Hard Lesson Learned from a Broken Hearted Helicopter Parent

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.

Just read your follow up. Good for him and for you. I love happy endings.

Thank you for sharing your story and for your advice - I am you- just a couple years behind and your words will hopefully guide me to let go a little and let my kid spread his wings and take ownership. He sleeps soundly while I obsess over internet research and these forums on schools- which one is the right one for him? Do we need to visit more? Is the perfect school out there but we just haven’t found it yet? Will he get in? What if he gets deferred? Have I checked all the portals today to see if there are any updates…and the list goes on.

I agree with many of the other posters. For example, your son is a high school graduate, living on his own, supporting himself, and he is still quite young. This is not the ideal path towards a stable economic future but it is a solid start. Time will pass, he will mature, and he very likely will return to college. If not, being independent at such a young age really is an accomplishment and it shows promise in itself. While it is tempting to feel like you could have changed this situation by different parenting, you really don’t know that. There are LOTS of young adults who did not graduate from high school, who may never live completely independently, who “did it on their own.”

To add to the discussion: My suggestion is to avoid the assumption about “cause and effect.” Yeah, I get it, you feel you over-helped in high school and so your son did not learn the skills necessary for college success. The thing is, lots of kids struggle to adjust to college life, LOTS of kids, regardless of how much their parents helped them in high school. Sometimes there is enormous variation in short term college outcomes even within families.

At the end of the day, it not always about us. Sometimes, it is about the kid. And his story is not yet written.

I get that is indeed a necessary part in life… I am in high school and since my parents stopped supervising me I started to suck… But now it’s better

You are too tough on yourself! But thank you for the post because as a fellow (though you will rarely hear me admit it) helicopter parent I can see exactly what you are saying.

I raised my niece who, unlike my son, was one of those students you never had to remind to do anything and had a 4.5gpa in highschool. She did the same thing your son did, right down to the “working at the supermarket.” It really has more to do with thier maturity level, than your influence as a parent. We stopped all financial support for her - no emergency $100, nothing. It killed me to do it - I was convinced she would be homeless or worse. She did couch surf for a while. She hated us and stopped speaking to us for a while too. About a year later she saw how hard life is on minimum-ish wage and how your college treat you different when you aren’t in college. She got herself back in college and ended up graduating with a Doctorate of Psychology. (P.S. - she never really forgave us but I know we did the right thing.)

My son is Senior - got great scholarships to Gonzaga and TCU, still deciding. I have resorted to everything short of abuse to get him to turn in work, study and be a responsible student his whole highschool career (ie…helicopter parent). He is the polar opposite of my niece for highschool. I appreciate your heads up - we are definitely worried about him for college but he is a different kid than my niece. He has had an online business since he was 12, he has paid for his clothes, haircuts, spending money since he was 13. He is going to college on the understanding that he will take out his own loans and figure out his own financing. When he finishes, we will help him pay it off.

I am betting that a year or so out of college, living the tough life will change your son’s perspective.

Also - you did a great job as a parent to give your child direction and support for the best future possible. Applying for college and even qualifying to get there is much harder than the 80’s - are you kidding! I just filled out a one page piece of paper and got a check for $125 from my dad back in the 80’s. Sure there was a little essay and maybe they met with me quickly for an “interview” but it was NOTHING like it is today! Schools cost $60,000 a year right now-very few parents can just “send” their kids to college like they did in the 80’s. Kids need to get scholarships and compete for merit aid. It’s a battle ground to even get to the point where they can do an application. You did exactly what you should do for your son based on what kids need today. Everyone has to make mistakes, much better to make them at 19 when you can “do over” in a minute, than it is to screw up at 40 when you wreck your career, marriage and children. You gave your son a great foundation, he will figure it out.

Update From OP - One Year Later

It’s hard to believe one year has passed since my original post. Never in a million years did I think there would be so many views. I would like to give a brief update on how things are going.

So after my post, DS moved out for a few days and quickly learned that life was much easier when living with mom and dad. He made the decision to go back to school and do better. We opted to give him the chance since he seemed genuine and sincere.

