Helicopter Moms

Last week, I received a message on Facebook from a mom in my neighborhood. She wanted career advice for her son. He is a millennial. She is a baby boomer.

You already know this is trouble.

  • The mom is a stereotypical helicopter mom. Very loving. Big heart. Fiercely protective of her adult son.
  • The son is a super human being with lots of potential. He doesn’t have a college degree.

Would you give this mom career advice for her son?

There are few times in life where you can make a real difference. I wanted to be honest. So I took a deep breath and said that the mom is personifying the stereotype of a helicopter parent. Yes, the job market is tough for people without a college degree; however, her efforts probably won’t improve her son’s success rate.

I suggested that she share her own stories from the turbulent job market of the 1970s. What lessons did she learn? What stories might be helpful? My parents taught me that no job is too small and no job pays too little. They taught me perseverance and resiliency. I suggested that a temp agency might be a good resource, too. The economy is changing and many administrative jobs are permanent-temporary jobs.

Those aren’t great answers, but this isn’t a great situation.

I also told her to  have her son reach out to me. The kid knows me, and honestly, I wasn’t comfortable talking to her about his life. He is an adult. Did he co-sign on this conversation?

Well, this mom lost her shit on me.

I won’t take you through the gory details. The suburbs are rough, yo, and maybe I am a self-righteous jerk. But I am also experienced in the art of parental freak-outs. My siblings are millennials, neither one has a college degree, and they turned out okay. Sometimes you give your kids everything–good genes, a college education, great opportunities–and things don’t work out. It is frustrating as hell and feels unfair.

But at some point, my dear helicopter parents, your children’s problems are no longer your problems. If you raise your kids properly–and teach them to be loving and empathetic–they might consider your feelings and not pull you into their drama in the first place.

Anyway, I am not worried about this young man, which is why I responded so honestly. But now I am worried about the mother. When your own identity is heavily invested in someone else’s outcome–and when you validate yourself through your children–you will never be happy.

After 26 years of raising kids, this mom deserves an opportunity to focus on her own life. I hope she gets that chance.

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Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.


  1. kd says:

    Hey LFR –

    My advice would be for him to go get a degree, and then find an absolute sweat shop to go toil in in his chosen field. Working a boiler room in whatever career he wanted (like he knows, right? I know…) is the best way to figure out what you want to be. Of course, working in a information age sweat shop hell hole is hard for the heli-mom to accept, right?


  2. LFR says:

    I’m not sure the mom will ever be happy. Some people really project a lot of stuff on their kids. When the kids can’t meet expectations, the parents have a meltdown.

    I have learned that the most loaded statement a suburban parent can ever say to their kids is, “I just want you to be happy.”

    • Kentropic says:

      SO true about that psycho-suburban baggage: “I *just* want you to be happy” — as if it’s such a small. easily-attained state of being, or as though there are no unacknowledged motives. Happiness is overrated, anyway, especially the way we tend to imagine it in this culture.

  3. T says:

    LFR –

    Since I hire a fair number of 26ish-somethings, here is my advice to Mom. He’s twenty freaking six years old! What the hell has he been doing for the last 8 years? Kick his butt out, force him to survive. In eight years he could have had his master’s, or if he was academically inclined, already been through any number of apprenticeship programs and making a great wage, or be the top sales person selling cell phones, a great manager for a restaurant company, or retail.

    Being an employer, in a high unemployment environment, I can tell you there is still one very hard to find skill out there – people who actually want to work hard! She is doing this kid a disservice.


  4. LFR says:

    I tried to put myself in this mom’s shoes. I would do everything I could to alleviate my son’s struggle, too. But at some point, how do you know if you are helping or enabling?

    I guess that’s parenthood.

    And is her perception of his situation even accurate? Maybe the dude is fine and has a plan. Maybe he is willing to struggle and do things his way to prove a larger point. Maybe he sees a path for himself and is working on that path behind the scenes. Who knows?

    He is a great kid. Like I said before, I am not worried about him. He will be fine!

  5. RogerTheGeek says:

    He’s already too old and not educated enough for the Marines. I suggest welding school at Wake Tech. He obviously isn’t motivated enough to do college. Plus, Mom’s a nut. My guess is that he’s an only child.

  6. LFR says:

    Hey, Roger. College isn’t for everyone. I think he will figure something out. And he is not an only child, actually.

    I wouldn’t say the mom is a nut. That’s harsh. I think the mom is probably upset because she envisioned a different life for her son, much in the same way our parents probably had different hopes and dreams for us. That breaks my heart. And much in the way we couldn’t deliver democracy to Afghanistan or Iraq, nobody is going to find this kid a job. He’ll find it himself.

    I hope people read this article and focus on their families and their relationships — and think about the pressures they put on their kids — instead of casting too many dispersions on this mom.

  7. sean says:

    Almost to a fault, I patently refuse any request from a parent to help aide or advise a child that the child is capable of doing solo. From girl scout cookies to career guidance/advice (as a former professional athlete), my initial response is, “have them get at me…” its tough in the burbs for sure, you want my unsolicited advice or fundraising dollars, its a grind… And if the parents aren’t going to tech them anything, well then Ive got nothing for either of you.

  8. LFR says:

    Sean, that is good advice. I’ve learned my lesson.

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