“Helicopter Parents Learn College Is Time For A Landing,” by Nicole Dieker on www.nbcnews.com is a helpful look at how to adapt attachment parenting to the needs of older children.
This ensures that parents launch their children into college life, rather than keeping them as dependent upon the parents as they were as high schoolers.
Making the shift from helping the high school student organize study and project time to trusting that the college freshman has learned these lessons and will gradually begin to apply them leaves the college student room to learn from the consequences of his or her actions and means that the parent can then face the empty nest and make a new life chapter.
Continuing the same level of involvement and supervision of the student that was appropriate in high school constitutes over-involvement and meddling once the child has started college, and it may serve the unconscious purpose of keeping the child from growing up and moving out into the larger world—and keeping the parents from reconnecting with each other.
The parents’ task at this time is to think about what constitutes satisfaction in their changed lives and to work toward that.
Attachment parenting through the life cycle
For parents who made a conscious decision to practice attachment parenting when their child was born, the first seventeen or eighteen years of parenting were very hands-on and child centered. Now their efforts in shaping confident, considerate, empathic problem solvers who will contribute to society and have fun along the way will bear fruit, and it’s time to step back and let the children learn more on their own.
It’s time for the parents to watch more from a distance.
Attachment parenting during the college years and beyond means letting the child know the parents care and that they trust the child to figure things out him or herself and accept the consequences of those actions and inactions.
Attachment parenting at this age means trusting the bonds that were built in early childhood enough to stand back, let go, and let the student make mistakes.
How attachment parenting plays out in real life
The mother of a college freshman talked about how hard it was to “sit on her hands” when her daughter told her that a major project was due in three days, and the daughter hadn’t realized it.
Here’s what the mother did:
- she contained her own anxiety
- contributed ideas only when asked, as her daughter talked about various problem-solving strategies for dealing with the planning and actual project workload
- told the daughter to feel free to call for moral support.
There was no point in asking why the daughter hadn’t been aware of the project, because the daughter already felt bad about it.
The daughter will have to figure out how to keep that from happening again, and may ask for the mother’s ideas about keeping on top of assignments, if the mother doesn’t “helicopter” and take away the daughter’s agency in her academic life.
The mother’s job at this point is to be emotionally supportive, and trust that the daughter, after trying things her own way and making some mistakes, will probably return to the study and organizational habits the mother helped her with in middle and high school that had worked so well.
And if not, the daughter will experiment and develop her own ways of dealing with assignments and deadlines, and there may be some mistakes and lower grades as part of the learning process.
If you think about it, this is the continual process of parenting: reassuring our children that we love them, and remembering that we all learn by making mistakes, whatever our age!
How to improve your parenting and satisfaction
If you’d like to work on parenting, therapy is a great process for understanding how to support your child or children throughout the life cycle in age-appropriate ways.
It’s also helpful in dealing with the challenge of the empty nest and making the next stage of the parents’ life fully satisfying.
To learn more about parenting and parenting counseling, click here.
Diane Spear, LCSW-R, owns a private practice in the Union Square/East Village area of Manhattan (New York City). She specializes in anxiety, depression, couples, and parenting treatment, and has been helping people find the joy in everyday life since 1995. She is accepting new patients. To learn more about Diane’s approach to treatment, click here.