I would love to tell you that life has been great but we have had many ups and downs during the year. There was a bad roommate problem that persisted throughout the year. Classes got harder and DS became overwhelmed. He talked about quitting school a few times. We told him he could do that but once he did, he would be expected to get a job, move out, and start his adult life. No living with mom an dad while he worked minimum wage jobs. Period. He would have to be an adult and live the life as an adult in the real world. After a few days, he decided to stick with college and he started working hard.

Last fall he brought home 3 A’s and 2 B’s and he just finished the spring with 2 A’s. 2 B’s, and a C+ (very challenging gen ed class, we were fine with it). He still struggles with time management and tends to cram everything at the last minute. It irks me but he’s getting it done. Lots of students do that.

This summer he secured a paid internship and loves it. He’s starting to see first-hand the value of staying in school. He’s finally making a connection between what he learns in his classes to the industry he works in. It’s coming together nicely and he’s very excited about it.

Looking back, I stand by my original post from last year - it was a mistake of mine to stay on him every step of the way in high school. It delayed him in learning to manage himself and he continues to struggle in this area, although he is starting to improve. What’s done is done, and now that we are halfway through college, I think he is finally turning a corner.

I anticipate more bumps in the road in the next two years. He will continue to get overwhelmed and procrastinate, but we are reaching out to resources in his school to help him with that. Academic coaching and counseling services are something we will line up ahead of time so he can hit the ground running next semester.

Thanks for listening

Thank you for the update, and the wisdom. Best of luck to you both.

Thank you for that update. Understanding that there are always bumps along the road, it sounds like things are moving forward in a very positive way. Best wishes to all!

It happens to kids of non helicopter moms too. Most of the hovering moms’ kids I’ve known over the years have done well. It is possible that you pushed him along enough so that he can give it a go on his own with a high school diploma. I know one of mine wouldn’t have had one without s lot of intervention and that would have been rough. Lots and lots of kids thanks breakd from college. I have one who took 14 years- big gap in there , to finally get his degree.

What I feel is the toll on helicopter parenting is that on the parent, kid and the relationship. When it’s too daunting, those are years that you didn’t enjoy your child and the child you, as much as possible.

Thank you for the update and best to you and your S!

@sbgal2011 thank you for the post and update. In your last post you say…”I anticipate more bumps in the road in the next two years. He will continue to get overwhelmed and procrastinate, but we are reaching out to resources in his school to help him with that. Academic coaching and counseling services are something we will line up ahead of time so he can hit the ground running next semester.”

You say “we” are “reaching out” and “will line up.” Are you not doing the same type of parenting you regret? Are you going to remind him to prep for meetings for work? Are you going to call his boss for him?

I appreciate your posts as they are informative and give insight. I just found this last one interesting because it sounded like it went against the advice you were giving us readers.

Kids mature at different ages, some kids need additional help on certain things along the way. I just read the whole thread. I personally think OP did great with her kid. She was “helicoptering,” but backed off when she realized it was too much. She stuck to her gun about what she expected from her kid. Because she never backed away from her expectations, her kid took her seriously and knew he couldn’t go back to Hotel Ma & Dad.

I don’t think by lining up academic coaching and counseling services mean parents are helicoptering. As parents, we know what resources are available better than our kids, but over time they will become more aware and can advocate for themselves. My older daughter came to me junior year when she had a problem with her study abroad grade. I had to step in to assist, but now she advises me on how to handle some of my office politics.

Great job, OP. Wishing your son’s continued success.

OP, thanks for your post and updates. I agree with others who say at least you got your son through high school. It’s easy to say “I should have let him fail” but what if you did and he never completed high school? Kids who drop out have a much bigger risk of never bouncing back. I know, as I’ve witnessed this with a cousin of mine. He finally managed to get his GED but without a high school diploma he found himself hanging out with the wrong friends who encouraged bad choices. It’s been a very rough road for him, much harder than had he just dropped out of college. Hindsight is always 20/20 but you never know how much worse an alternate course could have been.