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Lisa Belkin Headshot

A Most 'Intense' Helicopter Mom

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I often say that I have never actually met a helicopter parent. At least not one who describes themself that way. Everyone KNOWS a helicopter parent -- one who hovers and intrudes and smothers -- but they are always someone ELSE.

I can't say that anymore.

Meet Lorraine Duffy Merkl, whose essay here on HuffPost Parents starts with Merkl, a Manhattan mother of two, embracing the title. She sometimes provides her own sound effects, she writes, like the "whirring noise of rapidly spinning propellers." When one of her son's teachers describes her as "intense," she takes that as an accolade. " 'Intense' is how I get things done," she writes.

And Merkl certainly gets things done:

I am always the first mommy on line signing up for some class, getting Luke the books he needs. I have woken up at the pre-wee hours to stand on line for a Miley Cyrus book signing at Barnes & Noble and Justin Bieber tickets at Macy's. Whatever. My intensity has served them well up to now. For what some might deem "the least little thing" I am calling or emailing a teacher or administrator to make sure neither of them is being short-changed.

We often reveal more about ourselves than we intend when we write. And while Merkl's piece is about how she understands it's time to pull up on the stick, her words make clear of just how extreme a case she is.

Take her 17-year-old son's job search this summer. Luke applied for a position at a local tech store, and when he hadn't heard back within three days, Merkl made a follow-up phone call to the hiring manager. The result was an interview, which Luke apparently attended without his mother, although he seems to have provided her email address as his contact because she was the one who told him the news a few days later.

"We got an email about the internship," she said.

"Did I get it?"

"No."

Luke took the disappointment with equanimity. His mother, however, "wanted to die" and "started crying." Nowhere in her piece, though, does it seem to occur to her that recruiters tend not to hire candidates who make their moms part of the process.

Lorraine, I feel your pain. I have long believed that the criticism of parents who are more than a little involved in their children's lives is unfair. After all, we uberparents didn't pop up in a vacuum. Helicoptering grew from a context -- a world where our children seem to need us more, to keep them safe, and shepherd them to activities and help them navigate a more complex landscape. We expect this of ourselves, and others expect it from us -- as seen by how quick we are to jump on any parent who doesn't watch and protect and facilitate.

Then, one day, it is expected that we stop. Cold turkey. This happens on a day when our child turns 18. Or applies to college. Or looks for his first job,

Lorraine, in your essay you agree that it is past time to let go (of Luke, at least; you seem pleased to have four more years in which to pilot your daughter).

Yes, it is time. And I'd like to ask a favor. Would you write periodically about how it goes during the coming year? As a rare self-identifying example of the species Pareantus Helicopterus, you have so much to offer the rest of us about how to disengage, and cut our engines, and a cautionary tale about why not to get in this deep in the first place.