Work/Life Balance

Prof Links Professionals’ Helicopter Parenting to Failed Marriages, Forgone Friendships

  • Print

Professional, middle class workers are more likely to be hyper-involved, hovering “helicopter” parents, and the children aren’t the only ones suffering the negative effects, a sociology professor suggests.

Parenting styles in the United States are “starkly divided by class,” Middlebury College professor Margaret Nelson writes in the Washington Post. Professionals are more involved parents, the type who might watch and discuss TV programs with their children, Nelson says. Those with less education and lower professional status are more likely to instead impose nonnegotiable limits on their children’s behavior by, for example, blocking certain channels.

One study has suggested that college freshmen with helicopter parents are more likely to be more dependent and neurotic and less open. But Nelson says that after conducting her own interviews with nearly 100 parents, she is more worried about the mothers. She notes that the amount of time mothers spend on child care is rising, especially so for highly educated mothers. The result, she says, is that “personal relationships seem to be the first thing to go.”

She cites a study by Robin Fretwell Wilson of the Washington and Lee University School of Law that found women with law or medical degrees are more likely to divorce or separate than their male counterparts.

Nelson also cites research by sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie that found adults spent less time with their spouses in 2000 than in 1975, and less time with friends in 2000 than they did in 1965.

“Many of the helicopter mothers I’ve spoken to have told me, often with pride in their voices, that their daughters are their best friends,” Nelson writes. “At first, I wondered why these women—some of them in their late 40s or 50s—wouldn’t prefer to spend their free time with people their own age. But as I looked more closely at the way they are tackling parenthood, I understood: They have no free time.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.