Carolyn Hax: Time for a 21-year-old to tell the helicopter parents to stop hovering

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 1

Dear Ms. Hax:

I’m a 21-year-old studying abroad at a great distance from my parents. I love my parents very much, and, as a result, we communicate frequently. During college, I would call my mother four or so times a week, but with the time difference, communication here is limited to e-mail. I have to admit, I don’t mind the added distance.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

The problem is the distance has not decreased their protectiveness, which can be somewhat stifling. Everything from my choice to stay in on a certain night (reflecting my failure to take advantage of opportunities here) to why I won’t take care of myself when I’m ill becomes a subject of debate and discussion.

Recently I had a cold, and I mentioned it to justify my decision to stay inside and watch movies with a small group of friends. Every e-mail since then has ignored anything else I’ve wished to say and demanded to know why I haven’t seen the doctor, what the doctor has to say, why I’m not taking care of myself.

By this point, the cold has passed. But I cannot convince them that I don’t need to be rushed to the hospital. As a result, I’m tempted to stop e-mailing entirely. This move seems far too passive-aggressive, yet I feel that after months of this, it’s long past the time where I should say something. But what?


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

I don’t want to lose touch with my parents or disappoint them, and I do genuinely enjoy e-mailing with them. How do I get them to trust that, as I’m old enough to live abroad for a year, I know what I need, and that if I don’t, figuring it out alone might be good for me?

G.

Might?

So, the term “helicopter parent” enters the lexicon; it becomes fashionable (and then a cliche, and then suspiciously self-satisfied piling on) to tsk-tsk an entire generation of parents for stunting their precious spawn through an excess of fuss and control; the idea of “free-range” childrearing erupts as an exasperated counterpoint; a gusher of research and analysis hits the media to confirm that, yes, bubble-wrapping children does deny them the opportunity to develop resourcefulness, coping skills and “grit” — it has more buzzwords than a beehive, this topic — and yet there are still parents so stunningly un-self-aware that they can, in all earnestness, harangue their 21-year-old offspring from a continent away over a head cold?

And there are kids questioning their right to grab the reins of their own lives from their parents.

Jiminy.

Choosing not to e-mail your parents anymore — or to selectively ignore anything that intrudes on your business — is not “passive aggressive” (bzzzzzzz) if you send them this first:

“Dear Mom and Dad. I am 21. You raised me well (and to excess! JK), and it’s time to trust that. I respect your opinion and advice — when I ask for it, not whenever you think I need it.

“To that end, I am through discussing my sniffles, justifying my choices for evening entertainment, or otherwise running my daily life by you for approval.

“I’m doing this because I love you, and this is what I need to keep our connection strong.

“Yours in competence, I swear,

“Pookie.”

Good luck.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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