Helicopters vs. Umbrellas

During the DePaul orientation, they introduced a new term – umbrella parents – hoping to influence the 90% ‘first kid off to school’ group of parents they were working with that day.

Umbrella parents only come out when it rains. They walk beside their child – not in front, not behind – and let them choose the path to follow (otherwise the water rolls off the umbrella and gets you wet anyway.)

They didn’t mention that umbrellas mostly sit in the closet.

I get their point though, holding up umbrellas as the ideal, rather than helicopters. If you are unfamiliar with this type of parenting, check out Wikipedia. They do a pretty good summary.

There were lots of helicopters in the room. Parents who were obviously distressed that federal privacy rights mean that they will only see their child’s grades if the child chooses to share them. Distressed that meetings with academic and emotional counselors were also protected and that, unless they had written authorization, they would not be privy to discussions about classes, crashes or clashes.

One parent even asked if they could accompany their child to their advising sessions, to be sure that they took the classes they needed for graduation. To be fair, this was asked after the speaker shared that it was not unheard of for students to assume they were going to graduate in four years, only to realize in junior year, when finally checking in with an academic adviser, that they hadn’t met the requirements and, in the the time left, couldn’t without extending for more years.

I don’t know how my son will do ‘on his own’ surrounded by all of the support available through DePaul. I can only hope that – like with umbrellas – he’ll remember that help is hiding at the bottom of his closet and that he’ll pull it out when he needs it, whether the help is a call to me or a visit to one of the many services set up at his school to ensure his success.

I guess, as parents, we need to hope that they have enough common sense to ask for help when they need it and enough maturity to deal with the concept of needing help. Joke in my family was that I never needed to worry about being knocked off a pedestal in my children’s eyes, because I was never ON a pedestal for them. They’ve watched me struggle, make mistakes, ask for help, take my lumps and start again – filtered, of course, but … oh boy do they know that I lack perfection.

So … I wish all of us parents of freshman the wisdom to act like an umbrella and stay in the closet until needed. And I hope that all of our students remember they have a perfectly functional way to keep the rain off their heads at their disposal whenever they might need it. Even if, in all the excitement of starting college, we spent a few weeks at the bottom of their closets under unwashed socks and unused boots!



Categories: General


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