Saturday, August 2, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tell Me About It: How to tell helicopter parents to buzz off

Question: I'm 21, studying abroad at a great distance from my parents. I love my parents very much, so we communicate frequently. During college, I would call my mother four or so times a week, but with the time difference, communication here is limited to e-mail. I have to admit I don't mind the added distance.

The problem is the distance has not decreased their protectiveness, which can be somewhat stifling. Everything from my choice to stay in on a certain night (reflecting my failure to take advantage of opportunities here) to why I won't take care of myself when I'm ill becomes a subject of debate and discussion.

Recently, I had a cold, and I mentioned it to justify my decision to stay in and watch movies with a small group of friends. Every e-mail since has ignored anything else I've wished to say and demanded to know why I haven't seen the doctor, what the doctor has to say, why I'm not taking care of myself.

By this point, the cold has passed. But I cannot persuade them that I don't need to be rushed to the hospital. As a result, I'm tempted to stop e-mailing. This move seems far too passive-aggressive, yet I feel that after months of this, it's long past the time where I should say something. But what?

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  • I don't want to lose touch with my parents or disappoint them, and I do genuinely enjoy e-mailing with them. How do I get them to trust that, as I'm old enough to live abroad for a year, I know what I need, and that if I don't, figuring it out alone might be good for me?

    Answer: The term "helicopter parent" enters the lexicon; it becomes fashionable (and then a cliche) to tsk-tsk an entire generation of parents for stunting their precious spawn through an excess of fuss and control; the idea of "free-range" child-rearing erupts as an exasperated counterpoint; a gusher of research and analysis hits the media to confirm that, yes, bubble-wrapping children does deny them the opportunity to develop resourcefulness, coping skills, and "grit" - it has more buzzwords than a beehive, this topic - and yet there are still parents so stunningly un-self-aware that they can, in all earnestness, harangue their 21-year-old offspring from a continent away over a head cold?

    And there are kids questioning their right to grab the reins of their own lives from their parents. Jiminy.

    Choosing not to e-mail your parents anymore - or to selectively ignore anything that intrudes on your business - is not "passive-aggressive" (bzzzzzzz) if you send them this first: "Dear Mom and Dad. I am 21. You raised me well, and it's time to trust that. I respect your opinion and advice - when I ask for it, not whenever you think I need it.

    "To that end, I am through discussing my sniffles, justifying my choices for evening entertainment, or otherwise running my daily life by you for approval.

    "I'm doing this because I love you, and this is what I need to keep our connection strong.

    "Yours in competence, I swear,

    "Pookie."

    Good luck.

     


    tellme@washpost.com

    Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

     

    Carolyn Hax
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