Ah, I remember heading off to college after my high school graduation. That summer I continued my job at the local hardware store, working basically full time and earning some good money to help pay for my college expenses. Indeed, my boss offered that if I deferred college they’d put me on the fast track to management in the organization, a pretty nice offer for a punk 18yo. But I stayed my course and headed off to UC San Diego. Where things really got weird, however, was the summer after my freshman year of college when I lived at home again after 9 months of independent (mostly) adult existence.
There was just an inherent collision between me seeing myself as an empowered adult, working, having my own car and asserting my independence, and my parents still seeing me as their child who had to live by the rules of the house, etc. It’s actually a microcosm of a greater childhood issue: Children always look forward, eager to grasp the brass ring of maturity and all the freedom it promises, while parents typically look backward, seeing their young adults as children. Of course, with some kids this can start as soon as they can talk, but even the most open minded parents are faced with this dilemma of finding a healthy and appropriate compromise between the zeal of their children and their parental desire to keep children safe and doing age-appropriate behaviors.
In other words, ya can’t hold ’em back forever. You can create a safe balance, however: My youngest, now 15, loves her songs with explicit lyrics. I am appalled but can’t control what she listens to so I just supply her with headphones and ask her not to play it when I can hear it. Which leads to some amusing fumbling if we’re listening to one of her playlists in the car, I’ll add!
This is writ bigger with my college kids who are back for the summer. Gareth’s been far away in California for his first year of college and I get the impression that he doesn’t know how to fit into the family now either. He’s slowly setting up his room as if it’s a dorm room, complete with food, drinks, and enough computing gear to join Anonymous. (hopefully not, but ya know what I mean). His big sister Ashley has been in college longer, now at University of Denver, but she’s popped home quite a bit in the last few years, sometimes visiting for an afternoon, other times spending the entire weekend with us.
This has helped with her role in the family and has helped her be more comfortable bouncing around. And yes, they still bounce between my house and their Mom’s house too, though that’s more about what they want to do and their schedule than it is anything we parents have any say about. Heck, they’d just laugh if we said “this is your week with Mom” at this point!
In the bigger picture, however, I’m also very mindful to respect their young adult independence. They are respectful enough that if they show up late or stay up late at my place it’s sufficiently quite that I can keep to my usual sleep schedule. Other than that, they (mostly) clean up the kitchen after they cook and we communicate incessantly through text messages so I’m pretty aware of their visit schedule, whether we can aim for sharing a meal or movie, etc.
So I put it to you, fellow parents: How are you starting to prepare yourself for the growing independence of your children as they grow up and head into their own adult lives?