Your Purposeless Life – The Sequel

Your Purposeless Life – The Sequel

We know who we are – the Helicopter Parents everyone makes fun of – always suspended in mid-air above our kids, ready to parachute in to deal with any problem. And if you’ve recently sent your beloved charge off to college you’re probably feeling, mixed in with the pride, a real sense of loss. Because after you’ve unpacked his dorm room, approved his roommates, given instructions to the resident advisor about his curfew and lactose intolerance, you had no choice but to come home feeling that your purpose for existing has disappeared. Let’s see if we can cheer you up. First, let’s challenge the idea that your child’s absence has left your life bereft of purpose and meaning.

I’m going to ask you to think about what, exactly, did this purposeful life with your child consist of? Not allowed to hearken back to the days when your toddler peered out with mistrust at the rest of the world from between your calves. Fast forward past applauding performances at school plays and box lunches with touching little notes tucked inside sandwich wrappers to focus on more recent interactions with your child. How often did your teenager start a conversation with a question along these lines: “Dad/mom, what was it like for you growing up? I mean, how did you handle the combined pressures of school and social life? Maybe I could gain some valuable insights from your experiences.”

Admit it – ever since seventh grade all your guidance and good advice has been summarily scorned unless it happened to be firmly attached to a wad of cash or a set of car keys. So was it the occasional grunt or nod coming from the general direction of your sullen spawn that gave your life purpose and meaning over the last five years? Really? Well, in that case the good news is that nothing’s changed – for some time since, your life already lacked any significant purpose. So welcome to the sequel – Your Purposeless Life Part II. Feels a lot like the first movie, doesn’t it?

Still, there’s no reason to be defeatist. You just need to understand how to operate your helicopter in this new terrain. But let me warn you against seeking guidance in self-help books like: I’ll Miss You Too – An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students; Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money or the classic, Letting Go, now in its fifth edition. The titles tell you everything you need to know. These books are designed to ease parents through the separation process and encourage their children to become self-sufficient young adults. Are you getting this? A successful transition to young adulthood, the creation of a self separate and apart from one’s family, healthy transitions to independence – these are all code for “We don’t need you anymore.”

The disconcerting thing about these strategies is that if you follow them you will succeed in raising offspring who will be strong and independent enough to spread their wings and fly away, leaving you – you guessed it- back at the nest. And contrary to popular belief, it’s often not an empty nest; it’s one you’re likely to share with a strange middle-aged bird who is, as applicable, either balding or menopausal, (or possibly both) and in any event, grouchy. Thriving independence may be well and good for our kids, but what about us, the ones left behind? Not much of a payback for all those years of dedication, sacrifice and, of course, hovering.

Which is why it is imperative to plant the seeds of self-doubt early enough so that by the time your child is college-age, he will be paralyzed by the thought of making an important decision without you. And if you did not have the foresight to plant those seeds years ago there are still many things you can do to keep your little bird tethered to the nest, i.e., to “clip his wings” even after he’s flown the coop.

It’s a given that you’re aware of the communication and surveillance equipment at your disposal – that cordless umbilical cord, the cellphone, and video chat, the delightful innovation that allows you to speak to your student live while viewing him in his new habitat and checking up on the state of his personal hygiene. But here’s a few more tools to help you work the remote control:

Golden handcuffs –

These have worked well in the corporate world and will keep your child dependent on you for years to come. Deposits into her personal account should be made weekly, or even daily, conditioned upon regular communication or any other item on your agenda at the moment.

Joint decision-making –

All major decisions affecting your student should be made jointly, by which I mean by you and your spouse. Of course, if you really feel the need, you should consult with your child but decisions like which classes to take, what area to major in, whom to date, and which fraternity/sorority to join are just too critical to leave to the partly formed, beer-marinated brain of an eighteen year old.

Get to know the teachers –

It’s the only way to be sure you can undermine their relationship with your student. Keep in mind that you want your child to believe her parents are the only adults she can trust.

Find a local landing pad for the helicopter –

If you have the financial resources, rent or buy an apartment near campus so you can drop by unannounced. This will keep your student in a state of constant anxiety and limit her ability to develop undesirable dependencies outside of the family such as drugs, alcohol, or lasting friendships.

But even if these tactics fail, based on a recent survey of 1,200 college graduates conducted by, 71% expect to be living with their parents for some time after graduation. Which means, odds are they’ll be back whatever you do but, then again, why take a chance.

Article and Illustration by Alisa Singer, Humorist and author

Alisa Singer’s humorous essays have appeared in a variety of print and online newspapers and magazines across the country and in Canada.

She is the author of various gift books designed to entertain and amuse baby boomers. You can learn more about her work and purchase her books by visiting her website: or contacting her at