For many young millennials, the helicopter parent phenomenon is all too real.
Are parents just overprotective because of how much they love their kids? Or are they living vicariously through them? Or do they love them so much that their children become socially disadvantaged?
As someone who grew up with a helicopter parent, I can say that there is a difference between a cautious, protective parent, and a helicopter.
My personal helicopter-parent journey really began before I was even born. My parents struggled to have a child, but were finally blessed at 40. Having a late baby, my mother (and grandmother) hailed me as a "miracle baby," an only child who was kept secluded and protected.
When it came time to go to school, local public schools weren't considered. I made most of my friends at church, many of whom I am still close to today. I very much fit the only-child stereotype: I enjoyed activities where I usually entertained myself and where my parents knew I was in a safe, non-threatening environment, like being engaged with video games and movies.
My father, Sal, an elevator technician, held a different opinion by the time I came along. He was an athlete in high school and the oldest of three children. His life and childhood were what he saw for my childhood.
But my mom, Caroline, put up much protest. So my dad took a different route, and after his retirement he and I grew close and bonded over our common love of cars. He was less cautious as a parent, allowing me to help with projects and getting my hands dirty with him.
I was sent to a nearby, small private school funded by a Baptist church. My classes were made up of no more than 10 students. As a child, I didn't know the difference. I didn't realize what else was out in the world.
From a young age, while Dad was at work and before I could go out to play, I'd sit with my mom and review spelling and vocabulary words. Like many children, I resisted school. I disliked almost everything about it. Yet she persisted, and I am grateful to her and her dedication to my education. Without the constant jousting we had, I would have become a lazy student, and I owe much of my education to her.
That being said, it boiled over one night my junior year of high school. There was a screaming match, a book was tossed in the air, and that was the last of it. I had outgrown the constant back and forth, and decided I would neglect education her way or pursue it on my own terms.
My graduating class consisted of 35 students in a school of nearly 500 that spanned kindergarten through senior year. As a high-school student, my social growth had been stunted, like many others who grew up with the same 30 kids they'd known their whole lives. There was no room for outside viewpoints. Uniforms were worn, shirts tucked in, ties worn on Wednesdays. Boys and girls were prohibited from commingling.
Contact sports were not allowed. While I understand this may have been to protect other children — I am tall, broad and solid — I wanted to be like my favorite players. But the issue was very open and shut, despite my father's protest. It wouldn't be until college that I would finally play football and hockey in recreational leagues. While it was liberating to finally have these experiences, I reflected about what could have been.
And when it came time for college, I never toured universities. I headed off to my local community college because the cost was much less — we were not a wealthy household — and it wasn't far from home. But after two years and countless dropped classes at community college, I packed my bags and moved 35 minutes down the road to Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey — with my parents' support.
I lived a mere two miles from where I had gone to high school. I roomed with two lifelong friends I had met at church youth group. I was as focused as I was going to be, and it ultimately paid off: I am scheduled to graduate as a first-generation college student this December.
While I may sound negative regarding my childhood, there were times I relished. My mom loved to cook and I remember assisting her in the kitchen as early as 4 or 5 years old, whether it was as simple as stirring the sauce or as hazardous as cutting vegetables. I was exposed to many foods, and there's very little I won't try. I attribute my diverse palette to her love of food.
The most important part of my childhood with a helicopter parent was when the helicopter landed and the overprotective stipulations finally ended. Around the time I got my driver's license at 17 years old, the grip began to loosen. My vehicle brought freedom and the ability to explore the world on my own, even if it was just my small town in south New Jersey. My love for cars also allowed me to make friends with people who shared common ideals and priorities.
Helicopter parenting is a reaction parents have because they love their kids. That's always how I interpreted it. While there was an arm and a leg of rules to follow, and sky-high expectations to reach for, it was always for my betterment. Looking back now, I wish some things could have been different, but I'm grateful for the experiences I had as I look ahead into my adult life as an aspiring professional.