… Or is university good for parents?
I’ve got two children. My eldest went off working on outdoor activity camps and travelling about 4-5 years ago. We get confused as to when it happened because he just sort of applied and went. Apart from occasional coming back for a month or two, or to get some stuff out of storage, or very occasionally to borrow money, we really only see him when he comes for a holiday with us, a week at the most. He has left home. My youngest has gone to university which means she went with lots of preparation, a bit of a fanfare, a set date for going, a car full of stuff, keeps running out of money as her course is quite demanding and she struggles to find work that fits around it, and then she comes home for 4 months over the summer. She has not left home yet. But she is in her early twenties, two years older than when her brother left home.
So what I get though is that come mid Sept she flies off and we don’t really see her till Christmas. We get use to empty house, struggle a bit to begin with but use to it and like it after a while. Then she comes back for 2 weeks at Christmas. This is because her friends do the same. So all the time there is this ebb and flow of her not being part of our lives and then her being very much part of our lives. She’s also the child who likes to be downstairs not shut in her room. I think that’s why we never noticed her brother go, because he had been ensconced in his room for months beforehand only appearing to be fed.
But what this does, this ebb and flow, this empty nest but not quite, is that we, her and I, can forget that she is a young adult and can behave/get treated like a child.
We had an incident recently where I treated her like a child and actually she behaved like one. We were both out of order but it came about because we aren’t sure where the boundaries lie. I’m sure all us who’ve left home know that when we get back to our parent’s we behave like children again. I often laugh at my husband and the child-like voice he puts on when he’s on the phone to his mum. I’m sure I do similar. But most of us have our own homes. In fact the only time my son and I really fell out recently was when he was in between homes and not sure what he was going to do with his life. Thankfully it didn’t last long, but both of us reverted to teenage years; him as stroppy teenager, me as bossy parent.
So how do we deal with this? And it could be worse. I know of friend’s children who have come home after university to re-nest. Even though the parents complain I can see the old patterns emerging, and know that when those children finally fly the nest that the pangs of empty nest will not be any easier, even when there is that sigh of relief too.
So is this constant ebb and flow and lack of money good for anyone? Yes we may have a lot more people with more qualifications but at what cost? At the cost of maturity? At the cost of emotional strength? To think of Nelson commanding men at 15, William Pitt in parliament at a similar age, and other great leaders of over a hundred years ago, who were able to leave home and cleave to their destiny. I’m not saying my son is more sorted on his destiny than my daughter but I am saying that her coming and going, flying but not quite, causes emotional stress for both of us.