Helicopter parents: When do they cross the line into stalking?

December 28, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Helicopter parents, take heed.

The kids can rebel — and even pursue legal action. One such case is making international headlines: Aubrey Ireland, a 21-year-old senior studying music theater at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, now has a stalking protection order against her parents, Julie and David Ireland of Leawood, Kans.


Aubrey Ireland sings at “Mustang Showtime” at Blue Valley North High School in 2009. (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the parents would drive 600 miles to surprise their daughter. They installed monitoring software on her cellphone and computer. They told school officials they suspected she was suffering from mental illness and needed evaluation.

Aubrey said it was like being “a dog with a collar on” at an October court hearing. 

She claims her parents accused her of promiscuity and illegal drug use and threatened to take her out of school to be tested for mental illness.

School officials sided with Aubrey and hired security guards. When the Irelands refused to pay her tuition, the school gave her a full scholarship.

Now the court has ordered Aubrey’s parents to stay at least 500 feet away from her. They cannot resume contact until Sept. 23, 2013.

The story has struck a nerve for me; I’ve known the family since our daughters were in high school together.

My last e-mail from Julie was from 2010 and it was actually sent by Aubrey, who wrote, “This is Aubrey and I have actually hacked into my mom’s e-mail account to steal her contacts!” She continued to tell about the latest show in which she was performing and included ticket information.

Good PR.

And probably done with her mom’s permission. Everything seemed to revolve around Aubrey and her fledgling theatrical career.

 I wrote the 2009 article about Aubrey (at the behest of the mom, who insisted that Aubrey deserved coverage after her acceptance into the elite program at Cincinnati) for the Kansas City Star that’s quoted in Friday’s article about the court order.

“I thought she should get to try everything she wanted to,” Julie told me for the article. And Aubrey did: She played softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball and tennis. She took  piano lessons. She played flute in grade school. She started dance classes at age 2½. She sang at a local Catholic Church.

Julie was an “involved” parent. She was always there, camera in hand. She attended every performance, every dance recital, every ball game. 

Julie Ireland reportedly told the court: “She’s [Aubrey] an only child who was catered to all her life by loving parents. We’re not bothering her. We’re not a problem.”

I remember after one high school theater performance she said they were driving Aubrey to a tournament out of state and would be on the road most of the night.

What dedication.

Or obsessiveness.

Where do you draw the line?

Fellow She the People writer Bonnie Goldstein has written about her efforts to “let go” of her son and allow him to grow up. For those of us who dedicate our lives to our kids, it’s a hard task.

You spend every waking moment, it seems, taking care of these creatures. I essentially gave up a writing career to stay home with my two children. I was the room mother, the mom who went on field trips, the volunteer that teachers could call.

But your kids grow up. Your job as a mom has to change. And I’m sorry for both Aubrey and Julie that they had to go to court to do that.

The mama bird seems to know when it’s time to kick the babies out of the nest. I guess our society, with its emphasis on tiger moms and helicopter parenting, has made that difficult for us human mothers.

Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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