Parenting from the sidelines

When my daughter was young, she loved amusement parks. She had no problems getting up before the crack of dawn and going to the park to be first in line and making her way to the scariest rides, where she’d beg my wife and I to ride with her. I love roller coasters too, so I was excited to oblige her passion.

When she was 11 or 12, we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The big new ride at the time was Expedition Everest, a steel roller coaster themed around a runaway train traveling through the Himalayas that comes across the Yeti. As planned, we made our way to the ride, but the line spiraled out in front of us and looked to be an hour to two hour wait.

Waiting in line

Besides my wife and I, we had our two sons. They were still young and wanted no parts of the Yeti. We decided to come back later in the day. Of course, we spent the day running from exhibit to exhibit. At one point, it looked like we were going to have to skip the ride altogether.

I was devastated. My daughter was looking forward to the ride. In one last ditch effort, my wife and I decided to split up, she’d take our sons to grab some ice cream, I would take my daughter to check on the length of the line for the Yeti.

My luck on these sort of things runs 50-50 at best, but on this day, I must have been the fortunate one. I’m not sure how it happened, but we timed the ride perfectly. The ride had been closed and when it reopened there was next to no line. We walked right onto the ride with minimal waiting time.

Of course, the ride was just what she expected and then some. When we walked out, I noticed that the line had barely started collecting people. I looked at her with a “wanna go again” look, but quickly added that she couldn’t tell mom we rode twice, because we were supposed to join up again right away.

“Do you even have to ask Dad?”

Life as a father has lots of ups and downs. Your kids come to you all the the time asking you fix things, to make things right. Sometimes you can help, sometimes you can’t. In this one instance, I was able to step in and make a little girl extremely happy.

No swooping

Times have certainly changed. When your kids get older, it becomes tougher to swoop in and make things right. You’re not always able. I’m not sure how it is for others, but I know that I haven’t always been able to fix things or make them perfect.

First, I never wanted to be a helicopter parent. You know the type, the parent who hovers over their kids and is hyper-involved in their children’s lives and experiences. I’ve always wanted my kids to live their own lives.

Secondly, I’ve learned that letting go can be challenging, but interesting in its own right. I’ve gotten a kick out of watching to see what solutions they come up with to their problems. The solutions aren’t always the choice I would choose, but they work and they’re interesting none the less.

Can you hear me now

For example, my youngest son’s phone stopped working recently. The phone had gotten wet and wouldn’t turn on, it would get stuck on the opening screen. I fully expected my son to get annoyed, maybe even complain a little, and want to immediately replace the phone. If I were a betting man, I would’ve bet money that he was going to get on Apple’s site the same night and order a new phone.

Instead, my son took the phone to his college’s IT help desk and, when they couldn’t fix it, he took it to a phone tech support center. In the middle of all that, the phone started working fine on its own.

Now his phone is starting to show its age and we need to come up with a longer term solution, but it was neat to see him try to handle his problem like an adult — without a lot of help from me.

So, I’m left with one simple question: When did this kid get so wise and when did he become an adult?

35 thoughts on “Parenting from the sidelines

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    1. It’s really strange. We’re definitely entering a new phase (i.e. being empty nesters; not everyone being able to come home for the holidays; the kids having grown up challenges.) I’m happy for them, but still strange to experience. I thought I just blinked. Ha, ha!

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  1. It’s funny because I come across as a helicopter because I do know a lot about my daughters life, but in reality I’m really good at letting her figure stuff out

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    1. I don’t know … maybe I’m misunderstanding what it means to be a helicopter parent, but I think of that LA as being a good listener. We do the same with our kids. Ill ask my daughter about her friends or how they’re doing. I’ve never met most of them, but if she mentions them I make sure to make a note and ask about them in the future. To me that’s being a good listener and being there for my children. I try to think back to what I wanted at that age. I wanted an advisor, someone to pitch ideas too.

