April 13, 2008

"Helicopter" parent age

"Helicopter parents," I recently discovered, are those who hover over their offspring long after parents like mine -- those who gave you my generation, the baby boomers, decided to honor the generation gap and leave their offspring, i.e., me, to fend for themselves.

These are scary individuals. Roughly my age and younger, they have what strikes me as an overly extensive interest in their children's care and feeding above the age of majority. I'm sure every one of them wrote the essays for his kid's college applications. (I'm not sure mine even saw what I wrote.)

I would bet they worked on their kids' high-school geometry homework. Personally, I handed in mine in 1975. I suspect if I had asked for parental help, I would have been told, we haven't had to prove two triangles congruent since the early 1950s.

We love you, but you're on your own. Had I needed a tutor, one would have been found. But my parents had long since graduated from high school, thankyouverymuch.

I met several helicopters last weekend, while visiting my alma mater during parents' weekend. This year, like last, I volunteered as a sales girl for the annual Haiti Project art auction and craft sale. A Haitian village needs my support far more than my well-endowed college does.

Last year, since I stayed just one night, I didn't meet any of the parents at the college-owned inn where I sojourned. (The auction is held on parents' weekend because, of course, they have the money.) The college inn is the only ho/mo tel accommodation in walking distance of campus.

This year, I stayed two nights, and the parents I encountered in the inn's TV room made me feel I had stepped back into la vida loca all over again. In this world, parents seems to think having junior graduate from a brand-name college will set him/her up for life.

I didn't have the heart to tell them, 25+ years post-graduation, that a diploma from my college and a MetroCard will get me on the subway, and I don't expect it will take me any farther than the Staten Island Ferry.

Sure, I went to college in the 1970s. So did these parents. Did they forget that all we did was get stoned? My idea of schoolwork in college was to expend the least amount of time needed to get a decent grade.

Brand-name diploma was, for some, a $40,000 bar bill; for others, their parents' receipts; for me, a windshield sticker in the academic domain; for a few, recognition of honest academic achievement.

The last was not mine, nor did I claim it to be. The helicopter parents in the TV room would have had a collective stroke if I had described my college experience, or what I remember of it, to them.

Needless to say the idea that junior might be in it for the four years of freedom, sex, and crystallizing an adult self might does not seem to have permeated their collective consciousness.

These parents are going to get boomerang kids: they've raised their kids to live in a style to which they have all become accustomed, and it's not a style your average 25 year old earns enough to maintain. I would bet these kids are going to look for their parents' blessing in a mate. My generation, not so much.

I don't know anyone who returned to live with their parents or blended families for the prepared dinners, laundry service, and free cable. I could not have born the angst of retreating to that nest, but given the economy and the amenities, I'll bet it's looking a lot more attractive these days.

During my four years in an academic cocoon, I spent 40 hours a week in the college pub, and fewer than 10 in a classroom. I spent close to 60 hours a week in my dorm room, whether sleeping, studying or doing something more entertaining. Toss in hours spent primping, gossiping, flirting, and in hysterics, and you've just about captured my college years.

My memories of those long-ago years reflect the time spent in each area. I wasn't out to save the world, master six disciplines and come out ready to fall into coffee-achiever parents' concept of what a life should be.

My parents, I belatedly realize, let me make my own discoveries, my own mistakes. They would comfort me if I cried, but they did not assume, not being overly invested hoverers, that they were at fault. In the long run, I think that served me best.

Friends who are parents remind me we are living in different times, even those who have come late to the parental party. Nothing is as safe as it once was, and, given that my home was Wonderland in the days of "Ford to New York: Drop Dead," the safely gap has grown into a chasm.

It is one I am grateful to be of an age that I didn't fall in.

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Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I may have been a bit over protective of daughter, but I also allowed her to venture out on her own. She witnessed freshman and sophmore years on campus away from home. She lived away at college, spent semesters in Europe and D.C. When she came home she didn't want to move back, but got an apartment with a friend. However, she is saving money again and is home again before venturing off to law school.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous teresa said...

My lovely wife read a newspaper report a couple of years back that said the average college freshman makes something like 20 cell phone calls a day and that over half of them are placed to his parents. Apparently the current generation can eliminate phone cords, but they just can't cut that other kind of cord. I'm kind of grateful for my overly permissive parents, but I guess I can only say that because I didn't end up dead in a ditch.

5:00 PM  

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