It’s called growing up


Been standing on my own two feet for a long, long time


By Caitlin Kelly

I read this story and wanted to weep….at how crazy this is:

Bribing SAT proctors. Fabricating students’ athletic credentials. Paying off college officials. The actions that some wealthy [American] parents were charged with Tuesday — to secure their children a spot at elite colleges — are illegal and scandalous. But they’re part of a broader pattern, albeit on the extreme end of the continuum: parents’ willingness to do anything it takes to help their grown children succeed.

As college has become more competitive and young adults’ economic prospects less assured, parents have begun spending much more time and money on their children — including well after they turn 18. Modern parenting typically remains hands-on, and gets more expensive, when children become young adults, according to a new survey by Morning Consult for The New York Times.

A significant share of parents, across income levels, say they’re involved in their adult children’s daily lives. That includes making doctor’s appointments, reminding them of school and other deadlines, and offering advice on romantic life, found the survey, which was of a nationally representative sample of 1,508 people ages 18 to 28 and 1,136 parents of people that age. More than half of parents give their adult children some form of monthly financial assistance.


I often wonder how I might have turned out if this sort of behavior was normal in my life.

Here’s my college experience:

— Lived at home in Toronto with father and his girlfriend, 13 years my senior, for my freshman year. No additional responsibilities, got terrific grades.

— In November of sophomore year, father announces I need to move out and find a place to live as they are selling the house to live on a boat in the Mediterranean. This is many decades before email or cellphones.

— I get $350 a month from my grandmother to live on. This pays my rent on a studio apartment ($160/month, terrible neighborhood), tuition ($660/year), food, phone and answering service, books. Everything, basically. The monthly income from my maternal grandmother wasn’t enough so I started freelancing at the age of 19 to supplement it.

— My mother was traveling the world alone for years, also far far away. I saw her maybe once a year when she flew me to wherever she was. Sort of fun, mostly weird.

— During my university years, I lived alone, was attacked in my apartment while taking a bath, moved, moved again, suffered some health issues, started writing for national magazines. And attended and graduated from the most demanding  and least nurturing (53,000 students) school in Canada.

— In those three years, I had no relatives to check in on me. Just friends. That established a lifelong pattern for me; friends as family.


So, you know, this kind of intense parenting strikes me as completely nuts.


The only reason I was able to get people twice my age to give me ongoing well-paid assignments was being responsible, meeting deadlines, delivering excellence. Was I mature enough to handle all this alone? Well, I had to be. I had no choice.

The New York Times quotes a survey finding that 74 percent of American parents are making medical appointments for their college-age children, the same percentage reminding them not to miss deadlines for tests and classwork.

I mostly loved my independence in those years. I dated all the wrong boys, made some great friendships, wrote a lot for our weekly student newspaper, led a student exchange with UNC-Chapel Hill that was life-changingly great. Jump-started my career.

Neither parent attended my graduation.


What do you think of this relentless parenting?


Do you do it?


Have you experienced it?

24 thoughts on “It’s called growing up

  1. Very honestly, your experience was neglectful. But making medical appointments or reminding your college-aged offspring of aasignments is intrusive and reflects an unwillingness to allow them to experience the joy of independence. Parents of this age group are probably my age. I get the sense we turned out to be brittle, fragile people, unable to cope with life’s normal ups and downs and the result is a lot of controlling behaviour, which looks like pampering but isn’t for the well-being of our children. It’s for our comfort. I think the generational shift may have come from too-lenient parents (after all, we are the baby boomers’ children) and their unwillingness to step up and be appropriately authoritative made us very anxious. Baby boomers also emphasised self-fulfllment and self-expression over self-control or helping others., which left us to fend for ourselves more than perhaps other generations: high expectations but little guidance made for anxiety. So I wonder if a very hands-off parenting style similar to what you experienced led to a generation of kids who grew up to be parents unable to cope with the potential of their children to struggle or fail.

    1. Great points all…thanks!

      Yes, years of therapy have made much clearer to me that this was really neglectful and caused me a lot of un-needed stress. Was I ready to handle all of that at 19? Not really, in some ways, as who is?

      I didn’t want my parents to be more authoritative but I could have used financial help and some guidance.

      The hardest part for me was going through some really tough stuff (like the guy who attacked me) and just having to keep going on my own…I had a bunch of magazine assignments at that time and took some meds to handle my anxiety and get it done.

      I never wanted kids (for a variety of reasons) so don’t know what I would have been like as a parent. I do set really high standards and am not wildly appreciative of slackers…if I had slacked off, who knows what might have happened to me?

      So now I am much more relaxed and feel much more secure (thank heaven for a very loving and protective husband.)

