Sharing my mourning journey as my family learns to live a new normal after the death of my 19 y.o. son in an auto accident on 10/12/08.

Helicopter parent: a mother or father that hovers over a child; an overprotective parent.

There are days when I try to change the events of October 12th, 2008 by turning myself into a helicopter parent. I wonder if hovering and being a parental GPS would have saved Jordan’s life. I know it’s useless. “What ifs,” at this point change nothing but I’m still haunted.

I found the writing below on Jordan’s laptop after he died. He gave me another purview into the world of parenting:

“My mother would tell me I had the soul of a poet. She would take my grade school musings, read from the crumpled pieces of yellow lined paper, and tell me how wonderful they were. Her unwavering praise for my puerile prose had the perhaps unintended side effect of imbuing me with an aura of unwarranted confidence.”

The words above are the beginning of a file, which he entitled, “Jordan’s musings.” The story goes on to talk of him bent over a commode as he vomits to the point of dry heaving as his friend chastises him for trying to drink a much larger, more experienced drinker under the table. The friend’s disgust stemmed from the fact that they’d come to the party with a group of girls and Jordan had ruined their chances for the night.

When I first read this story I sat with my hand over my mouth. Not because of the drinking, I knew Jordan was drinking while away at college. I’d told him to be careful. I told him of the history of alcoholism in our family. He always nodded, saying, “I know Mom,” uncomfortable with the conversation. But I persisted wanting to make sure that he knew I’d had a college experience as well and things hadn’t changed that much in 25 years.

My hand gripped my mouth because my son seemed to blame me for making him feel too special. Had I really gone too far in my praise and pride in my child? How much had I contributed to his air of invincibility?

When I was growing up my father’s biggest mandate to my sister and me was, “No matter what, you have to be able to take care of yourselves.” That one sentence meant being able to cook, do laundry, live independently and make choices that enhanced not hindered our lives. I say the same things to my children. Jordan starting doing his laundry at 14 and could cook simple meals before he went away to college. He ran errands, picked his sisters up from school and did his schoolwork without any prodding. He hated that he was the only one of his friends that had a curfew. My only response was, “Every family has their own rules. A curfew is one of ours.” He was a good boy, with good friends. Even though I know from looking at pictures on his cell phone that he experimented with alcohol and pot with his high school friends. I should have asked more questions. Why wasn’t I a helicopter parent?

The events of the weekend that Jordan died replay in my head with an on/off switch that I don’t control. I never know when an image will pop into my head or when I’ll think of what Jordan told me he was going to do that weekend, and what he really ended up doing. His plan was to go to New York, spend the first night with a friend from college who was taking a semester at Columbia, and then spend the rest of the weekend with his childhood friends one of whom attended NYU and another who had taken the train in from Boston. It wasn’t until Saturday when he texted me that he was on his way to Baltimore did I know the plan had changed.

Many months after he died, one of his friends from the car emailed me after much pleading on my behalf to please tell me about their weekend. He told me that they’d gone to Baltimore to go clubbing and attend a concert. The lure of a concert and hanging out with his older college friends pulled Jordan from a weekend that would have kept him safe. I didn’t try to stop him. I wanted to and even thought about telling him to take the bus back to NY and stick to the plan we’d agreed upon. But he was 19 away at college and Mark kept reminding me that we needed to let him make his own decisions. I finally relented hearing the words I’d spoken to Jordan before he went off to school. “I’m not going to be one of those helicopter moms, swooping in and tracking your every move. We’re raising you to be able to take care of yourself and that’s what I expect you to do.”

That’s what I thought was the right thing to do. Now I don’t know anymore. I wish I could find an article that would tell me if helicopter parents children survive in greater numbers than those of us who send our children out into the world hoping and praying that we’ve done right by them.

I’ve had so many arguments in my head with Jordan since he died. “Why didn’t you stay in NY? October 11th was one of your best friends birthdays. You were supposed to celebrate with him. Why did you choose partying with your college friends all 21 and legally able to go to clubs when you had to show your fake ID that I found amongst your things to get into the club?”

