I keep reading this stuff, and I keep wondering if (a) it’s all a parody, a great, online reach for irony that either falls short or I just don’t get (but usually I’m pretty good at irony); or (b) if people are making up this stuff so that I have something to write about here.
What I am talking about is the compounding evidence of the persistence — the deeply creepy persistence — of out-of-control helicopter parenting.
The latest is a story by writer Jennifer Coburn, on Salon, about how she was floored and upset by a romantic breakup, via text. Bear in mind, Coburn wasn’t the spurned one; it was her daughter, 14-year-old Katie, who took the break up in stride and returned to her homework while her mother offered two spoons and a pint of Chunky Monkey, or to sit and cry with Amy Winehouse playing in the background (seriously? I’d pick Adele, but I don’t have daughters, or breakups, in my house). She asked her daughter if she needed a hug. Katie turned it around, sure it was her distraught mom who needed a nurturing embrace.
I am willing to believe (or hope, with desperation) that Coburn was being completely ironic. But it seems fair to say that if she was, her irony hit a nerve, because it’s not hard to believe as the truth, that she really was overjoyed that Katie was dating this particular boy, that she really was devastated — moreso than her daughter — that the relationship didn’t work out. And as my proof that — even if Coburn had tongue planed firmly in cheek — most readers didn’t think so, I present the Good Morning America story that followed, which details the “phenomenon” of parents being over-involved from toddler-hood through adulthood, including preoccupation with tween and teen break-up dramas.
Are we literally supposed to feel our kids’ pain now? Are we meant to find it normal to not just try to keep them from ever falling down on a playground when they are toddlers (impossible!), but to absorb and reflect back their romantic pain when they are 15? Or worse, try to fix it by (God help us) calling or texting ex boy- or girlfriends to beg explanation and reconsideration? Have we no shame left — or better yet, no boundaries?
When I suffered romantic disappointments as a teen, which was often, I wrote long sad notes to my girlfriends, who wrote long supportive notes back. And when I saw fictional parents getting involved in their teenagers’ heartbreaks — think Mike and Carol Brady — I was as appropriately horrified. What if my parents did that? Shudder.
And let’s just say for sake of argument that Coburn was 100% ironic. What then do we make of another mother, quoted in the Good Morning America piece, who admits (with shame, which is a good start) that she’s been over-involved in her son’s social life from the start:
“I dressed him, chose his friends, interfered with teachers,” she said.
Once, not happy with her son’s teacher, she intervened with the principal and had him transferred to another classroom. Later, she butted in to his love life.
“I’m ashamed to admit this, but when my 16-year-old son broke up with his girlfriend, he told me she broke up with him,” said Larson. “I agonized and cried about it for a week. I even called her parents and begged them for some sort of explanation.”
I wonder if the parents who are busy working on recommendation letters for their own kids’ college applications (and yes, this is now accepted practice at some schools, including Smith and Mt. Holyoke) would read the above without any irony whatsoever?
What are we going to do about this?