they failed.

Your son isn’t moving home to crash on your couch. He’s arranged for a place to live and has a job. Those are good things. I hope he’s living with other college kids. It won’t be long before they’re talking about internships and jobs. That may motivate him to think about his future. However, before he moves make sure you’re clear about what you’ll pay for and what you won’t. If he were my son, I’d pay for health insurance, doctor’s visits, and prescriptions. I wouldn’t pay for a car (insurance, registration, gas, or repairs), rent, food, cell phone, or personal expenses. He should have those costs in front of him now so he can start saving.

@sbgal2011 - I am so sorry, my heart goes out to you. But I agree with the others - do not beat yourself up. He graduated from high school, that’s huge. He’s now taking a break to grow up - that’s good. Freshman year was a loss, let it go and know that your son will eventually get tired of working in a grocery store - likely by the time all his friends graduate and leave his college town for better-paid positions. Give yourself a break but also prepare yourself for the time when he comes back and wants to restart his education - it’s very likely it will happen. Maybe I don’t need to say this but - make sure you don’t get guilt-tripped into paying his expenses while he’s working or paying off any debt he incurs. He chose to place himself in the adult world - place him there in your mind and keep him there. Invest his college funds as if they are your retirement. Have expectations for him that you would have for an adult child, that he will take care of himself financially. When he gets to the point where he can handle the college work and world independantly then you can re-evaluate how much assistance you can give him. It won’t be the dream college experience you wanted for him but it will be “his path”.

@sbgal2011 I hear you. I did the same thing for my daughter-checked the homework site, helped her stay organized, got her up in the morning…and currently she is on medical leave for anxiety (which I think came from realizing she was not going to pass her classes) and we aren’t sure if/when she will be returning. I remember her 5th grade teacher telling me it was important to let her fail but I was too anxious to allow that to happen.

OP - I just want to say that I think your post is brave and incredibly honest. I applaud you for sharing your story to help others. It’s HARD to not want to make it as easy as possible for our kids!

I agree with post #2 that living on minimum wage may give your son a new perspective and appreciation for going back to school. He just needs a bit of growing up first.

Hugs to you!

I think he may have learned more than you think. He knows he’s wasting money by paying tuition when he doesn’t want to be in school. Many kids would have fought to keep going to school just to be in the fraternity and live and play with his friends.

I have one who breezed through. I have one I’m pushing and pulling through and when I told her to take her time but that it was her money paying for the extra semester, she decided she wanted to hurry and finish, so is taking some summer classes to be able to graduate in December (8 semesters).

I bet in 2 years you’ll be back to tell us that everything worked out.

Do not blame yourself. He has made some decisions and you have tried to help him. I know a couple who paid for their son to attend college, he pretended to still be attending classes, and took the money they paid and blew it. He dropped out and got a job. As adults, we know that in order to get a good job it is so important to have a college education or to have a skill that will enable you to succeed. But, boys at age 18 think they know best. The good news is, they usually come back around and realize how much they wish they could attend college. At that time perhaps you could allow him to attend a community college and take small steps. But, please stop blaming yourself, as I am sure you love him and want him to be happy. He is lucky to have a mom like you.

Hugs to the OP. I am very sorry your son’s path didn’t lead to a continuation of college.

This is NOT advice to the OP, just my opinion: I’m a little more hard-hearted than the other posters on this thread. If my kid drops out of college, barring any medical reason, I won’t be paying for her tuition when she decides to go back. I’d be okay with her taking a reduced course load as long as she was staying in the game and doing okay. Or if she went back and we could afford it, we might reimburse her for a class here and there AFTER she proved she passed it. The greatest gift DH and I can give her is a good education. But another great gift is to be a minimal burden on her in our retirement. So while we’ve simultaneously been saving for both, we won’t be “young” (middle age - shh!) forever. At some point the focus has to be entirely on our retirement.

I don’t think any of us said the OP should continue financing college. I just said that he’s showing some maturity by admitting college (right now) is not for him.

I have a friend whose son started college, then went to Egypt for a while, and never went back as scheduled. After about 3 years, she took the money she’d saved for his college and rolled it back into the general family funds. He never went to college and is 40 and doing just fine.

I have very little to ad to @bjkmom 's beautiful post. But you have to know that there was no way for you to know in advance that your pushing was the wrong approach. I know so many kids who needed just that kind of help to get through high school and into college and then once there, found themselves and succeeded. You don’t have the counter factual in front of you. I know kids whose parents took a step back, let their kids “fail” and those kids never got through high school, never got the degree. I understand your sadness, but honestly, you did the best you could, just like all of us. And you will never know if it was the right or wrong choice. But, luckily, there is no lasting harm done here. Your son is young and has his degree. He has time to make his choices and to mature. College right after high school isn’t the right path for so many kids. He is lucky to have you on his side to support him as he finds his way. Hugs to you both.

You could be telling my niece’s story. Her loving parents always rescued her during the high school years. She luckily got an inheritance from her grandmother just before school started. She didn’t need loans or anything (which may have contributed to the dysfunction). Pissed through the inheritance and flunked out freshman year. I am happy to report she is on track to graduate next spring after some serious soul searching, awful minimum wage jobs and lack of money. Unfortunately she will have loans to pay back but she’ll be a teacher and with the current shortage in her state will have no problem paying them back. She is a good kid and we love her a lot as do her parents. each in his own time. Most figure it out eventually.

Everyone is different, I have heard the opposite from others where their child bloomed in college, it’s a judgement call.

Let me re-phrase this for you, bc you are being too hard on yourself.

“My overwhelming love for my kid led me to do too much for him. Still, i did make sure he had a chance. And if he matures, his prospects are not ruined bc he graduated HS. And on the bright side, though he dropped out of College, he insists on going out on his own, and won’t be hanging around home playing video games and mooching off me!”

You said it right. It is the death of your dream. Not his. For now…he’ll mature and make better choices. Now you just have to watch from afar.

You are a good mom. Don’t beat yourself up. Be a bit proud that he is going out on his own, and did not waste more of your money before he decided;)

@sbgal2011 I can’t add anything more than the above posters did. I am so sorry this is happening to you and your family.It is so hard not to want what we feel is best for our kids and help them go after it. Unfortunately, sometimes we help too much. Hugs to you and hope your son matures quickly and is on a better path. You are a good mom. Don’t doubt yourself

@sbgal2011 I know this is tough, and none of us can know what will come of this down the road.

However, it does not sound to me like your son is going to work in a grocery store for the next 20 years. I think that the chances are very good that in a year or two, maybe less, he is going to understand why so many students want to go to university. Assuming that he does return within two or three or four years, he is likely to be a much stronger student for having the time bagging groceries to teach him some perspective on life.

Of course, it is also possible that in a year or two he will decide that he wants to be an electrician, go to trade school, and ten years from now he will be running his own business with 3 or 4 employees.

I feel for you. However, life is not a race and I do think that this is very likely to come out well in the end.

Having our HVAC system replaced this summer has reminded me that there are a lot of good paying jobs that don’t require a college degree. On the ball HVAC technicians around here, not even running their own business, can make $80-100K per year. Bonus: your job won’t get sent overseas. Other trades also pay well. College isn’t right for everyone nor is it needed to have a self-supporting, happy life.