Hard Lesson Learned from a Broken Hearted Helicopter Parent

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.

@doschicos so many people miss that point…

I can say as a student I wish I had a parent like you. My parents are completely disconnected from my educational process. They have never gone to a parent teacher conference, never attended a school event, people probably think I don’t have parents. I think if I had a greater push from my parents I would be looking at a much easier college admissions cycle than I am. Do not blame yourself for this.

Maybe I missed it but what was the hard lesson learned from being a helicopter parent? Would you have done anything different?

Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t predict this stuff. My parents didn’t helicopter. I did the heavy lifting to get myself into college. And I still crashed and burned for a while. It’s a tough age. He’ll dust himself off when he needs to.

Just want to thank everyone for their kinds words and encouragement. It has been an eventful 6 weeks since my original post, with my DS learning many tough lessons, almost immediately. First, he was not able to move with friends near his college because their parents said absolutely not. He searched for an apartment, than a room to rent, and figured out very quickly that the $125 he had in his checking account was not even going to get him one night in a hotel. He found a few couches to sleep on, but they were temporary, and walking to work in the rain isn’t fun. Uber is expensive after a while. And so, with a new found respect for how hard it is to make it in the world, he came to us with his head hung low, begging for forgiveness. We made jump through a few hoops, but he returned home with an attitude that turned 180 degrees.

For the first two weeks he was home, he actually thanked me for every meal that he was given. He was obviously pretty hungry while he was away. He works two jobs now and is expected to pay for his own living expenses. He has gotten together with his former high school friends, all of whom are thriving at college, and is starting to realize the gravity of his poor choices. He’s still immature, but he’s learning valuable lessons. Sometimes the best education a teen can get is from the School of Hard Knocks.

@bjkmom I probably read your post a hundred times and want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your words and perspective helped me through some very dark days. I should have responded to you sooner, but I was just too upset. But please know that your words were my lifeline at times.

To everyone else, I also thank you for your kinds words as well. It was a difficult road and things seem to be better. I’m not saying that he’s a new kid, but he definitely has a new respect for the life he lives.

@socaldad2002 The hard lesson that I learned was that by constantly monitoring him (checking online to make sure assignments were done, books have been read, tests were studied for, etc), I became his crutch. He didn’t need to learn to manage his time and stay organized because he had me to do it for him. So when he got to college, he struggled. Mom was no longer there to remind him about assignments, to make sure he studied, etc. And so he floundered. In retrospect, I should have let him struggle during the middle school or high school years. He would have learned at that time how to master those important skills, thus preparing him better for college.

I have two other sons - one will be a freshman in college this fall. He has always had to work hard for his grades so I"m not worried about him. I have another who will start 9th grade in the fall, and I have already made it crystal clear to him that he is responsible for himself. If he needs help with an assignment or test, of course I will help him in every way possible. But I will NOT be checking to if things get done. I already started this with him in middle school and he is rising to the occasion. I guess that’s what happens by the time the third child comes around - you finally have it figured out!


I think it is awesome that you are sharing this. I have had a similar experience but, as time has gone on, things appear to be working out for the best. Every time life throws a curve ball, it is near impossible to see how it can be for the best. Yet, time always reveals it to be the case.

It is refreshing to see someone talk about their mistakes or regrets on this forum. Usually it is mostly bragging or, worse, humble bragging.

What you are sharing is so important because this forum is full of helicopter parents. And many are far far worse than you. And many of them have genuinely damaged their kids for life. You have, at worst, delayed your kid’s maturing. No biggie in the grand scheme of things.

So many parents here are setting their kids up to believe that their entire self worth and identity is dependent on their achievements and accomplishments. They push their kids harder and harder to achieve and accomplish more and more at younger and younger ages so they can brag to people and feed their own egos. And while everyone focuses on acceptance rates and what it takes to get into ivies, they look away from the ugly consequences. More and more kids are suffering with anxiety and depression. The number of kids in therapy is rising rapidly. These kids are robbed if their childhood so their parents can feed their egos. No one talks about that when they discuss things like the Harvard lawsuit.

