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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hovering? or Helping? and the Frugal Family

So much has been written on the helicopter parents who oversee every aspect of their children's lives: from sports, to college applications, to the college experience. Being lazy and rebellious, I was pretty nonchalant in my parenting and so assumed I was not a helicopter, hovering over my children.

Every now and then, though, I wonder. For instance, I read a blog post (could not find it again, so if you know what the source is, let me know, so I can link) a little while ago by a mom who works at Drew university. Her daughter, a student at the same school, emailed or texted something along the lines of "I need tampax and shampoo!" To which Mom replied "I do too!" This exchange was lauded as a NON-HELICOPTER moment, since Mom did not rush out and buy daughter said items.

Am I a helicopter mom? I wonder this as a prepare to visit Miss Em this weekend. Last time, I brought her some toothpaste and oat groats. I did not make a special trip. I pick up items as I see them on sale. I got the toothpaste for under a dollar. If Miss Em had to rush out to get the stuff, it would take her a good bit of time, not to mention at least a few dollars. I'd rather she save her money where she can so she can use it where she wants.

On this visit, we will probably bring things back, as she approaches the end of the semester. Still, we plan to bring her a treat in freezer bags: some red beans and rice. Is that hovering?

Sometimes I think I am out of step with American culture because I subscribe to a more Asian (so says Frugal Son) idea of family. As I write I am wearing a new-to-me Eileen Fisher linen and cotton sweater. This was picked up by Miss Em on a thrifting jaunt. It was a sacrifice because Miss Em likes the sweater. She gave it to me because she knows I love Eileen Fisher and only buy a piece or two a year: even on sale, the prices are high.

Thanks Miss Em, my helicopter daughter. In the same spirit, instead of mom and daughter going off to buy their own toiletries--requiring two trips to the drugstore--I would like to see one say, "I'll pick up some for you." Maybe next time, the other one will do the same.

So, am I fooling myself? How much do you do for your kids. And how much do they do for you?


Janice said...

A family should support each other. Eldest often helps me on shopping excursions and I know that I can ask her to start dinner or grab something as she leaves her grocery-store job just as she knows she can ask me to help her scout on the good deals on toothpaste. (Our best price hereabouts has been 12 cents with coupon and on sale!)

Debbie said...

I think I am running along the same lines as you. I pick up things for my daughters if I happen to see something they might like. The younger, who still lives at home, is welcome to take a bowl of soup from the crock pot or have a slice of the cake I've baked. This lets them know I am thinking about them and care about their lives. They in turn help me with my iPod, help me to avoid buying "old lady" clothes and toss out the stuff I don't need anymore. Just the right combination for us.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I do not think that bringing supplies or treats to a child who is away at school counts as being a helicopter.

One of my kids is at a school 500 miles from home, but if I'm visiting, I'll take him to the grocery store. And I bought him a one of those fire escape ladders because his bedroom is on the third floor of an old house.

When I visit my daughter at school, I will buy her groceries too, but it's not like I call my kids and say, "Don't forget to buy toilet paper!" That would be a helicopter.

Duchesse said...

I find a lot of what parents I know (and like) justify as "caring" to be serving their own needs to be of use or involved, and they do not acknowledge that.

My rule of thumb is, "Can my child do this for him or herself?" The kids may appreciate having it done for them- but does this build independence?

We point out sources and hope we've instilled enough consciousness of value that they can then make choices.

I bring treats when I visit, realizing it's fun for me and my sons are unlikely to afford things like nice chocolate.

Claire R. said...

I have two stepsons and I have to stop myself from "doing" for them. This includes the endless advice that I compose in my mind and then quietly delete from my mental hard drive. I of course know better (perhaps the best) ways to do things and more economical ways to do things. But they are old enough to do a lot for themselves. And they should do a lot for themselves so they can learn how and so they can learn through good and not so good experience. But it's hard to hold myself back sometimes. I am a professor!! I could help them so much with their work!!! But that's MY need not theirs. Their father, on the other hand, offers advice on hundreds of details that I would never think of commenting on. They talk about cars, motorcycles and bikes. Maybe that is true father territory? It's hard to be a grown up sometimes!