      And much happier! 🙂

  2. Steve

    i really don’t want to come across as this all knowing super parent because believe me I made my share of mistakes raising my sons.My wife and I were blessed with five sons to raise and i really feel that the main reason that my sons all grew up to be responsible men is because my wife was able to be a stay at home mom. When all the boys friends were going on all these fancy expensive vacations we went camping and spent time with one another. My boys were always involved in athletics, some at a high completion level and we always went as a family. My kids were never “given” anything. they were taught from a young age that everything has a cost. If you really want something it was expected for you to work for it. I never bought one a car or paid for their insurance although I did teach them how to fix their own vehicles and houses 9one of the perks of being a contractor, not always a good thing). My youngest son will graduate with his masters in Finance this spring with NO debt with a 4.2 GPA. He graduated his undergrad with no debt and saved his money to be able to take a year off and do that. Parents need to spend more time training their children to be functional adults that take their adult responsibilities seriously. We used to that as a society, now not so much, its become more me, me, me and what can everybody do for me not what can I do for someone else. Trying begins at birth not when your child turns 20.

    Sorry to have missed you on your journey south to PA. I am in Chester County about 30 miles NW of Philadelphia. I still owe you a beer. My one son just took a job in NYC starting sometime this summer so maybe you can buy me one up there.

    1. Thanks for this!

      I am utterly in awe of anyone with 5 children — let alone 5 boys! I have no doubt you’ve raised them well, and having a Dad who’s hands-on is huge.

      There was a study done in the 1970s of successful corporate women and I was intrigued to see that all of them said they had had very involved Dads when they were teenagers. Being encouraged to be athletic and smart (not passive and pretty) gave me (and them) a lot of self-confidence. I was SO lucky to never be told “be pretty” or “get married” but be SMART!

      I could have used more guidance, obviously, but I am also one of the most frugal and resilient people I know — and that early independence certainly drummed it into me. I have never ever understood students who drink and drug and party their way through college…what a waste!

      Yes, that beer is going to happen! We never did get to PA because there was a snowstorm, so we still might head down as well…

      1. Steve

        If you’re going to be in the Carlisle area give a day or so heads up and I can probably meet you. Thats about two hours from me but I have relatives in the area. My Dad was born and raised in Hershey. Snow? I thought you were Canadian? We don’t get “snow” here. LOL

    2. Dude, I want to like this about six times. My dad was nothing like you. He told me it was all up to me and it was, true enough, but a little help with my algebra wouldn’t have hurt. But hey, credit where it’s due: Every time I crashed and burned during the launch sequence I always had a place to land and get my feet back under me, and that was because of him.

      1. Lucky you!

        I really had to figure it out on my own. I did OK, obviously, but my GPA is a nightmare. I just couldn’t do all of it well at the same time. I know people do and have no idea how!

        Having to manage my own money to the penny — with no one to fall back on — certainly taught me how to squeeze a buck.

        After my father remarried (which happens a lot), she wanted all of him. She got him. With my mother so far away (and we hadn’t lived together since I was 14 anyway)…it was me and good friends and some kind editors.

        Jose was also pretty independent at that age as well. But thank heaven he is so protective of me now. I had a meltdown this afternoon and called him in the middle of a crazy workday in Florida and cried. I never had that luxury before.

      2. Sorry about the meltdown, hope you feel better.
        You’re right, I am pretty lucky, but I’ve never made a secret of it. As far as fatherly devotion goes, I kind of got the minimum, but there are definitely those who have had far less.
        Anyway, thanks for yet another fine post that is generating some articulate, thoughtful responses.

      3. Thanks….

        It’s been a week. I had an interview for a job last week (crickets since); another this morning (for one I really would like), more medical stuff ahead (colonoscopy, BC PT)…desperate for a month, even without one single visit to an MD. Just really missing Jose!

        Yes, I really appreciate the conversations here. It means a lot to me.

  3. My parents were involved with my life in college, but only to a certain extent. My dad sent me money every month to help with expenses, and they drove me to places when I really needed it and the bus wasn’t an option (only got my license last summer). My mom was the main parent who helped me learn to drive, and we still go grocery shopping once a week together, although I pick her up and drop her off instead of the other way around.
    But other than that, it never got super weird. I’ve read articles about this, and some of the stories I’ve heard are terrifying in a way I don’t normally write about: parents sitting in or listening in on adult children’s interviews, faking college admissions and essays. I think they’re going to severely hobble their kids going forward. These kids are either going to be very unsure of themselves or super spoiled, and won’t have any idea what to do when they have to be responsible for themselves.
    By the way, I talked to my mom once about these sorts of “helicopter” and “lawn mower” parents, and she said that sort of behavior made her want to barf. She couldn’t imagine doing all that for us. She just wanted to make sure we could get by in the world once we reached a certain age (and she thinks she’s been successful for the most part on that).