I appreciate you posting this. I have had to do the same thing with my lazy and immature son to get him through high school, but I think it was the right thing to do. I honestly think if I had let go he would have failed or dropped out and that is a really terrible thing that research has shown practically guarantees a life of poverty, So I am sending him off to college and I fully expect he will have a similar experience to your son’s. Luckily we have the money for his first year in a 529 so I am at peace with the expense. My big worry is that he is honestly a very difficult person to live with who does not obey our house rules. So, we are not going to allow him to live here if he fails out of college. Expecting a very ugly scene next spring if he doesn’t have a miraculous growth in maturity.

Delighted to read of your son’s rapid maturation !

As an aside, my son attended boarding school & two brothers from a very wealthy family had a personal secretary assigned to them & had one of the family owned helicopters at their disposal. They both excelled. So not all helicoptering is bad. :slight_smile:

I am looking forward to reading your post a year from now (should you want to share), telling us he has put in the work and has found his path forward. I failed miserably at the beginning of college, but learned some hard lessons about myself that I’ve applied my whole life.

Good for you! This is the lesson that we learned, too. With our middle child, the difficult one, his doctor said to us, “Do nothing, say nothing…” That turned out to be excellent advice. He’s the one going to school in Lebanon and thriving. If we had kept trying to guide him, he’d probably be on the streets today!

But it’s hard. My 20-year-old daughter needs to get her visa to study in Italy this fall. I THOUGHT she had her ducks in a row for her consulate appointment, but she didn’t. So I was scrambling to help her get needed paperwork when she informed me that she’d neglected to confirm her appointment so it was canceled. Argh. She is VERY fortunate that there was a cancellation in August so she was able to reschedule. That’s the hard part - if I step back and the kid fails, there are MAJOR consequences. It’s disappointing when you feel like you raised your kid to be independent but she struggles.

Chiming in with a story to bolster OP, hopefully. My son also had executive functioning issues, which is in some sense a way to describe someone who just isn’t ready to prioritize things the way that high schools and colleges want them to. Our situation was so bad for awhile that, well, it’s really hard to describe, but I’ll just say that I’m one of the few moms I know who was begging her child to drop out of high school. His self-esteem was so low and his emotions were so fragile that the high school experience wasn’t worth the pain. He did finish high school, but because of his fragile state, we agreed that college just wasn’t the right move for him right away, and maybe never. Never is okay too. Also, we felt he needed time to recover. Also part of our hope was that he would have a chance to see that “life” isn’t all school school school, since school was so horrible for him for so very long. “Life” has so much more than school to offer.

Cutting out many details, he basically sat in his room for about 9 months. We were desperately worried for him. In addition to counseling we insisted that he leave the house at least once a day to exercise or just be outside for at least an hour. Still, it was painful and felt very touch-and-go for 9 long months. Then one day he left his room, walked into the living room and said: I have a place to live; I have a job; it’s in X city (1500 miles away) and I’m leaving tomorrow. We were beyond amazed and while happy to see that he was making some sort of decision, some sort of move forward, the separation was _____ fill in the words of your worst nightmare. His sudden absence was as if he’d died. I went through grief and panic, you name it, but in the end, having left home on a bus with tens of dollars in his pocket from his piggy bank, he resurfaced when he was ready months later. Some parents said: how could you let him go?

My answer is: because he is a legal adult, paid his own way, and we had no way to stop this. Also after 9 months of inactivity, it felt on the whole very positive. He had made a real move, birthed himself into the world, and as parents we needed to stand back and watch, and also to be there if he should need it. He came home after a full year away. When he came home he had several hundred dollars in his pocket, was dirty, disheveled from riding a bus more than 24 hours, had put on excess weight from working fast-food jobs. For about two months we reassesed each other politely, parents to son, son to parents, and we decided that we were all okay, both in terms of health and welfare, and in terms of our personal relations with each other. Meaning, he was happy and healthy, basically, and now the healing of the family could begin, and that is where we are now.

