Hard Lesson Learned from a Broken Hearted Helicopter Parent

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

Just want to add that community college is a good option for other types of students as well. I did super well in high school. I had such big goals and thought anything was possible. I was so happy to get a top scholarship at UC Davis, into their environmental and ag college which is one of the best in the country. It became my identity and I was obsessed with it before going. Then I got there. When my life didn’t immediately meet my expectations, I lost it. I became unhealthily depressed and left quickly. I knew I was giving up an incredible opportunity, but that I simply wasn’t ready. Even as a top student in high school I should’ve considered local options and community colleges too. I was so focused on the ideals and dreams of my college experience that I didn’t look at the reality of my living situation. It was simply too much of a shock too fast. Luckily I still have a clean transcript ready for me to excel at a local school, but I must say it’s hard to not think about the life I could’ve had and the opportunities I gave up.

I wrote above post because too often people or adults think kids who don’t apply themselves hard towards academic studying will not work hard in other contexts. Could be true for some but not at all for many kids. I had 99.99% SAT score and just didn’t feel like trying hard in academics unless it really mattered and had some consequences in the real world. Also, belief in my intelligence was not tied to my gpa. I just tend to view people as wanting to excel and try hard in different areas at different times in their lives.

However, it amuses me when people refer to Asian-American kids as study drones. Would they have the same attitudes towards kids who practice golf swings, practicing the same different moves on soccer field or basketball every day for hours with super dedication because they want to make college teams and out compete other kids? Well, that same dedicated training under Korean archery coaches by the way has paid off big time for non-Asian White archery shooters who are now expected to win medals in archery competitions. Every kid who tries hard with dedication in different endeavors should be lauded and respected. Just because I did not choose to do the same does not mean the other kids who do should be called demeaning names. Unless you are so talented in some area, you need a great discipline and capacity to work hard to do well in any area. And get this, being able to apply oneself hard in one discipline itself is a great talent. Being able to motivate oneself towards a goal is one of the greatest talents in human beings.

It’s been a while since I posted on this thread and wanted to give an update. After many long conversations, we decided to let DS return to college for the fall semester. DS felt that he had learned a hard lesson when we kicked him out at the beginning of the summer, and he “woke up” when he realized what life would be without a college education. Before he left, we wrote out clear expectations, and what the consequences would be for all choices - good and bad.

There were ups and downs during in the beginning of the semester. He was overwhelmed with work, even though he only took 13 credits… He sought the help of college counselors and academic coaches, but because they weren’t as helpful as we thought they would be (that’s a story for another post). He finally got the hang of things and was able to get into a rhythm.

DS wrapped up the semester with 2 A’s and 3 B’s. He has a sense of pride and accomplishment that I haven’t seen since the Middle School years. We are so proud of him! We were always there to encourage him and give him tips, but did not interfere or meddle. We knew he had to figure this out on his own.

It’s been a long journey, many lessons learned, but I’m glad things are turning around. I hope sharing my story has helped others. Hang in there, things can get better.

Thanks for the update. This is great news!
I’m sure it was harrowing and stressful. But it does help – and shows a path for others.
Next step: confirming the great strides, no backsliding :slight_smile:

Good for him, @sbgal2011 ! Life isn’t a race - sounds like he’s getting the hang of it!

Thank you for the update!

I was the same helicopter parent. My son got it together after his first year, and is now a college junior, with a computer science job in a professor’s lab making more than his dad. He got his first paycheck and asked if we needed money, that he wanted to help us and his brothers and sister out now. Don’t evaluate the outcome for another 5-10-15 years. Ultimately, you were kind and loving and supportive. Isn’t that the most important thing to teach?

Thanks for the update, glad it is working out. My S dropped out of college after his first year. He lost a full tuition scholarship. Spring of his freshman year when he continued to do poorly we flew him home to see a psychiatrist and get tested for learning disabilities. He was similar to your S in high school. Often fell behind in homework, didn’t turn it in, etc. He always tested exceptionally well though and got B+ and A’s through out HS. His SAT was a 2190. Ended up he had EFD and has a very high IQ. After he came home he took some courses at the local state college and CC. Always ended up with poor grades. We stopped paying for college and he stopped going. He likes to learn, but despises busy work. Good kid who worked low wage jobs til a few months ago. He is now in the pipefitters union as an apprentice. He is making very good money, with great benefits and loves, loves, loves his job. His self esteem is through the roof. The funny thing is, he goes to class one week out of every 6 and loves it. When the other apprentices do not want to take their turn practicing, my S takes their turn. He is eager to learn and get better. He posts pictures of what he is learning
and put some big , heavy hunk of metal that he cut at work on the fireplace mantle. haha. Maybe he will someday go back to school, maybe not. I am no longer worried. Everyone told me he would find himself, but until a few months ago I wasn’t sure.

A quick update on my child, he found an organization that helps out-of-work and out-of-school youths with professional development. Two or three days of those services (resume help, interview sills, networking practice) he got not one but two jobs – very high-level jobs in fact, ones that he needs to wear a suit for. He splits his time between them and they seem cooperative. He’s thrilled with the pay and plans to work at least a year before considering next moves.

@mamom that’s a great story. My S is in a very similar place in life, and loving it.

@sbgal2011 that’s great news, thanks for coming back with the update!

@sbgal2011 congratulations to your son on his successful semester! It did take guts to post last year and I appreciate it a lot that you did. Part of it is the culture. It’s easy to get wrapped up especially when a lot of messages are that it’s a parental failure when kids don’t do well academically. You did a great job - parenting definitely doesn’t end when they are 18.

@Dustyfeathers That’s great news! The organization you mentioned sounds wonderful, I wish more communities had those.

@mamom So glad he found something he loves! That’s the most important thing. If they love it, they will stick to it.

I don’t think I mentioned that my DS changed his major. That was another factor for his success. He loves his new major and enjoys his classes.

Thanks for the kind words, hopefully DS will continue to stay on track!1


Don’t beat yourself. You sound like a caring parent and even though you went overboard but you tried in ways you felt were helpful. You weren’t an expert in raising children nor had a crystal ball. All isn’t lost, he isn’t even 21 yet, he can mature and find his balance. It may not be what you’ve imagined or at a pace you may prefer but he’ll be alright.

Thank you for sharing it with other parents. Even if one parent or a child benefits, you’ve done good. All those efforts, that were wasted on him, focus those on your own life. You only got one life to live. Love him too but accept him as an independent adult and let him live on his own terms.

It’s important to respect personal boundaries, our kids aren’t our extensions. They are individuals. Hey, at least he isn’t “exploring life” on your dime. Let him struggle a bit, don’t start supporting his free spirit, let him learn how to handle responsibility.