A good number of parents try to strengthen their relationships with their children while they are under one roof, living family life. So, what of the challenges and continuing desire to keep developing your friendship with a child once they have left the nest?
Thanks to Covid, of course, there have been more young adults returning to the nest recently than leaving it. In fact, there is a long-term increase in young people either remaining in the family home or returning to it for extended periods.
However, we can assume that most of them want to and will leave their parents’ home when it is financially or otherwise possible.
In a US survey of 18- to 29-year-olds carried out by Jeffrey Arnett before the pandemic, 76 percent of them agreed that they get along better with their parents now than they did in adolescence; but almost the same majority – 74 percent – agreed: “I would prefer to live independently of my parents even if it means living on a tight budget.” Parents expressed similar ambivalence.
This is only natural. You are no longer driving them to sports practices and doctor’s appointments. You have guided them in college applications and financial aid. They are now spreading their wings and making their own decisions in their professional lives, graduate school choices and college classes and friendships.
But, can we be more than spectators during this time in their lives? Maybe we should just take up those hobbies we set aside and read those books we have always wanted to read and could not while we were raising a family. It’s our time now.
Fortunately, the research on this question is encouraging.
A 2012 study by Karen Fingerman and colleagues of 18- to 24-year-olds found that American parents and offspring “are highly involved in one another’s lives as evident by their phone conversations (more than once a week) and frequent parental financial, practical, and emotional support. This involvement represents an increase from parental involvement 30 years ago. Students are more likely to talk with parents by phone, and nonstudents are more likely to see parents in person.”
Similarly, a 2016 Swiss study found “remarkably close ties between the generations.” (The study also found strains such as the separation of parents and unemployment of adult children that contribute to family relationships being less close.)
Still, I believe the challenge for our children’s attention and being able to continue sharing our wisdom once they’ve left home is real. You can receive a text (always a joy), or start to make leisurely plans for their days off. That can take major planning! Maybe start to wonder out loud what you could do together for an upcoming holiday.
A healthy debate is always welcome when it comes to discussing politics and managing colourful family personalities. It is refreshing when a young adult’s point of view that you have not considered previously comes into focus. It may be something as mundane as information about a new restaurant, or a sincere “Mom, why don’t you approach doing that home improvement job this way instead of what you’ve planned all along?”
When it comes to parental advice, though, the balance of letting them live their lives and possibly watching from a distance, versus making bold suggestions and pronouncements counter to their choices, is the magnificent work of a lifetime. After all, you encouraged them to learn, think and decide for themselves. You get to know them and yourself in many surprising ways during this process.
One thing I know: despite the distance and all the time that you don’t see them, the mutual love and connections that you’ve worked hard to maintain while together as a family – if you are fortunate enough to have such a family – is a strong foundation that does not disappear once the time arrives for them to leave your home.
In my case, I am bold enough to say, my adult children’s love for me, despite the days and miles apart, remains strong. And maybe, just maybe, what you have taught them they will carry with them as they make their way through their professional lives, their graduate school choices and college classes and friendships.
If you are lucky, like me, one of them will ask you for a ride to the airport, send you their financial paperwork for our mutual accountant to do their taxes, or check with you whether an Amazon package arrived for the next time he’s home from college. Such precious moments any parent would cherish.