¡hola papi!

‘Am I a Helicopter Parent?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s ¡Hola Papi! newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

I’m writing to you because I need some guidance. My son recently told me that he’s dating, and it sounds like he really likes the young man he told me about. I think this person might be the first person my son has ever really liked, and that makes me super-protective because I don’t want him to get hurt.

What is the best way I can support my son while squashing my overprotective impulse to warn him about things that haven’t even happened yet? I’m afraid that if I don’t keep my mouth shut, I will make him paranoid and not allow him to enjoy his life. My son is 29 years old, by the way, and he is such a warm, sincere, funny, thoughtful person that I can’t stand the thought of anyone hurting him. 

Helicopter Mom

Hey there, HM!

First, I find it endearing that you’re so invested in your adult son’s well-being. I know some gay guys who would love it if their mom took an interest in their lives and relationships like that!

I also totally relate to the maternal instinct to protect your kids from the horrors of this world. My ongoing situationship involves a man with two cats at home, and I sometimes worry about them wriggling through a crack in the window. They are too spoiled to survive the streets. This is exactly what being a mother is like, I’m sure.

But your son is 29 years old. If he somehow hasn’t yet learned about the risks involved in adult dating and the additional risks involved in adult gay dating (God, please walk beside him through the valley of unsolicited hole pics), then now is the perfect time to learn.

When we love someone, we of course want the best for them. I imagine this is manifold for a parent and their child. We want to protect them, to prepare them as best we can for the challenges we know lie ahead, challenges that perhaps we wish someone had warned us about when we were going down a similar road.

But the thing about the aforementioned horrors is that they are inevitable and they come for us all. If you haven’t noticed, to live is to endure, to build up hope and have that hope knocked down, but also to have it rewarded, to find in those welcome pauses between trials the warmth and contentment that also make up the human experience.

There’s nothing you can do to change the fundamental nature of things. But we learn to live by living. It’s through disappointment and hardship that we open ourselves up to wisdom and change. We learn how to better equip ourselves for future challenges by stumbling over present ones. No amount of hand-holding will change this fact and, indeed, doing so may only hinder him, as you point out.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t be there for him, that you can’t be a shoulder to cry on, that you can’t give advice, or that you can’t tell him how you feel. We have relationships to bring us comfort and mutual support.

But in your role as a parent, try not to let your anxiety manifest as controlling or overbearing behavior. It may result in him feeling like he’s letting you down when he inevitably doesn’t take your word for it. Let me tell you something about gay guys with a crush: They are going to send that risky text. They are going to ignore that red flag. They are going to pretend their Twitter “likes” aren’t public. You’re dealing with a force of nature here.

Sometimes, HM, loving someone means letting them make their own mistakes.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published on March 21, 2023.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s ¡Hola Papi! newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase Brammer’s book, ¡Hola Papi!: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘Am I a Helicopter Parent?’