Helicopter parents hover over their children, trying to protect them from every possible danger or scheduling every minute to insure a child succeeds
at whatever the parent holds dear, whether it’s sports or music or straight
A’s. Sometimes helicopter parents morph into “helicopter grownup children” as their own parents age. In their 50s or 60s, they may begin to parent their parents. What’s meant as caring can feel like control.
Signs You’re a Helicopter Kid
- Just walking into your parents house triggers your inner decorator. I know a woman who offered to house sit while her parents took a cruise. They returned to find the sunny yellow kitchen they left was now pale green, with curtains and a tablecloth to match. Daughter had reorganized everything in the cabinets. Surprise! It took weeks to find the wine opener. Mom was not grateful. If you feel tempted to suggest re-hanging a picture or reupholstering a piece of furniture in your parents’ home, stifle that impulse.
- You offer to manage your parents’ finances, even though they’re under no obvious financial strain and have not asked your advice. You can barely resist the urge to peek at their checkbook. You ask how much they paid in taxes. How much are they giving to charity? Do they have a financial advisor? You know a good one you can recommend.
- You give your parents unrequested health care advice. You suggest they change doctors or stop taking whatever the doctor prescribed, or become vegans. You may actually be right. This may be reasonable, depending on circumstances. It crosses into helicoptering when you enroll them in a gym, send daily internet advice, or insist on accompanying them to their doctor, uninvited. Unless Mom or Dad has an obvious, unaddressed medical problem, please don’t create one.
- You itch to reorganize Dad’s files. He asks you to fix a glitch in his
computer. You do, but you also notice he’s not using a logical system for keeping documents. Don’t scratch that itch. And PLEASE don’t change any passwords!
- When you’re around your parents you forget everything you know about boundaries. An 82 year old friend of mine is 6’4″. He and his second wife were both widowed when they married two years ago. They sleep in a queen size bed, and it’s driving his kids nuts. They know he’s tall and he needs a king size bed! He told the kids, smiling, “I don’t want her to get away from me.” They didn’t get it – or can’t believe it. They mean well. But a parent’s bed is not helicopter turf. They should buzz off.
HOW TO LAND THAT HELICOPTER
- Understand that old people are still adults, whose autonomy must be
respected. Even in early stages of dementia, they will be capable of knowing what they want and need.
- Children need to know parents are safe. Pay attention, and if you notice something awry, like a stack of unpaid bills, lack of cleanliness, or an empty refrigerator, ask about it. But don’t assume your parents need help just because they’re old.
- Parents, confide in your children. Share information they need to know. And do ask for advice when you need it. As parents age they’ll eventually need more help. Role reversal can be sweet and intimate, gradual and natural. That’s not helicoptering, that’s love.