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Proactive vs. Reactive College ParentingJennifer Sullivan
No one knew for sure what August of 2020 would look like.
The unexpected shutdown in March did not give us any hint that we would still be facing this pandemic. So as we send our children off to college or as they learn virtually from home, I’d like to ask the question, “What will your new normal look like?” Not the new norm for your children or your job or the state you live in but for you?
Some of us may be experiencing the first one leaving the nest; for others, it’s the last one or perhaps somewhere in between. It really doesn’t matter for purposes of this discussion. What matters are the plans you’re making as you head into the empty nest season and living life in a completely different way. I often say that as soon as I learned how to parent little children they grew up! And in case you haven’t noticed, parenting young adults is very different than parenting children.
The idea of asking more questions of our young adult children and giving less instruction allowed my husband and me to begin to see how they think when problems arise. And if their plan is to leave our home for college (which it was), we needed to see how those wheels were turning when they needed to problem solve.
We’ve spent years planning, organizing and being in charge of family vacations, extracurricular activities, playdates, sleepovers, carpooling, team snacks, awards and more. Yet as our children move into the young adult life, we’re often told to sit back and listen, don’t take charge anymore. You’ll be perceived as a helicopter parent — or worse, a lawn mower parent. And for a mom, that can sound counter intuitive because take charge is what we do. Fixing problems is our superpower. Keeping the wheels in motion so that we can move our families along to the next thing is what many of us pride ourselves on.
But having a plan for the season you’re going into and not just a mastery of the season you’re leaving is critical. It’s time to begin to shift some of the energy we’ve poured into the lives of our children into our own new adventure. That has to begin to be the priority right now. Lisa Heffernan, co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults, suggests that, “Since our ability as parents to mandate and control our kids’ decisions is lessened, it’s time to switch to listening and modeling adult behavior.”
With that in mind, think about these three things when thoughts of the empty nest begin to rise.
I ask this question as a reminder. Notice, the question is not, “What do you do?” What did you enjoy doing before having children? You may have to go back as far as your own young adult years to remember. Perhaps you enjoyed photography or maybe you always wanted to write, whether it’s writing ideas, self-help or things you’ve learned along the way.
At any rate, who you were before having children still matters. She has a voice, goals and things she wants to accomplish. Maybe you’ve never even said whatever it is out loud. Well, this is your moment.
For many of us, our friends were (and are) conveniently the parents of our children’s friends. Awesome! But you have the option now to make friends based on interests and similarities instead of needing help with carpooling and convenience. The old saying is still true, “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” The point here is that you are not bound by convenient relationships for friendship — it’s time to explore.
And what about the girlfriends that you haven’t been in touch with for months or, dare I say it, years? What I love about authentic friendships is that you can pick up right where you left off the last time you were in touch.
This was therapeutic for me. Now, I didn’t go around the house throwing everything away but I did start nesting. As moms, we do this as we are nearing the end of our pregnancy and I did it again each time a kid left for college. Opening up cabinets and seeing 17 mugs, at this moment, was more than I could stand.
So as one child was moving off campus it was a great opportunity to clean out some of the things we’ve enjoyed over the years. I had to ask myself, do I really need six sets of sheets? One year, I even gave away household items to a friend’s son who was getting his first apartment. We weren’t downsizing yet but secretly it was my desire to sell the big house and move into a cute condo or townhouse in the city. And once my husband had been convinced, I wanted the packing to be easy. After our youngest left for college, we did just that.
Dream about how you want this next phase to look like for you. Dreaming is free and actually, if done right, those dreams can grow legs, confessions, plans and before you know it, you’re flourishing in this next season.
Read the books everyone around you has been talking about. When it opens again, visit the new exhibit at your local museum. In fact, play tourist in your own city. I guarantee you will discover hidden gems that have been right under your nose the whole time.
And as you’re discovering the new normal for this stage in your life, we are experiencing a new normal as we wait for a COVID vaccination. So buy a couple of cute masks. Or if you’ve always wanted to learn to sew, I can’t think of a better time. And remember, even when you’re wearing your mask, smile anyway. A smile can be seen in the eyes.
Lots to navigate right now. But there are no two groups more prepared to handle it: the class of 2020 and their moms.