Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Are We Being Those Parents?

by Amy Ruhlin                         

It is a quiet Saturday morning. My husband and I sit in our family room and read the newspaper and drink coffee. We are both-bone tired but we have this whole day to ourselves; to read, to relax, to do whatever we want. Our 17-year-old son is at work until evening.  Our 20-year-old daughter is back at college. We spent the previous week helping her move into her first apartment that she now shares with four of her girlfriends. It is a move that we know is inching her closer to full adulthood, closer to true independence.
The dog is mercifully asleep in the corner and the room is warm with morning light. We’re on our second cup of joe when my husband receives a text from our daughter.

“My shower head just broke off,” she writes.

“Well, can you fix it? You’ll need a wrench,” my husband texts back.

“Nice response,” I tell him.  "She has to learn how to handle things on her own. This will be good for her."
“I agree,” he says.  “And if they don’t have the tools, she can call the landlord.”  The issue settled, we go back to reading the newspaper.

A  few minutes later our daughter sends another text. I watch my husband read it silently to himself. Then he tells me, “She's distraught.  She’s asking me what additional tools she needs to buy for the repair. The landlord is booked  with other students since it is the first week of school. I guess I can walk her through it on the phone."
We do not want to be  those parents. You know the ones:  they  hover, they rescue, they can't let go, they  enable. They help to create their "boomerang kids," so the experts tell us.

The dog begins to stir, the light shifts and shadows fill the room.
My husband peers at me over the newspaper and says,

“It’s 10:30. If we leave now we can get there by 12:00 and have lunch some place nice.”
“I’ll drive,” I say.

At noon, we arrive at our daughter’s apartment and she greets us at the front door.
“Thanks for coming,” she says.  "Come see my room!”

Her room is simple and bright. She has painted the walls yellow.

She has rearranged the furniture. She has added some curtains. She has organized her closet.
We walk into the bathroom to examine the broken fixture. The sink shines and the tub is clean. She says she scrubbed it that morning.

The three of us drive to the hardware store and together, we find a $9.00 repalcement part. “I can afford that!," our daughter says.  "And it’s white. It will match perfectly,” she tells us.
She is thrilled that she is able to buy her own shower head. She is pleased that it is just the right color. She is comforted to have her parents help her with her first foray into the hardware store for home maintenance. We buy her a wrench on the way out.

We stop at a restaurant for lunch. The portions are large and our daughter carefully wraps up her leftovers to take home--something she never did before. “I can eat this for dinner tomorrow night," she says.  "My food budget is running low.”
We go back to her apartment and my husband fixes the shower. We visit with our daughter for a short while and then we decide it's time to leave. She walks us to the door.

“Thanks again for coming,” she says. "It meant so much.”
As my husband drives us back home, I sit in the car and  wonder if today was a rescue. I wonder if  we were being "helicopter parents."  Then I wonder if we were simply offering  an act of kindness  that was met with heartfelt  gratitude.  I wonder if  today, as parents,  maybe we got something right.

We arrive home in the evening and it is dark. The dog meets us at the door and wants to be fed.   My son sits in the family room and watches TV. 
"I'm beat," my husband says to me. "But what a great Saturday."


  1. I love this piece - gets right to the heart of the matter. As Madeleine Levine has written, "We want our kids to be problem solvers, but we don't want them to experience any problems." That you even struggle with whether or not to intervene tells me that you're probably doing fine.

    My older sis, a single mom, always advocated a policy of benign neglect for her three kids who turned out to be really great people. Probably because she knew that giving them a mulligan once in awhile was the right thing to do.

    Plus, lunch. And your daughter scrubbed the tub herself. I'd say you made the right choice.

    1. Thanks Nancy. Appreciate your thoughtful words esp mulligan :)

  2. I don't think helping a grateful child who is obviously showing signs of maturity is "Helicopter". I think it's wonderful. You guys sound like awesome parents. Don't doubt it for a minute!

  3. I think what you did was very kind. Having said that, I doubt very much that my parents would have done it for me when I was in college. Does that make it right? Wrong? Her gratitude and clean apartment were worth the drive alone!

    1. Sharon my parents would never have done it for me..prob what motivated me to help my daughter

  4. Amy, I think you did exactly the right thing, in just the right way. I am always seeking that perfect balance myself, with my 23 and 20 year old sons. But think of it this way - wouldn't you do the same thing for an elderly widowed mother? It was just a loving act between adults, and a beautiful chance for you to see your daughter growing up. Nicely done!

  5. Still do things like that from time to time for our middle-aged daughters. Now would do it for our granddaughter at college. Might be a little too protective, but not too unhappy with the way they've all turned out. No boomerangs, either. : - )

  6. I'm learning too. My son just bought a house and mom went to help out. Daughter went to college this past weekend and mom helped move her in. Now mom is sitting back waiting to be asked ... but man oh man its harder than I thought

  7. You're lucky you live close enough to help her out. My boys are so very far away, but some of their friends are at school near us and we are always ready to lend a hand, when and if needed. When we help them out, we look at it as doing someone a favor, and that's just how you should look at helping your own daughter. I think you will know when you're going overboard.

    1. Yes Mindy we are thankful that she is so close!

  8. It's hard to know sometimes, isn't it?

    My husband and I always want to be a soft place to land (we know there is precious little of that in the world), but never want to become enablers. It's hard to strike the balance.

    Our son called us for some money the other day. The first time in three years. He's had a set-back. He was very upset. It was hard for him to ask. We sent it. I wondered the same thing you wondered, but know that sometimes you still need a little cushion and knowledge that there is a soft place to land.

  9. Thanks Chloe. I so agree about the soft place to land...