Saturday, April 28, 2012

Helicopter Parent? That would be me.

So when I went to uni, in the early 80's (yes, I'm that old), my parents put me on a train and that was that. Bristol being 300 miles from Newcastle, with no convenient ring road round Birmingham at the time, it was a heck of a drive. The train was not much better as I often had to change at Birmingham New Street but at least they didn't have to trek along with me.

Not only did the Ball & Chain drive the 1,000 miles from Chicago to DC with the Queenager when she started, (schlepping her stuff) there's a Parents Weekend at most American colleges about a month after they start.  Look at most American college web sites, and there's a special page for parents. There'll also probably be a Parents Office, a Parents Committee or some such body devoted to keeping parents involved. (Bear in mind that American colleges rely very heavily on donations, and you begin to see why they want to keep parents "In the Loop.) Here's the page from Duke University, and here's Yale's Parent Gateway. From what I can gather, British parents aren't expected to be quite that involved.

I admit, I'm being a bit of a helicopter parent at the moment however. The Queenager gets kicked out of her dorm a few days after her finals, meaning that she has to either bring all her stuff back (like bedding, towels etc) or find somewhere to put it. As any former student knows, exam periods can be stressful and exhausting and there's not much time for anything else, including partying.

Enter StudentBoxes (dot com) - an enterprising company which recognised a desperate market when it saw one. They send you a few boxes, which you fill with your stuff, then they pick it up and store it for you till next semester. Trouble is, you have to register with them, figure out how many boxes you might need and their dimensions, book yourself a moving slot (making sure that you have time to pack the boxes before then), and ensure that you still have enough clothes and supplies for the summer.

Enter the parents. It just so happens that the Ball & Chain will be in DC the day before we think her last day is. (Unbelievably we're still not sure as some of the professors decide to assign final papers instead of sit-down exams). He'll be around to make sure that the stuff gets packed. (Let's face it, if it doesn't get packed and gets chucked out instead, I will be spitting feathers.) At this end, I will guestimate when the boxes can be ordered, stick a pin in a calendar to pick a moving date, and make the payment from this end.

I keep asking myself "What would my parents have done?" but the truth is, we had our accommodation lined up before the end of the previous academic year. The downside was that we had to pay for it all through the summer, but at least we could move our stuff straight into it, and not have to worry about storage options.

Not quite apples and apples, as they say over here.


  1. I think the "helicopter parenting" phenomenon is more of a generational than an American vs. British thing. Although I'm nowhere near as old as you, it's true that parents (likely on both sides of the pond) are more protective (in some cases overprotective) of their children than back when you were growing up (in fact your childhood came during a period when it was less protective).

    There are some sites/blogs, like in which some parents are starting to question the overprotection of 2000s-2010s parenting.

  2. I agree, I think it's a generational thing. Parents are much more involved in their children's education at every stage now than when we went to school.

    I think they also take a lot more to uni than we did!! We had to clear out of our halls every term as it was used a conference centre in the hols; we were allowed one box of stuff in the storage room. Amazingly, I stored that box and took the rest home on the train!

  3. Our generation (I left for Uni in the early 80s as well)is definitely expected to be more involved, although in my case, we can't be nearly as involved as we (or the Uni) would like, since we're in Korea and our son's in the U.S. He has the luxury (that I doubt your daughter does, given her location) of having a number of friends' parents within a short drive with plenty of space (Texas, you know) for him to store his car and his clobber until he returns to school in August. We do a lot of parenting-via-skype, but he will have to organize the packing and storage as well as getting himself to the airport at 4am before his 6am international flight. Let's hope he can find his passport...

  4. My first year of Uni (1992), near the end of the academic year, I advertised in the church newsletter where I had been attending for anyone able to store my stuff for the summer.
    I then arranged to stay with that family for a couple of weeks before the start of term the next year while I found a flat.
    I became good friends with the son while I was staying there. Five years later I married him. :)

  5. My stepfather kicked me out when I was 16 without any help or money - he actually demanded that I handed him the keys of my mother's house, so there was no going back. It was a very tough way to learn how to deal with life, and I don't plan on repeating any of this with my own kid(s), but at a certain point they need to take responsibility for their own lives. Maybe even make a few mistakes to learn.

    Ask me again in 14 years though...

  6. They do have a lot more stuff than we did.

    I'm guessing one reason why parents are more interested and involved in their kids' lives at college is because they are paying hugely more for it.

  7. kelly - Way to make me feel like a geriatric! LOL

    Woking Mum - I had a stereo with me and that thing was a nightmare to have to move around. Can't remember what happened to it but I probably just gave it to someone when I left uni.

    Ms C - wow, that's a long way! The Queenager flies all over by herself now, although last time she went back to college, her flight was canceled that morning and I admit we completely took over the arrangements. She ended up getting into her city at 1am and there was no transport to her dorm (40 miles away) so we had to order her a cab. Just couldn't leave her to find her way around at that time of night.

    Claudia - Great idea and what a fab story!!

    Metro Mum - Awww, what a sad story. I know someone else that happened to and she still lets her kids come back whenever they want to. They're in their 20's now but she swears she'll never do that to her own kids.

    Iota - very true. I vacillate between letting them make their own mistakes and thinking about how much we're spending of their education.

  8. Everything is so complicated today.
    When I was young, only the brightest of bright went on to Uni. That seems weird by today's standards but it was the norm then.
    (I wasn't one of them!)
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  9. I was an exchange student (in New Canaan, USA) for a year when I was 17 so I know kids can cope with a lot, but not everything. I do think parents are very very involved here in the US...I prefer the English way.

  10. Maggie - I remember when I was at uni, it was only "the top 2%" who went. My husband always thinks it's funny that I know friends of friends through the university system, but we weren't really talking about a lot of people at that time.
    In the US, kids go to college and university for things that in the UK, at least in the past, you wouldn't be able to study at a uni.

  11. I remember my mum and dad taking me up and down to University at the beginning and end of each year. Can't remember if they did it for each term. Surely not? I think we had storage facilities in college so most of my stuff would go in a trunk each year. But apart from that, they had no involvement in what I was doing there, and quite right too.


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