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      1. Helicopter typically means not only knowing what they’re doing, but guiding, directing and doing. I’ll give you an example. My friends son is 24, is in graduate school, and lives with a roommate. There lease is up august 2023. My friend called the roommates mother to ask what the daughters plans are in august 2023….the son didn’t ask her to do it. She just did it. That’s a helicopter mom

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  2. Lovely post, Brian – it hits a bunch of notes of recognition! I agree – one of the hardest things in the world for me, as a parent, is knowing when NOT to lean in too much. Loved the roller coaster story and the tale of your son’s phone. Good stuff! 😊

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    1. You know the feeling then Victoria. It’s such a strange spot to be in. They’re adults, but they’re still kids too. My oldest son is in the Marines and has to deal with crazy real world problems, but then he comes home for a week and wants his mom’s favorite chicken dish or gives me a hard time because I forgot where I put my keys. The same with the other two. I wonder how they grew up so quickly! With the youngest, we still lean in the strongest. The other two are older and I try to listen and just be there when they need me. I’ll figure it out … someday.

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  3. You wouldn’t have got me on that Yeti ride, Brian! I’d have been terrified and, no doubt got off with a green complexion. It sounds like you and your daughter had fun, which was great.

    I don’t know how old your children are now, but I can totally identify with your feelings about them becoming independent and capable adults. My children now have their own children, and it’s interesting to see how they handle parenthood and their lives as independent adults. Sometimes, as a mother, I want to intervene but know that it’s not totally my business anymore, and I’ve learned to trust their mostly wise decisions. Having both children and grandchildren does make one wonder where on Earth the time has gone. Scary sometimes.

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  4. When my daughter was a freshman in college, she would call me up with problems. I would suggest solutions. Finally she told me she wasn’t asking for my advice, she was venting. Up until that time, I wanted to make everything perfect for them. I guess it’s better late than never to let go.

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    1. Oh I can relate. My brain automatically switches into problem solving mode. Fortunately, I had some practice … my wife is a teacher and I used to want to know why she wasn’t acting on my great ideas. She broke out laughing at me one time …. “Don’t you know, I just need you to listen.” Ha, ha, I learned my lesson.

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      1. You are welcome Brian. My daughter shared with me recently how she didn’t realize until now how vital her upbringing was to assist in maneuvering her adult world. It is super nice when they call just to chat! 🙏

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      2. That’s gotta feel good. I have a story similar to that, that I’m working on. We visited our youngest in college a few weeks ago. It was great hearing him talk. He joked about how he was doing and said that it was easier to pass up certain things and to focus on his studies because of the way we brought him up. Now I’m sure he said that to make us feel good but it was still nice to hear.

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    1. Thanks Wynne. You’ve got this! I can tell from your blogs, you’re so much wiser than I was!!! I was winging it in the early years. Heck, I still am. You know what to do: be in the present, enjoy it while it lasts, stay young at heart, love them through thick and thin! You’ve got this!

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  5. Great blog post here Brian. A very entertaining post and you are an amazing story teller and I bet you are an amazing parent to your kids as well. Keep it up and I also would love to the type of parent who is not a helicopter 😂 but one who allows the kids as they grow older to live their own lives and experience the world but be there to advise them. What a great story, I was visualizing this as I read this blog seeing the kids and the parents👏👏🔥

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    1. I’m sorry I should have explained better. A helicopter parent is a term used to describe “a parent who pays excessive close attention to a child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. Helicopter parents are so named because, like helicopters, they “hover overhead”, overseeing every aspect of their child’s life constantly.” (Wikipedia). I’ve used the term to reference parents who step over the normal parent-child relationship and take on too much responsibility especially for older children. For example, I have a son in college. If he were to come home with a bad grade, a “helicopter parent” might reach out to the professor for an explanation. In reality, my son is now an adult and really should be tackling those responsibilities on his own. I hope that helps. Thanks for reading.

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