Carolyn Hax: When it’s time for the kids to get out of cellphone range

Columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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

How should I stay connected to kids who are off at college without being a helicopter parent?

I want to let them gain experience with independence, but sometimes it’s hard to hold my tongue when they do something that seems dangerous: (1) Travel to some countries during junior year abroad without phone or BlackBerry contact; or (2) wander around New York late at night after indie rock concerts.

College Parent

You see danger, I see paths well-traveled by generations of young adults (and some old ones). The vast majority of them were fine, and the minority who met with peril would likely not have avoided it with speedier invention of the BlackBerry. Let go, Parent, let go.

Re: College Parent:

You worry because they might be out of cellphone range? Really?

I’m barely in my 30s and NO ONE had cellphones in college — and kids still wondered around New York and Europe and were perfectly fine.

I say this as a parent: If you are expecting your adult children (because that’s what they are) to be able to have contact 24/7, then you are being a helicopter parent.

Whatever Did Parents Do Before Cellphones

That’s actually a great, meaningful typo — “wondered around New York and Europe.” Thanks.

A cellphone certainly can make someone safer in the sense of 911 access — but that’s a narrowly defined safety blanket. With holes in it, too, even in nervous-parent-friendly non-urban US of A.

Parents’ ability to reach children, meanwhile, has almost no bearing on their safety — and yet it conveys the message, loud and clear, that you’re afraid they’re not competent enough to live independently of you. If you want kids you can believe in, then teach them well — and believe in them.

Dear Carolyn:

Our son is in kindergarten, and we are constantly on the go with school, homework, work, after-care, sports, etc.

We are exhausted and have admitted to each other that it’s a struggle to be responsible parents. We get the occasional break when we hire a sitter, but I feel like the worst mother in the world for not wanting to help my child with his homework or take him to soccer practice. What is wrong with me? I love my son dearly, so these conflicting feelings really concern me.

When Does Life Get Fun Again?

It gets better.

(I love Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, so please know I am not trivializing or mocking it when I repurpose his tag line.)

It is hard to be a responsible parent, or there wouldn’t be such things as child abuse or foster care. It’s a demanding job that many just can’t handle.

You love your son dearly, get him to school and activities, feel responsible for helping him with his homework? You’re doing fine, and admitting it’s a struggle doesn’t count against you. Just keep hiring sitters occasionally, and maybe rethink some of the activities (which will be fall-off-your-chair funny to people who know my circumstances).

More important, give yourself permission to see the exhaustion as completely compatible with the joy. Soon enough, you will get more sleep, your boy will have less immediate and insistent needs, and he’ll become more interesting company. Swearsies.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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