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I tried not to be a helicopter parent when my son went to college. But it was harder than I expected.

Danielle Evans-Cole   

I tried not to be a helicopter parent when my son went to college. But it was harder than I expected.
  • When my oldest child was accepted into college, I vowed not to become a helicopter parent.
  • I still got sucked into the Facebook parent group frenzy, becoming anxious and starting to hover.

Two years ago as my oldest child prepared to fly the nest to his top-choice college, I started hearing about helicopter parenting 2.0. Friends with older children told tales of university parent Facebook groups, which were filled with demands that the dining halls specially cook their child's food in avocado oil. I figured posts about parents setting up playdates for their introverted students had to be exaggerated.

But I then joined a few of the parent Facebook groups for my son's new school out of curiosity. Parents were posting reviews for the perfect desktop fan along with an analysis of the heating systems for each dorm. There were links to video walk-throughs of almost every building on campus, doom room floor layouts, and even the details of the washers and dryers in order to pick the best laundry detergent.

I tried not to get sucked into helicopter parenting my college-age kid, but it was hard to let go during the transition.

I was easily sucked into the frenzy

My anxiety rose with each post I read. The obsessive list-making, comparison-shopping part of me took over. When I was pregnant with my son, this version of me read every review for pacifiers, strollers, diaper cream — just about everything we purchased for him.

Instead of worrying that he wouldn't be sleeping in the safest crib, 18 years later, I agonized over the best mattress pad and sheets. My husband begged me to stop, but I kept getting sucked into post after post and discovered new parent Facebook groups to join.

As we drove each mile of the five hours to his new school, reality rapidly set in, as did my growing distress. Once we moved all his stuff into his dorm room, I was ready to get down to work unpacking, organizing, and decorating. The other parents were already posting "before" and "after" photos of their dorm room makeovers.

Then the one thing that could snap me out of my Facebook-induced hysteria happened: I knew that look in my son's eyes; he was ready. He needed space to settle in by himself, and he was excited to organize his own closet and hang his own photos. I left begrudgingly, but not before reminding him to take some "after" photos.

When I returned home, the posts took hovering to a new level. One parent asked, "Does anyone know where my student can buy a stamp on campus?" Other parents ranted angrily about students having too much homework and waiting too long for the shuttle bus. When the daily posts of dining hall food photos started, along with petitions to the administration to improve the food quality and choices, I knew I needed to step away.

I realized how easy it is to worry and obsess when your child moves to college, but I refused to join those parents monitoring the Quad Cam livestream to check the weather on campus.

I learned giving him space allowed us both to thrive

We settled into weekly FaceTime calls. There are hard weeks and days that require extra calls or text messages, but we let him take the lead. It's hard to sit back, but the less I do for him, the more he thrives. When he came home for Thanksgiving, winter break, and, most especially, the end of freshman year, I noticed this new-mature-independent version of my son.

When I pulled back, I started to thrive as well. I now have time to branch out with new hobbies, reboot my career, and increase date nights with my husband.

This fall, he will move into a house with six other guys, and I have concerns about high electric bills and moldy creatures growing in the refrigerator. I dipped back into the Facebook groups and saw parents' posts about finding sublets, how to obtain parking passes, and the best grocery stores near campus.

Then it got even crazier. I refuse to join the parents who are hiring weekly cleaning companies for their child's apartment and calling landlords to see if they can install video doorbells and cameras for security. While I am available to help talk through the process of signing up for utilities, I know he will eventually learn for himself that, yes, you do need to close the windows when the heat is turned on.

Danielle Evans-Cole is a freelance writer and story cultivator in Boston. She is the founder of Cultivated Storytelling™, LLC, a communications consulting, training, and copywriting business. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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