Out the Door

According to recent studies, parents are becoming involved in their children’s work lives. No, not a paper route or babysitting. Parents are calling the bosses of their kids who are college graduates to discuss work issues.

   A father recently jumped into a wrestling ring during his son’s match and threw the opponent off his child.  The ‘helicopter’ parent, hovering near her children, is morphing into a bulldozer, mowing down any obstacle her offspring confronts.

   So many parents micro-manage their kids’ lives, “helping” with school, friendships, activities, that children cannot face hurdles alone. I know one mother who picks up the phone and calls the children who tease her daughter. If playground squabbles require parental interference, how will this child deal with more adult challenges?

   I grew up with very hands-off parents. I remember in junior high signing up for softball tryouts, and riding my bicycle, alone, to the field.  In high school, I arranged summer programs at colleges. I also filled out college applications on my own, basically just asking my mother for the checks I needed.  I’m not complaining; this was a typical level of non-involvement.  I had friends whose parents completed their college applications, but that seemed ridiculous to me; they weren’t the ones applying.

   If we don’t let kids make some decisions on their own, how will they ever take care of themselves?  A recent trend is college graduates who live with their parents while working entry-level jobs; my husband and I joke with our kids that at 18, they are out the door. But I hope the reality is that they can function without coming home and relying on me to do the laundry and to write a note when they are sick.  I understand the compulsion to keep doing for your child — who wants to watch her kid fail? But doing everything for them isn’t helpful in the long run. A college student I know had to drop out of school. His parents had always reviewed every assignment with him, helped him study for tests, organized his activities. When he got to college, he was unable to work independently.  In the long run, it might be better to fail early on and learn from those mistakes, than to go out in the “real world” and fail in ways from which it is more difficult to recover.

   Not only are kids not allowed to fail, they are also absolved of responsibility when something goes awry.  At my daughter’s middle school, a parent has to be informed that a child is not doing well in a class before the teacher is “allowed” to give a bad grade.  One of my daughter’s friends never did her homework and never studied. The teacher neglected to tell her parents, so the kid was given a passing grade.

   When I’m old and gray(er), I’d like my kids to be able to take care of me, fetching me a nice cold lemonade and bringing me a large print copy of The New York Times.  If they don’t learn how to take care of themselves, what will happen to me in my dotage?

NOTE: After writing this Editorial, I got a call from a woman looking for a job.  For her daughter.  The daughter was apparently very busy, so she had her mom call.  Two suggestions to future job applicants:  1.  If you are old enough to get a job, you are old enough to place your own phone calls.  2. If you are too busy to make said phone call, how will a job fit into your action-packed life?