I always hear him say back, “But Ma it was a once in a lifetime concert. My friend got the tickets we all wanted to go.”

“How could you leave your friend, especially when it was his birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever understand that. I’m so disappointed that you made that choice. His birthday will never be the same because the next day is the day you died.”

I don’t think I was blind to Jordan’s shortcomings, he was impatient, at times selfish and quick to anger, and sometimes he didn’t think he just did. Jordan knew his shortcomings and was just entering adulthood in a way that we could start the conversations about triumphs and mistakes, both from me as his mother and from him as my son. I’m now left here working through the anger and disappointment that leap out of my grief, putting a chokehold on sorrow and replacing it with shame. Did I do right by my son? Could I have protected him from death? The prisms of grief have so many facets and can be blinding at times. Sorrow, lost, longing, anger, disappointment, shame and love. No matter what, there is never ending love for the boy who seemed to have a perspective on parenting that is now added to my rule book.

Jordan in his own way probably said it best further down in his, “musings”:

“Perhaps it’s a parent’s responsibility to be intensely optimistic when it comes to their children, their legacy. Its natural to hope that what’s left of you once you’re gone is a good representation. It’s even more natural to allow your hope for immortality through the greatness of your children to blind you to their shortcomings.”

Jordan didn’t get to be my legacy and that is the biggest shortcoming of this cautionary tale.

 

 

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Comments on: "Should I have been a helicopter parent?" (5)

  1. Second-guesses are so difficult. My suspicion is that, had you wanted to, you couldn’t have been a helicopter parent. And I’m certain that, had you managed it, Jordan wouldn’t have been nearly as insightful or independent or inspirational to so many people. You can’t undo what is done, but you can choose to have faith in the choices you make that come from your gut. Jordan was who he was because you let him blossom in a safe environment.

    Please don’t blame yourself. He was a lovely young man.

  2. Thank you for opening your (broken) heart to us. As you share your questions, fears, doubts, and anger I read, listen, think & learn. My heart aches for you as you struggle with grief & guilt.
    Being a parent is hard work; I, like you, take this task very seriously. We want the best for our children. This is why we would never be an overprotective parents. We are firmly committed to doing what is best for our children. Think of how distraught we would be if any of our children refused to get off the couch! We know that they need to be out there living.
    Jordan will live on in ways we may never know; he will be a source of influence & inspiration in ways that may be subtle or striking.

  3. Jackie, this post is heart-rending. I struggle all the time with these worries and thoughts, too. Am I too involved? Am I involved enough? How can I protect them? At almost 23 and almost 19, my girls are out of my reach in many ways, yet still so young and connected.

    Many, many people look at your model of parenting and know that for Jordan (and for Merrick and the girls) you are just the right parent, and so is Mark. I’m sorry that these thoughts haunt you. I wish I could help.
    Big hugs,
    Claire

  4. My heart goes out to you and your family, Jackie… I was recently in a small writers’ group, where 3 of the 8 women were grieving a child’s loss. The strength and courage that survivors bring to facing each day, let alone writing about and sharing such devastation, leaves me humbled. I’m glad to have found you over at SheWrites; thank you for sharing your link.

    Be well –
    T

  5. Dear Jackie,
    I don’t know you but I have been reading your blog today and have seen your guest posts on the NYTimes. You are an eloquent and passionate writer. My heart goes out to you and your entire family for this horrific loss. I just want you to know that I am a helicopter parent, but I don’t think it will protect my child. I just want you to know that. It sounds as if you are a fantastic mom with a great family. Our kids do things that don’t make sense. I live in fear of something happening to my kids, and I have a 22 year old who is now living on her own and a 19 year old in college. But what can we do? It seems almost hopeless to love our children as much as we do, but we have no choice. I pray every.single.day. just as I know you do that our children will be safe. And I wish I could make a pact with God. If I could, I would. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and words with us. You are honest and passionate.

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