Twenty-one years ago, my obstetrician handed me my newborn son and sent me on my way. She assumed that since I had created this tiny new human that I knew what to do as a parent. I did not.
Our children come into the world completely vulnerable and dependent upon the adults around them. Like most new parents, my husband and I brought Kendrick home and tried our best to rise to the challenge. I read dozens of parenting books. Some of them encouraged letting the baby cry himself out, while others said at this early age you should respond quickly and fulfill all of their needs. I couldn’t stand the crying, so I chose the “fulfill all of their needs” route. Soon I was adept at discerning the many cries that let me know if he was hungry, tired, or just needed to be held, and I did my best to meet that need.
As had been planned long before Kendrick was born, I went back to work when he turned 8 weeks old. I handed him over to a highly recommended and thoroughly vetted daycare worker named Brandy. I was both elated and terrified. I was happy maternity leave was ending because I missed the mental stimulation of my career as well as my work family. However, I could not help worrying obsessively about leaving Kendrick with someone else. Would Brandy really take good care of him? Would she be able to give him enough attention? Would Kendrick be happy? I needn’t have worried. Brandy was awesome, and Kendrick thrived both at home and at his daycare.
Two years later, our second son was born, and Kendrick proudly took on the role of big brother. The months and years went by, and somewhere along the line, my baby boys began to need me less and less. They learned to walk, then to run, and then to climb. They learned to dress and feed themselves. I remember the day neither of my kids needed me to buckle their car seats. But by then my brain was hardwired to always be there and to always help (or at least be ready to help). Switching from “fulfill their every need” to letting them go it alone was very nearly impossible.
When Kendrick started middle school, he begged me for an iPhone. I finally relented but not because everyone else had one. Instead, it was because a friend had shown me the Find My iPhone feature. As long as Kendrick had his phone, I could always see where he was. You know, just in case he was kidnapped or something. Well, he was never kidnapped, but there were plenty of “or somethings.” For example, he was on the wrestling team which practiced after school, so he couldn’t ride the bus home. Since I was always at work, the parent of another wrestler was kind enough to take him home every day. And every day I kept a close eye on the little dot on my phone to make sure he got there.
Kendrick and Keaton have always known that I monitored their location, and they mostly have simply accepted it. However, they have sometimes expressed their confusion over my obsession with their safety. Once, when my mother happened to be visiting, Kendrick asked me, “When are you going to stop worrying about me?” I immediately responded with, “When I am dead.” Kendrick rolled his eyes at me and told me I was weird. It was at that exact moment my mom walked in the room. I looked at her and asked, “When are you going to stop worrying about me?” Without hesitating, she responded, “When I’m dead.”
When Kendrick started high school, I told myself it was time to back off. I knew I was hovering too much and needed to let him learn to take care of himself. It was hard, and I failed. A lot. I easily forgot my vow, and I made sure he got up in time to get to school. I reminded him of homework and tests. I hovered over the kitchen table as he put school projects and posters together and made sure he got it done on time. I mean, he had to graduate. Right? Then I’ll completely back off. At least that is what I told myself.
At his college freshman orientation, the school purposely had separate agendas for students and parents. One of the speakers on my agenda was Gail Tuttle. I would come to know her as an amazing member of the High Point University team, but at the time I really didn’t appreciate the insight she was sharing, especially when she talked about helicopter parents. She said helicopter parents were those who tried to orchestrate their children’s lives and make the adult transition as easy as possible for them. I scoffed. She isn’t talking about me. I’m not that bad. I never complained to a teacher if he failed a test or yelled at the coach when Kendrick didn’t get to play as much as I thought he should. Gail finished by telling the helicopter parents that it was past time to back off. “Your sons and daughters can do this. Let them.” Again, I told myself she wasn’t talking to me. Of course, I had every intention of letting him succeed or fail on his own.
Once school started and Kendrick was nearly 500 miles away from home, I found myself worrying again. I worried he would oversleep and miss class. I worried he would spend too much time playing games on his computer. I reasoned that since I was the one paying for college, I had the right to check on his grades and to see whether or not he was going to class. Well, whether it was right or not, he still had an iPhone, and I could still use it to see if he was in class. I told myself I would only do it for the first week or so. Or maybe just the first semester…
I am happy to report that he never missed class that first semester, although he was late a few times. This gave me the confidence to take a step back and not check every time to see if he was in class. Or so I thought. His second semester he signed up for an 8 AM class. Kendrick is not a morning person. What was he thinking signing up for a morning class and on a Monday no less? So, yes, I watched Find My iPhone—but only on those days he had the 8 AM class.
As I feared, the day came when I checked my phone at 7:50 AM and he was still in his dorm. It took every fiber of my being not to call him. 7:52 AM, still at the dorm. 7:55 AM, no movement. Maybe he left his phone in the dorm? At 8:00 AM I couldn’t stand it any longer and I called him. A very sleepy and slightly annoyed Kendrick answered, “Yes, Mom?” When I asked him why he wasn’t in class, he responded, “It’s Tuesday.”
It had been a three-day weekend, and I had forgotten. That was the day I landed the helicopter and walked away from it. Gail was right. He’s got this, and it was past time for me to let him sink or swim on his own.
Now he is a college graduate. When he started as a freshman, he had no idea what he wanted to do or what his career might be. Four years later, he is an accomplished game designer and knows exactly what he wants to do with his life. Although he hasn’t yet landed the job he really wants, he has a plan to make it happen. He has had successes and challenges and has learned to handle everything that life has thrown at him.
This reformed helicopter mom could not be prouder.
Top Photo: Mom and Kendrick a few hours after he was born. (September 2001).