hovering confessions

Yesterday’s “Lives” column in The New York Times Magazine was probably meant to be humorous, and it was, sort of.  But did the author realize how much she was revealing about herself in these stories about her adventures in “helicopter parenting”?  There was an undercurrent of a bizarre kind of bragging in her piece — I’m an over-involved mother, I know I am, but it’s only because I love my daughter SO MUCH — which makes me think that maybe she really didn’t know that she should have been ashamed, not proud, of the way she was carrying on when her daughter went away to college.

There is one line in Renee Bacher’s piece that does suggest some self-awareness:  “as with all Helicopter Parenting, this was about me.”  So maybe some of what she writes is exaggerated for the sake of a good punchline.  But even if Bacher was stretching the truth a little in her essay, I think we can be pretty sure that she didn’t behave well as her daughter Hannah got ready to go away to college.  Poor Hannah, forced to deal with her mother’s anxiety and fear of abandonment, when what she should have been dealing with were just her own apprehensions about freshman year.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that Hannah chose a school that is 1,000 miles from home.

It’s really not OK for Bacher to grill Hannah’s friends to find out which boy she likes, or whether she’s been studying enough.  How could she not know that?  But if she did know that, how could she admit to such shenanigans in a national magazine, even under cover of humor?

I’m not sure why this piece bothered me so much; I guess because of the unstated self-congratulatory tone it was taking, the inherent message that a helicopter parent is actually a better parent than someone who does everything she can to steel herself against the impulse to rescue her children, hold them close, shield them forever from pain.

Or maybe it’s because of the epiphany at the end.  “My child has been raised,” Bacher concludes, “and my work is done.”  That’s not right, either.  And that’s what parenting grown-ups is really all about, trying to find the delicate balance between the constant hovering of helicoptering, and the damaging swoop of relinquishment.  Surely there’s a way to stay connected — because, as my 86-year-old mother keeps telling me, a parent’s work is never done — without always getting in the way.

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