I Will Not Be a Helicopter Mom

A son heads off to a school interview. This mother has to hold herself back.

My son is about to leave the house for an interview with a prominent Ivy League college.

I want to go with him.

It’s silly, stupid, ridiculous and just beyond — but I would like to drive my 18-year-old there. It is 30 minutes away, across two major highways. I would like to be sure he finds the address and parks in a space free of snowdrifts or patches of black ice. When he walks into the building, I’d like to make sure his dress shoes aren’t scuffed, that his pants aren’t wrinkled, that his hair looks combed.

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I’d like to make sure my teenager’s nails are clean, that the copies of his activity list are uncreased (and with no punctuation errors), and that he is in every other aspect ready for his meeting with this important person from admissions.

I am aware this interview could make or break him.

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I am aware I am over the top.

“Be polite. Be yourself. Relax. Have a conversation,” I’d like to say to him. “Shine, my son!”

But I won’t do it. I can’t. I am holding myself back with everything it takes. Acting even a bit like that would go against every wise bone in my body. I would become the ridiculed cliché so many of us abhor: a helicopter parent, rotors operating at full speed.

Plenty of parents, of course, have not just driven their kids to interviews like this, they’ve actually walked in the door with them. That is a club I’m not going to join. (And I’m sure the interviewer will be grateful.)

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Nope. I will not hover. I won’t. I’ve promised myself. My kid has to sink or swim on his own.

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At age 18, after all, he could quit school and get a job. At 18, he could join the Army. At 18, he could father a child. (At 18, he could also do many other things I would rather not dwell on.)

It’s excruciating, however, to watch my son leave for this event and wave to him as he drives off. As parents, we help kids get on their way. We nudge, encourage, push, press. I want the best for this kid. He’s worked hard, he’s a sincere guy, he has so much to offer. Can the world see that? Will the world see that?

The blades of the helicopter begin to spin. I’m poised to take off and hover nearby, in a protective embrace. I’ve done it his whole life. I know this routine. And it all comes from a good place!

No wonder so many moms and dads fall victim to the chopper’s swift, vast power. They want their kids to have great opportunities. They wish for happiness, success, accomplishment. They want for their kids what the didn’t always have themselves.

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But no can do! I’m roping myself in — holding back. I’ll be the best mom I can be by fretting privately, behind the scenes, after the car drives away.

Right now, all over the country, parents like me are holding their phones, waiting for the texts. We’re waiting to read these words after the kid says goodbye to admissions and gets back to his car: “I aced the interview!”

This is what we’re reduced to — or rather, this is what being a good parent of a teenager ultimately means. To wait for your children, with longing, hope, expectation — and confidence. To let them go where they will go, whether it’s a college interview, a job interview, marriage, deployment, travel, or anything else. Then, wait for the news for them. Wait for the good news they will share with you, as you know they will.

This is how it goes. Then, when you finally see that smiling face — “I think it went well!” — give them the best hug you know how to give. Rejoice. Let your heart do a little happy dance.

And then settle down already.

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