Dear Carolyn: I’m a 21-year-old currently studying abroad at a great distance from my parents. I love my parents very much, and, we communicate frequently. During college, I would call my mother four or so times a week, but with the time difference, communication here is limited. I have to admit, I don’t mind the added distance.
The problem is the distance has not decreased their protectiveness, which can be somewhat stifling. Everything from my choice to stay in on a certain night (reflecting my failure to take advantage of opportunities here) to why I won’t take care of myself when I’m ill becomes a subject of debate and discussion.
Recently, I had a cold, and I mentioned it to justify my decision to stay inside and watch movies with a small group of friends. Every email since then has ignored anything else I’ve wished to say and demanded to know why I haven’t seen the doctor, what the doctor has to say, why I’m not taking care of myself.
By this point, the cold has passed. But I cannot persuade them that I don’t need to be rushed to the hospital. As a result, I’m tempted to stop emailing entirely. This move seems far too passive-aggressive, yet I feel that after months of this, it’s long past the time where I should say something. But what?
I don’t want to lose touch with my parents or disappoint them, and I do genuinely enjoy emailing with them. How do I get them to trust that, as I’m old enough to live abroad for a year, I know what I need, and that if I don’t, figuring it out alone might be good for me?
So, the term “helicopter parent” enters the lexicon; it becomes fashionable (and then a cliche, and then suspiciously self-satisfied piling on) to tsk-tsk an entire generation of parents for stunting their precious spawn through an excess of fuss and control; the idea of “free-range” child-rearing erupts as an exasperated counterpoint; a gusher of research and analysis hits the media to confirm that, yes, bubble-wrapping children does deny them the opportunity to develop resourcefulness, coping skills and “grit” – it has more buzzwords than a beehive, this topic – and yet there are still parents so stunningly un-self-aware that they can, in all earnestness, harangue their 21-year-old offspring from a continent away over a head cold?
And there are kids questioning their right to grab the reins of their own lives from their parents.
Choosing not to email your parents anymore – or to selectively ignore anything that intrudes on your business – is not “passive-aggressive” (bzzzzzzz) if you send them this first: “Dear Mom and Dad. I am 21. You raised me well (and to excess! JK), and it’s time to trust that. I respect your opinion and advice – when I ask for it, not whenever you think I need it.
“To that end, I am through discussing my sniffles, justifying my choices for evening entertainment, or otherwise running my daily life by you for approval.
“I’m doing this because I love you, and this is what I need to keep our connection strong.
“Yours in competence, I swear,