By, Katy Cable -A 6 Minute Read
POOF! I was just reminded that in the blink of an eye you can lose your life or everything can go up in smoke! It seems like tragedy is hitting loved ones with rapid-fire succession. First, another devastating mass shooting took place at The Borderline Bar & Grill, a hugely popular establishment just down the street from Cal Lutheran University, where my daughter is a senior in college. No sooner did they begin lighting vigil candles when enormous brush fires popped up and spread like a bad rash. There was no time to wrap my head around one tragedy when suddenly freeways were closing and, for the first time ever, entire cities were being evacuated.
The last conversation I had with my daughter, she was feeling sick over a breakup with her boyfriend and telling me about her assignment to write a piece on The Borderline Grill for the college paper. My head raced through all the worst case scenarios and my heart beat out of my chest. I prayed to God offering anything and everything in exchange for her protection and safety.
Four years ago, facing an ordeal like this would’ve have left ME among the casualties. -Cause of death, not a fatal gunshot wound, burns or smoke inhalation but rather a heart attack from being “Scared to Death!”
You see, I am a recovering helicopter mom. -Emphasis on HELL! And it often was! Not just for me, but for my daughter and our entire family. However, this story is a hopeful one. For in the midst of these terrible tragedies that struck way too close to home, I can offer tools that saved my life and are helping me cope.
“Tiger-Mom” , “Mom-ager”, “Helicopter Mom”, I relished my titles like a pageant winner! In actuality, I was a “BULLDOZER”! I didn’t hover over my daughter, I plowed right in front of every nuance of her life. Here comes mom, blazing a clean, smooth trail, free of any boulders (or even debris) that may cause my precious little girl so much as a skinned knee or dust on her designer duds. It was a terrifying and exhausting way to live. -And, like any addiction (and yes, co-dependence/love-addiction is one) mine only progressed with age!
For 17+ years I was in denial of what a loving, caring, “GOOD” mom does. And even when I realized I was crippling my child by bailing her out and ENABLING her, I couldn’t stop. It was simply TOO SCARY! Not only was I older and wiser but who would rescue her if I wasn’t underfoot and she fell off the jungle-gym? What would she eat if her lunch was left on the counter? And worse, what if that drama at school caused her to fail a test thereby ruining all chances of her getting into a good college and having any shot at a successful life?
And the stakes just kept getting higher. Kids started DRIVING and then there were parties, drugs, sex, and suicide attempts. How could any loving mother sit back and DO NOTHING? I made it my mission to dive-in and keep things as predictable and safe as an episode of The Brady Bunch.
All through her school years, I had the perception of control through managing her “curfews, and cellphones and cars, -OH MY!” I surrounded myself with a circle of pretty, perfectly-coiffed, MILF, trophy wives who seemed to be knocking it out-of-the-park with their stellar kids and trouble-free lives.
However, once my daughter turned 18 and made the decision to attend college clear across the country, the cord was cut. I was out of a job! I had nothing to obsess over and pour my energy into but a clean, empty house. I had loads of time on my hands and even more loads of fear! Not having any perceived control over my most precious, now college-age, child was palpable. Four year’s later my daughter still has scars from the deep claw marks I left during my attempts at “letting go!”
It was during this dark painful time I did a few things that changed my life, -and the course of my daughter’s. First, I realized this wasn’t something I could fix on my own. I was a hopeless, suicidal MESS! I didn’t know what to do, where to turn or what was wrong with me. I reached out to some amazing therapists who suggested I go to AL-ANON, CODA, and love addiction meetings. I got sponsors and worked 12-step programs like my life depended on it. And it did! But, instead of abstaining from other more widely known addictions like gambling, shopping, drugs, or alcohol, I realized “my bottle has legs” and I stay “sober” by not doing for my daughter (and others) what she should (and needs) to be doing for herself. To stay sober I also had to cut myself off from other “substitute addictions” such as “fix-it project” “addict” friends, helicopter parents, jobs, and compulsive activities. I poured my icky feelings, fear and boredom into writing, working my recovery program and a new rescue dog.
Last week’s tragic chain of events resulted in one good thing. I had an epiphany and could see how far I’ve come! Although I’ve made huge slips (OK, more like face-plants) in my recovery, major progress has still taken place. When faced with some of my biggest fears, I didn’t drive up to campus, wrap my daughter in bubble wrap and lock her up in her childhood bedroom at home where I could keep her safely underfoot. I was able to be loving and supportive in a healthy, age-appropriate way. And that is a nothing short of a miracle!
To witness my daughter surviving normal college demands like mid-terms, finals, break-ups, illnesses and difficult roommates ON HER OWN TWO FEET is truly incredible! Instead of crumbling after these enormous tragedies, I witnessed a terrified, shocked, grief-stricken young woman gain a new sense of gratitude, compassion and appreciation. I saw her build a strong bond with her fellows and community. I realized I nearly robbed her of all the self-reliance and confidence she had developed.
When my daughter was in 4th grade, her brilliant teacher, (shout-out to Melissa Osorio at Lowell Elementary School) sensing an epidemic of helicopter parents, placed a poem on every child’s desk at back-to-school night. It tells of a father watching a new butterfly struggling to emerge from their cocoon. The father can’t take it and tries to “help” the poor butterfly by cutting open the cocoon and releasing it. He failed to realize that the butterfly working like hell to break free from their safe, familiar cocoon was building the strength necessary to fly. His actions left the butterfly handicapped without ever having the ability to fly.
I try and remember this poem every time I’m tempted to jump in and “help!” While it causes me pain to watch my child trip and fall, I know she’s going to be much more cautious next time. Much more so than if I always take the hit and buffer the consequences of her choices. It’s not easy! Weeks like this are as hard as a newly sober alcoholic not picking up a drink, or a drug-addict abstaining from swallowing a bottle of pills.
If you can relate to my struggle and you’re sick of living in complete and utter terror, micro-managing and obsessing over your college-age child (or anyone for that matter) in the name of love, caring, or good parenting, I welcome you to reach out. I also want to offer the same tools that are working for me. I promise they’ll work for you too! – If not I’ll refund your helicopter free of charge!
- Go adopt a dog! It’s a perfect thing to obsess over and a dog will love you unconditionally.
- Take up a sport, activity or hobby. Use this time to try something that you’ve always wanted to do.
- Get a job or volunteer. Pour yourself into it. It will give you a sense of accomplishment and purpose. -And maybe some cash!
- Get reacquainted with your spouse, partner or friends you’ve neglected. JUST STAY CLEAR OF THOSE WEARING “HELP WANTED” SIGNS!
- If you feel paralyzed and unable to take any of the above steps to “detach” I recommend attending ALANON, CODA and/or love addiction 12-step meetings. Reach out to a sponsor with recovery and enmesh yourself in the program.
In the midst of this crisis I long to have control and protection in a crazy, scary, world. I want desperately to shield my daughter from any pain and harm but I now know it won’t save her. My efforts will in fact prevent her from developing the skills necessary to navigate life. Control is only a false illusion that doesn’t really keep anyone safe. Many parents, myself included, don’t realize all their extreme efforts to protect and help are actually seriously wounding our children without involving any gunfire.