A few weeks ago I posted a blog on how to talk to an 8-year-old. It got a lot of response, and I learned a whole litany of questions to use to get a conversation going, questions that were not conversation stoppers. (Case in point: "How's school?")
It's a little more complicated with an 18-year-old, but here too there are conversation blockers. Stephen Emerson, president of Haverford College and the father of a college-age student, sees these 'stoppers' as "Have you thought about" and "Here's how to do it," and, the most egregious of all, "how about if I call..." He calls these the sins or signs of helicopter parents.
In a recent op-ed piece, he had some sage thoughts for parents who tend to hover over their children, even as those children age out of living in the parental home and of being under their parents' advise-guide-control regime. But he also raises a basic question about hovering: what if helicoptering is, he asks, "our generation's greatest cultural sin, in that it could have lifelong effects on children taught to believe that they are incapable of autonomy?" Helicoptering or hovering--our inability or refusal to allow them to make their own way--could cause our children to develop a sense of inadequacy.
As a parent, he does not see himself growing distant from his daughter as she acquires independence "but that we are realigning. Before, when we were on a clear grown-up/child path, I probably--yes--hovered above. Now I find myself at her side....as our journeys continue, we parents will see our position relative to our children shift yet again. We will be behind them, and they will be leading us."
And that's an issue many of us struggle with--letting go and letting them take the lead.