Positive Aging Thought Leader: Maria Olsen
First things first: Why am I no longer a helicopter mother?
Because my children grew up and moved to other cities.
“Once they became pre-teens, they no longer seemed to welcome my company.”
Moms On Television:
I was a latchkey kid in the 1970s. I hated it. Desperately, I wanted a mother who was home awaiting my arrival from school with homemade cookies. I saw such moms on television. I tried as much as possible to go to my best friend’s house to be in the company of her at-home mother.
From an early age, I vowed that if I had children, I would be an at-home mom and I would be involved in their school activities. And I became one.
I volunteered for almost everything possible at my children’s schools, took them to a multitude of after-school activities, drove carpools, chaperoned events and even served as my daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader. The reality, I enjoyed it. I think my children did, too, until they reached adolescence.
Once they became pre-teens, they no longer seemed to welcome my company. I understood, but it hurt. I wanted to scream, “You don’t know how lucky you are that I took time off from practicing law to give you everything I wish I had had in childhood!” That, of course, would not have made a difference.
If we do our job correctly as parents, we teach our children how to not need us. We morph from being full-time caregivers to coaches to advisors. And we should only advise if asked. The transition, away from helicopter mom, was hard for me. I knew I could save them from some mistakes, but in attempting to do so, I would rob them of learning opportunities.
“They knew I had been codependent with them and that my happiness at one time was contingent on theirs.”
Not being needed so acutely could have been an opportunity for me to do some self-actualization. Instead, I turned to drinking to blunt my feeling sorry for myself. That is a subject of some of my other writings.
Despite all resolve, we carry childhood hurts with us, if we do not process them and learn healthy coping mechanisms. I was a slow learner in this department.
It was not until I did some work on myself that I could forge close relationships with my adult children. They knew I had been codependent with them and that my happiness at one time was contingent on theirs. That was an unfair burden for me to impose on my children.
So I had to live my amends to my children, and I continue to do so. I did a great deal of work on myself. I found happiness that was not dependent on anyone but me. Seeing their mother so content increased their trust in opening up to me and desire to spend time with me.
I have to remind myself that they are adults now with independent lives, and that I must respect their decisions. That is easy to do when one’s children are doing well. It is, of course, not so easy when they are making poor decisions.
Dropping The Helicopter Mom Role:
“I feel a wave of relief to see that my children are alive, doing fun things”
When my son was in rehab, the counselors did not allow the two of us to speak for two months. They recognized our codependence and wanted to give my son time to heal on his own. Letting go of all control over his sobriety journey was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
He is sober now. While his sobriety does not look like mine—he does not, for instance, attend 12-step meetings like I do—it seems to be lasting. I know that I have no ability to force him to stay sober. Slowly, I have learned how to let go of things I cannot control.
I do, however, stalk him a bit on social media. I believe that is a blessing conferred by social media. We get a peek into what people are doing and where their interests lie. I take what I can get. Sometimes, I feel a wave of relief to see that my children are alive, doing fun things and have surrounded themselves with good people.
I have learned to limit my comments on my children’s social media and to never post anything about my introverted child without permission. Unlike her mother, she does not like attention. I must respect that.
“I strive to be my best version and that includes allowing my children to leave the nest and thrive, with or without my help”
Boundaries with adult children can be tough to navigate. We usually have good intentions but, aside from monetary support, they mostly want to be left alone. My daughter dutifully calls me once a week. My son sends an occasional text. I try to allow them space to come to me instead of invading their spaces.
Wisdom As A Mom:
If I am blessed to have grandchildren one day, that will add a new layer of challenge to boundary-respecting. I would gladly move to be close to my grandchildren, but I will have to see what my children want.
I do not want my choice of where to reside to be limited by my children’s desires, but I will do it. And, I have watched other familial relationships deteriorate. Overall, I strive to be my best version and that includes allowing my children to leave the nest and thrive, with or without my help.
Success and happiness are not guaranteed, nor are they linear. Though I know my wisdom as a mom could help my adult children, the helicopter is not currently in service. But they know I am always here if they need me.
About the Author:
Maria Leonard Olsen, is an author, attorney, TEDx speaker, podcaster and WPFW radio show host in Washington, D.C. Her latest book is 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. For more information about her work, see https://www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com/ and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.