Admittedly, there are parents who enjoy building their whole lives around drama practice and the lacrosse schedule. But for most, all this helicoptering is sucking the fun out of family life, says Peter N. Stearns, PhD, provost at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. "We see parents getting worked up and truly anxious about day-to-day problems their college-freshman child is going through, and it's unnecessary," he says. "These are almost always minor issues a child could -- and should -- straighten out without any help." In fact, according to Eaton's research, parents who are overinvested in their kids' lives are more likely to be depressed.
Take-home test: First, admit that letting go hurts. "Sure, you'll still be your child's mother, but with each step it will be less hands-on than it's been," says Levine. "If kids see you're developing your own interests, they won't have to worry about leaving holes in your life when they move on with theirs."
The day after the incident with the spoiled milk, I was sitting in a coffee shop downtown when I noticed a messy red topknot happily bouncing down the street -- my daughter! My knee-jerk reaction was to worry: Wasn't she supposed to be at work? I thought about running out to get a hug or to ask where she was going. Instead, I sat still and decided to just watch her walk by, enjoying the sunny afternoon on her own.
And yes, it still hurts right now, that my son and daughter are not living with me full time. But soon they'll call college home, and not long after that, have places of their own. I smile, the very last one to get the joke: To my kids, home is where they are, not where I am.