Sunday, June 29, 2008

The new breed of Helicopter Moms

I just finished reading an absolutely horrifying article in the July issue of Oprah. It's called "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... Supermom!" Sadly, it is not online so I can't give you the link. But trust me, it's thought-provoking.

The story talks about how Helicopter Moms, ones who hover, who are always on alert, are more common than one would think and waaaaay past the sandbox stage where it's borderline acceptable to do so.

It gives examples of moms who are still excrutiatingly involved in their children's lives after the kids leave the nest. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Lynn Yale, 55, a special ed teacher in Santa Clarita, California, drives 1.5 hours to do her sons' laundry at college. She says that doing this is a small way she can help her sons, who each take 15-18 credits a semester.

  • Robyn Lewis, 56, a college recruiter in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, mother of two sons aged 24 and 22, has access to their college email accounts so she knows what grades they're getting and if a teacher has emailed them because they missed a class. She emails them a to do list each day and once a month, drives 2.5 hours each way to clean the eldest's dorm room, do his laundry and buy his groceries. She justifies this by saying, "I get a sense of control ... You can't change politics. You can't change the environment. But you can create something really terrific with your own children." She also emails the 24-year-old's girlfriend when she hasn't heard from her son in a few days.

A recruiter at a Fortune 500 company reports that over the last four years parents call wanting to discuss their children's offer letters and benefits, and ask questions about work-life balance. One mom called to let them know that it was little Ginny's birthday and asked if the firm could have a cake delivered to her and sing Happy Birthday. The recruiter's answer? "This is Wall Street. We don't do that around here."

Patricia Somers, PhD, an associate professor of higher education at The University of Texas at Austin, specializes in researching helicopter parents. In a study she conducted at 60 public universities, she found that 40 to 60% of parents engage in this kind of activity, including helping with academic assignments and as many as 10% actually write their children's papers for them.

Thirty percent of parents talk or email with their university-age children every day, according to a survey of 4,800 parents across the US conducted by College Parents of America, an advocacy group.

To help alleviate parental separation anxiety, some colleges have installed Mommy Cams. The University of Rochester has three of these and Cornell University's webcam page gets 60,000 hits a month. UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara created special web pages devoted to help mothers and fathers with campus issues.

But it's not just colleges who are responding to this. Ernst & Young, which hires about 5,500 college graduates each year, gives prospective hires a flash drive with information about the company, its employee benefits, and possible bonuses to give to their parents.

Here's my favorite story. A Florida State University assistant dean of students received a call from the parent of a prospective student asking about how laundry is done on campus, since it had not been covered on the campus tour. The assistant dean responded that there were washers and dryers in the dorms. The mother persisted, "But how is it done? Who picks it up and delivers it? Or do the students have to drop it off somewhere? What is the service?"

The dean explained, "There is no service. The students do their own laundry." The woman was appalled. She said that her son didn't know how to do his own laundry. The dean told the woman it was a good thing that she called when she did because school didn't start for more than a month and she had time to teach him.

Let me go on record here. I love our kids. They are the center of my universe, right now, while they're minors living in our home. They will to go to college unless they have some G/d given talent along the lines of Tiger Woods'. But do their laundry once they've flown the nest? Check their email? Restock their fridges other than on parents' weekends? I don't think so.

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