Landing the Helicopter and Loving My Son

My son has had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.

He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately, he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight.

For me, that morning, seeing my son’s adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.

Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him.

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.

Now, in college, my son has had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself up without us lending a hand.

So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.
We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.

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  • Ellyn W.


    You never stop impressing me with your writing.
    I love this piece. Listen to your heart and your soul.
    Sounds like you are doing the right thing.

    I bet you will ALL come away stronger for it.

    Happy almost Thanksgiving.

  • Sharon,

    I enjoy reading your blog, you have great insight.

    I never knew Adam struggled with “lazy eye” or ADHD. Whenever I've been in his presence he has always been a calm, kind, and a handsome gentleman.

    Danielle also struggled with very similar problems except she has amblyopia and her visual deficits can not be remedied with surgery. I clearly remember the day we realized there was a problem but she was already in kindergarten. Apparently the school eye doctor found the problem but failed to tell us.

    My heart broke every day when we had to send her to school with the patch on her glasses. Her teacher shared that she would hide so classmates would not tease her, which they did often. I often wonder how this has impacted her relationships in life. The worst part of it all was that they patched her strong eye to force the brain to “wake up” the weaker eye. This created another set of problems in the academic arena.

    Danielle also struggled to find her place at UCSB. She joined a sorority in spring and is no longer running track. I think she is enjoying herself now though she still has her struggles. I never realized how hard it is to find true friends at that age.

    We thank God that Danielle went to school in Santa B. She called Friday night wanting to come home. She arrived at 3 am Saturday morning and spent the weekend just hanging out with us.

    I will pray that Adam has a great year and makes the decision that is best for him. Who knows, maybe he'll transfer to UCSB and we can carpool to Santa B and go wine tasting together.

    I wish we would have known each other when our children were young so we could lent one another support. In the end we are both very lucky to have been blessed with such wonderful children.

    Blessings Always,

  • I worked with first year students at a college for a few years and applaud you for encouraging your son to stay at school. We often found (and I believe research supports) that students struggle a lot their freshman year, but often return for their sophomore year to find things begin to click. It's a natural feeling. Many other kids are feeling the same thing. The best thing he can do is get involved, join groups, play intramural sports, etc.

  • You have a very special son and not in “special” but you know. It seems like he knows himself now and tell him good luck with the rest of his life.

  • Beautiful post, Sharon. I know how hard it is to try not to be a helicopter parent. Is it even possible?!

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