These helicopter parents are 90. Their kids? 65

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When Jackie Kann’s mom annoys her with unwanted advice — get more sleep, don’t go out with wet hair, wear moisturizer — she reacts like any adolescent would.

“Yes, Mother,” she says sarcastically, silently vowing to ignore Mom’s wisdom.

Typical, right? Except for one thing: Kann is 65. And Mom — who for years drove Kann home from work when Kann’s hips were bothering her — is 90.


Welcome to 2018, when people are living so long that baby boomers, the original helicopter parents, have helicopters of their own.

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Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh.

A growing number of middle-aged folks — accustomed to directing their teenagers and young adults’ lives — are also on the receiving side of the equation. In today’s world, you’re never too old to be somebody’s baby.

In 2012, 53.7 percent of people aged 55-59 had at least one parent living, compared with 43.6 percent in that same age group in 1992, according to Ashton Verdery, an assistant professor of sociology and demography at Pennsylvania State University.

Here’s what those statistics mean in human terms: In Needham, Karen Barbara Shapiro, a retired attorney, is still being told by her parents to dress nicely for synagogue. “I’m 57,” she said.


At 60, Jocelyn Hutt, of Roslindale, is still being warned by her father, 90, about standing too close to the edge of subway platforms. “People get pushed,” he tells her.

And though it’s been decades since her childhood piano lessons ended, he’s still asking if she’s practicing, and she, of course, tells a white lie. “I don’t want to disappoint him,” said Hutt, a home-design publicist.

With gray hair and mortality fears of their own, most of the advice recipients also appreciate the advice, even if it’s of no use, well aware they’re lucky to have a parent still living when so many friends have lost mothers and fathers.

Past generations of middle-aged folks also got plenty of parental input, of course, but Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are giving today’s older parents unprecedented access to at least the superficial aspects of their kids’ lives.

The writer Roxane Gay captured the new reality. “My mom just texted me to curse less on twitter,” she tweeted on April 8. “I said stop stalking me. She said ‘I will not.’ I am 43.”


Her tweet got 1.5K retweets, 22K likes, and triggered hundreds of replies, many of which followed Gay’s punchy comedic style:

“My mom asked for the phone number of our school board to tell them they keep me out too late at meetings,” @bonitadee tweeted. “I am 57 and a school principal.”

“I told my mom I was going to get a snack and she said ‘No you’re not, we’re having dinner in an hour,’ ” @jenstrikesagain wrote. “I’m 48 years old.”

“I’m having a tattoo done in 3 weeks. Finally broached the subject with mum,” @laralovesknit tweeted. “Got a lecture about how I’ll regret it at 80 and ‘nice’ people don’t have them. I’m 51.”

“My mom still checks my nails when I visit her,” @nissenson wrote. “I’m 69.”

Relationships between adult children who are 65+ and parents who are 90 and up are new enough that the National Institute on Aging is funding a study.

Kathrin Boerner, the principal investigator of the “Aging Together Study,” and an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said she was surprised at the amount of advice and support that flows “downstream,” from very old parents to senior adult children.

“I’ve seen 70-year-olds who are still counting on their 96-year-old mothers for support with their divorce,” she said. “We literally have some older daughters who say ‘I don’t know what I’d do if my mother was no longer alive.’ ”

Less happily, some adult children are struggling with responsibilities they didn’t expect to have in their 70s. “They say they have no life because they’re caring for a parent,” Boerner said. “They don’t have time to see grandchildren or go to a movie with a friend,” she said. But that’s another story for another time.

From the parents’ perspective, learning to get along with adult children can be as challenging as forging a successful relationship with a teenager.

In Weston, Debbie First, the mother of three middle-aged children, says she’s finally learned to keep her advice to herself.

For the most part. “Having said that,” she added, “When they need you, they want you, and that is delicious.”

For all the complaining about aging helicopter parents, Barbara Okun, a clinical psychologist in Dedham, says the steady stream of advice wouldn’t have continued for so many decades if the adult children weren’t enabling it. “It’s not just the parents’ fault.”

And despite the griping, if there’s one thing more painful than unsolicited advice, it’s when it ends.

“That’s why I don’t snap at her,” said Kann, a social worker at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “I always think, ‘What if she’s gone?’”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.