It’s been about 3 months and he’s happier and healthier, he’s sharing his private thoughts with me, and he’s searching for jobs–a little slower than I’d like!-- but ones that seem to fit him. He’s embarked on an exercise program and literally making strides to lose the weight. We are still waiting for him to rebuild his confidence about school, but he’s beyond intelligent, he’s supremely intelligent – which was sort of the problem with school. He could read Scientific American magazine in the 5th grade and that natural intelligence flipped out his teachers. They seemed to push him so hard and as a mom I couldn’t seem to pull that in. Also, while he could do that sort of thinking, he lacked skills in other areas, wuch as writing. He physically couldn’t write all of his letters until 4th grade. His maturity level and executive functioning and ability to perform in the classroom just weren’t on board. That disconnect seemed to bring constant trouble for him. Now his maturity and executive functioning, his self-regulation seem to be catching up to his intelligence. We are in no hurry for him to start college until he naturally leans that way. It’s not like he’s “doing nothing” by putting off attending college. Already he’s done some of the bravest, most enriching things a young person can do: leaving home and supporting yourself with no one around to help you for an entire year and saving more money than you left with. He’s seen things that we can only imagine. He’s solved problems that I probably really don’t want to know about. And boy is he grateful to be home and safe. Really grateful.

My thoughts for OP in particular are that you’re right, you need to let them fail on their own. Indeed. You also need to let them thrive on their own, and on their own terms. My children never cease to surprise me with the decisions they make; they certainly differ from how I would make the same decisions. Often this is uncomfortable. Discomfort is a signal to me that I need to change and grow inside. The best way to remind myself for how to be the best parent is to envision myself as less their “parent” and more as their “life coach”. That gives me a crucial bit of distance, like being the coach on the sidelines of the World Cup. Your players are on the field. They’re as prepared as you can get them. They can do the job. They may make big mistakes, they can come to the sidelines to ask advice, but you cannot run onto the field and score those goals for them, nor would you want to. Win, lose, get injured, help the injured on the other team, whatever they choose to do, it’s their game to play.

It’s good to know I’m not the only in this boat. I will continue to post periodically on how he is doing. @Dustyfeathers , thanks for sharing your story. The Life Coach perspective is something I had not considered, but it rings true. I’m going to keep that in mind as I continue to guide my adult children.

I think that you should print out and reread bjkmom’s post daily. I totally empathize. D1 was/is super smart, but also had “application” issues. I knew that she had and was being medicated for ADHD. At the time, I saw some of these issues as lack of motivation, and they made me out of my tree crazy. Like you, I helicoptered (is that a verb?) like crazy throughout K12. It’s a tough choice - do we helicopter to allow their brains to catch up with their peers, or do we let them fail and reduce their options when they do mature. Forgive yourself. I am sure that you made the very best decision that you could at the time, and (if you are like me) obsessed over it while making those decisions. We were accidentally fortunate in that she overheard me venting to my husband one day in sophomore year about how mad it made me, and she looked so crushed that I verbally committed to stopping, as I realized that I was losing the relationship in pursuit of “a good college.” It is SO EASY to have your eye on that “prize” and lose the big picture! Simultaneously, she visited some colleges, and a fire was lit. SHE asked “what can I do to get in” and we elected to hire an outsider to “coach” her on the steps to get “there.” It was tough - the coach was chosen without personal recommendations, and turned out to be weak. As an educator specializing in special needs, I could have done a much better job. IF it wasn’t my child. My tongue was so sore from biting it. That said, our relationship improved dramatically. She was successful in college, and is working in her field now, but it could have just as easily gone your son’s way. At this point, in my opinion, I think you should consider (1) apologizing for pressuring and pushing him toward your dream (he needs to hear this) (2) Reiterate to him that you think he is smart and capable and able to forge his own path (3) Focus on building a warm and supportive relationship with him regardless of what relatively menial(being honest) job he chooses first and (4) let his brain mature. He is clearly not a straight path kid, and that’s just fine!!! You have learned your lesson - he is one that needs to be in control of his own destiny, even though he has not proved his good sense to date. If he does decide to go to a community college, I would encourage him using the community college counselling services early on. You did the best you could with the information you had. Hindsight is always 20/20. Hang in there!!!

OP, keep in mind that some people do not try hard in academic settings, but work very hard in other settings. I could never study hard in school setting and got by barely to get degrees and understand concepts good enough to get C+s or Bs, but was able to work very hard with dedication in business world. The fact your kid is working hard shows he is not a lazy kid. Getting good grades is not for everyone.

I thank my mom who signed all permission slips to skip school. Lol