    1. I had the misfortune of teaching a very bad example of one of these students…UGH….

      Yeah, my parents didn’t teach me much — refused to teach me how to drive (I finally took lessons when I was 30), or cook or how to manage money. It wasn’t amusing but I did figure stuff out pretty quickly and often ahead of my peers.

      I sometimes wonder they they even had kids…:-)

      1. I’m not touching that one.

        All I can say is, there are still parents out there that are trying to make sure their kids are self-sufficient. Mine are among them. And hopefully they’ll be of the majority before the world turns into an apocalyptic wasteland (which I consider a real possibility).

  4. Jan

    Caitlin, thanks for yet another thought-provoking post. And I always enjoy reading the contributions of your great community of followers. I was not coddled by my parents. I was encouraged to be independent. In college, due to my mother’s divorce, she didn’t have much bandwidth to provide guidance for me. I certainly could have used more guidance, but I don’t hold it against her.
    I watched with alarm my now-ex boyfriend’s coddling of his young adult children. It substantially worsened his existing financial problems, which has everything to do with why we’re no longer together. The parents in this college admissions cheating scandal are millionaires so they won’t be going hungry when they’re 70. But that was my fear for our relationship.
    It’s amazing that these parents don’t see how they’re hurting their kids. The star athletes who arrive at college completely unable to do the sport that was the basis for their admission. Just, wow. How humiliating that could be for the student.
    In my ex-boyfriend’s case, he spent years neutralizing most of his kids’ motivation to learn to do for themselves, and I suspect it has harmed them. We hear about the difficulty millennials are having, finding a real job (in this gig economy) that has health benefits, and the crushing weight of college loans. It can be daunting even for a motivated young person. But if you’re accustomed to your dad doing almost everything for you except chewing your food, these young adults will have a very tough time of it indeed. I was amazed that my ex didn’t realize that he was likely harming his kids more than helping them. He’s solidly middle class and he will not be able to bail them out forever, unlike the wealthy, privileged families we’re reading about in the news. It is so unfair to these kids.

    1. I simply don’t get parents who bail out adult kids — unless there’s a true emergency. I had a big fight with my father when I finally (this year for the 1st time in my life) asked for financial help (he offered it first) and was told this was not an emergency — cancer?! I got some $, but it was too much of a battle for it for my taste.

      Jose’s parents died when he was in his 20s so he has been on his own for a long time and was never bailed out as there was no money with which to do it anyway. I inherited some $ from my maternal grandmother when I was 25, and invested most of it in the apartment I still live in. So I was very lucky in that regard but there were times i was quite worried about my income and was told, point blank by my step-mother, just cash in your retirement savings. It was clear that no one would ever help me financially or even advise me — my mother (who inherited more) said “It’s your money. figure it out.” So I did.

      So far, 2019 has started as a very very busy year for both Jose and I — to the point we’re now even turning away more work because we don’t have any more time. We are good at what we do, but we also know that NO ONE IS COMING to rescue us from any lousy decisions we make, nor laziness or even just bad luck. Unless you are seriously mentally and/or physically impaired, many adults are quite able to fend for themselves and — as you can tell — we take a lot of pride in our self-reliance. We have been very fortunate to get an inheritance (mine) and the NYT buyout money (his) but we still have to make smart decisions about every penny of it.

      You cannot know what you’re capable of until you try.

  5. it makes me crazy on so many levels. like you, i stood on my own quite early and i taught my daughters to learn to live in the world in a very realistic and independent way. i was, and continue to be, very present in their lives, and they know they can always come to me, for questions, advice, support, but they also know they have to carry their own weight in the world. how are the children of the helicopter parents ever gong to learn to fly?

  6. Here’s what I can say – I have to hire some of these snowflake millenials and am busy sorting through them, trying to find those who haven’t been raised to be so arrogant and delicate. It’s a serious, serious problem. They are barely employable and the unis are making money off them (really, their parents). They are being churned out by, at best, mediocre instutions who have told them that they are special. They are nothing of the sort. Poorly educated, self-centered and completely unselfaware. It’s basically a sort of abuse, imho.

    Excellent post.

    1. Poor you!

      This is a real challenge. I don’t believe in being unkind, but I’ve run into a few of these snowflakes and it was difficult for both of us because of a mis-match of expectations — I don’t dole out lavish praise for what I consider basic competence.

      I have worked with a few, but never in a managerial capacity, and know that would be tough if they couldn’t buck up and get ON with things.

      I do think this is where — oddly, perhaps — Jose and I (being over 50) — actually have an advantage now. We work our asses off, expect no praise (delighted to have it! VERY rare in journalism) and never miss a deadline. We don’t need to be “managed”. And we are busier than ever.

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