Anonymous said...

My mother, now 80, still passes along treasures she finds for me and I to her. (Lately, it has been bargains on K-cups). I love the idea of helicopter daughters and pray that my daughters become that in the future, though they aren't at the moment.

Helicopter parents in my book are those who write papers for their sons and daughters, and who don't understand why I cannot speak to them about the fact that their adult child has failed my class.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Janice--Ahhh, the days of almost-free toothpaste. The helicopter family??? Maybe that's the new thing.

@Debbie--Yeah--technology and the avoidance of old lady clothes. Same here. We are the main beneficiaries!

@PC--I may be prone to too much reminding...Not that my kids listen.

@Duchesse--Very shrewd. And, of course, it's difficult to NOT see kids as a reflection of you (for good or for ill). I'm always working on it.

@Claire--I've been able to give my kids some advice in the academic dept. They chose big public institutions--it is so easy to mess up in those huge bureaucracies. Private schools serve as surrogate parents/mentors and help fix things for their students. So helping navigate the bureaucracy (and we help their friends also) merely evens things out.

@Terri--Love the story about your mother. My mother used to do things like that for me...and still would, I suppose.

Let's try to be good helicopter daughters and mothers in hopes that our daughters will do the same for us.

Duchesse said...

Terri, I laughed at your comment- so true! When I called the dr. to make an appointment for my 22 yr old son (living with us at the time) and gave his age, the receptionist cut me off and said, "Tell him to call himself".

So sometimes we hover without even realizing.

I wouldn't call mutual caring "helicoptering", but I also helicoptered my 95 year old mother till she told us she was perfectly capable of making her own decisions.

V.O. said...

No, you are not helicoptering; as a college prof, I should know. You are being a considerate Mom, teaching your children to be considerate as well. Helicoptering is interfering in their development as adults. I think the tampax and shampoo text example is a good one b/c the mom was clearly being asked by her daughter, in an imperious manner, to get every day necessities that the daughter could have done just as easily, or more easily, than the far away parent -- and the parent refused b/c it would have obviously been interfering in the child's need to learn how to plan ahead when shopping, etc. Bringing thoughtful gifts to children when visiting college, or sending them once in a while, is being loving. There's a big difference. Colleges and universities are having a crisis with these parents -- helicoptering is breeding a generation of adults who can't take care of themselves, and considering they're supposed to be the leaders of tomorrow, this is a looming crisis for the whole country. Sorry for lecturing. ;)

mette said...

I have to admit, that I totally agree on what Duchesse wrote; on her analysis of your situation.

Having followed your blog every now and then, I am amazed by all the small things you do for your adult kids. Things, that they would be capable doing themselves, and should do.
Naturally you are doing this all with good intention, but there comes a time, a parent ( parents ) should let go.
Just like in the animal kingdom.
Like Duchesse mentioned, sometimes the parent is hooked = gets something from nurturing an adult person.
When the young adult is physically/ mentally incapable of taking care of her/himself, the situation is different.

I´m sure you are a good mother, but please- let the leech loose.

Northmoon said...

I think you are modelling adult considerate behavior and it sounds like Miss Em has learned the lesson well. I don't think you need to worry.

mette said...

Sorry, typo ( ;
Let the l e a s h loose.
Your adult children will manage just fine.

Shelley said...

I didn't really start growing up until my Mom stopped doing some things for me, like stocking my freezer with food, because she was afraid I'd not eat if she didn't; she was right, I didn't eat very healthily for a few years, but then I got back on track. She sewed a lot of dancing (evening) dresses for me, something she loved to do and of course I enjoyed it, too. I showed up every weekend to take her grocery shopping (she didn't drive) for about the last 15 years of her life. I enjoyed the time with her. I bought her clothes and she knitted me sweaters. We traded books a lot. I don't think it's hovering if it's reciprocal in some way. I think helicopter parents are fulfilling their own needs at the expense of their children's development into independent adults. I am sometimes surprised at some of the things you mention doing, but I'm not a parent and don't feel qualified to make a judgement.