Does an Empty Nest Signify the End of our Parenting Influence?
I’ve talked before about my daughter leaving for college this fall and my nervous anticipation about her being gone. But, as I get closer to the date of departure, I am embracing it more from a vantage point of excitement for her rather than from my own feelings of loss. OK, maybe let’s call it “a tempered excitement???!!!”
She will be attending her freshman year in Paris. This is definitely not what we had planned for, or anticipated when we were applying for college. It ended up being an amazing opportunity that emerged from a very difficult and challenging year in the college process.
The idea of one day your children leaving home is something we all know will happen; in essence we’ve been preparing them for this since they were born. So much of our inputs have already been ingrained in our kids by the time high school ends. Our parenting morals & values are already rooted in them, our belief systems that have more or less been adopted by them; the modeling of respect and compassion for others; manners, communication styles, social skills & the list goes on.
They’ve watched us and listened to our views of what is important. Our parenting constructs have set their foundation; their inner compass. And hopefully through their maturation process they’ve been able to digest it, but also make it their own and set out into the world with their own independent voice
In fact, developmental theorists believe that one’s character is formed within the first 5 years of life. But, through outside influences and experiences it can adapt and grow.
I recently had dinner with a bunch of mom friends whose kids all recently graduated from high school. Many of us have known each other since our kids were in kindergarten together.
We were all feeling very nostalgic about where the years have gone. Some moms were articulating a lot of anxiety about how their kid will transition to college. Will they know how to figure things out on their own? Will they bring themselves to the Dr in a timely manner before their cold develops into something greater? Will they put themselves in “unsafe” situations because they’re still teenagers and don’t always think things through? Will they be able to handle the stress and manage all the “moving parts” of their new independent lives at college?
One mom wondered if her son was still too dependent on her? Was he a late bloomer and would have difficulty managing the social expectations of college? Another friend was concerned about the rigor of this particular college and if her son could truly manage it all.
But, it was what one of my friends said that really struck me. She said, “Is this it? Is our influence as parents done? Did I do enough for him? She said my son is 18 now, I can’t completely tell him what to do anymore. He is of legal age to make many of his own choices without needing the consent of a parent.
It made me wonder, is our influence as parents mostly over?
College is a formative time for students’ relationships with their parents. It’s kind of a limbo state between independence and dependence. And this limbo period actually spurs a healthy evolution of a student’s relationship with their parents.
In one survey of roughly 14,500 college students across the US, 3 out of 6 said their relationship with their parents had improved, or had gotten better. The study would indicate that a geographical distance made students appreciate their parents more, as well as viewing them more as one of a confidant rather than an authoritarian figure.
I guess the answer is that it just shifts; they become more interdependent and they start to see you more as an individual and not just their “parent.” Not quite a friend, but a more dimensionalized person with flaws and your own unique qualities. And yes mostly your input is still welcomed and accepted; probably not without some pushback at times.
I know most of you who are reading this have much younger kids and are years away from the college “send off”, or their 1st year out of the home wherever that may be. All of us get here eventually, but it’s all really about how we ride the wave. The good, the bad and the tough days of parenting.
It’s all to say, just enjoy the ride because the old cliche of “It really goes fast” is ever so true. Be present, have fun and just enjoy them. Knowing the bumps in the road are always great opportunities to learn more about your children and about yourselves. And spend time making more memories and experiences together; these are the things you want them to remember.
One day you will hug your child goodbye whether for their first year of college, or some other independent excursion and feel great joy in the person they’ve become and their exciting road ahead.
As excited as I am about a week in Paris acclimating my daughter to this wonderful experience, I don’t have any delusions that saying goodbye won’t be really difficult. I know she will experience some days of sadness and maybe fear of all the unknowns, but will ultimately embrace it as the once in a lifetime experience it will be – experience unique dans la vie.
I think the adjustment will be much harder for my husband and I…a quieter house, less schedules to manage & dinners for just two. I know eventually we will embrace some of our newfound freedoms, but with a lot less daily pastry to console us than our daughter…
“Tu vas nous manquer ma douce “
Translation – “We will miss you my sweet”
Summer is a great time to carve out those great experiences & memories with your kids. But, times are still tough with lots of outside forces causing stressors for families. Parent Coaching can assist you with feeling more present and parent from a position of hope within your family. Summer is a great time to start some parent coaching when things are more relaxed. You can gear up and be ready for the busier period of “Back to School”. Please pass on my information to friends and family members who you think could use some support in their parenting.