She’s your baby still, no matter how grown up she looks in her prom gown, or him in his new sweatshirt with his university’s logo on it. And most likely your child’s views on most things have been similar to your own.
But don’t get too complacent. Some changes are likely to be coming your way!
In my experience, your baby will always be your baby, in the nest or out. My empty nest kids are 24 and 27, fully grown and independent, and sometimes I still slip up and try to mother them too much! It’s partly because of deeply ingrained habits—you know the old ones that die hard, as the saying goes. But it’s also because I no longer know what and how much they know about life and living.
As far as I am concerned, my job of teaching and protecting my children has no expiry date. Unfortunately, not yet having children themselves they don’t understand that. So, as a savvy parent I don’t usually offer advice and counsel unless it is sought from me. But occasionally I find myself trying to give them information I think they need to have, just in case they don’t have it yet.
The problem with that, besides annoying them, is that the freedom that comes with leaving the nest fills in many, if not most, of those missing pieces of information.
Freedom from living under your roof brings a lot of changes in your adult children. They make new friends with different values than your own. They are exposed to different cultural norms. They may find another religion intriguing, or decide that religion isn’t important to them. They may adopt new beliefs or new behaviors simply to fit in. They learn new eating habits and new sleeping habits. And they have the opportunity to try things out, to test themselves and compare their upbringing with that of others who they like or want to emulate or impress or just feel comfortable with.
And you don’t necessarily know anything about any of it!
Did You Know Your Empty Nest Kids Have Privacy Rights?
You may be thinking, as I did, that information about your college student’s grades, schedules and major medical issues would be shared with you—the concerned parent or parents, and possibly the people paying for the college experience. That simply isn’t so. Your child is considered an adult entitled to privacy about personal issues, and that is another part of your Empty Nest experience.
One of the biggest challenges I had when my daughter went to college was her right to privacy according to the University. She could tell me anything she wanted, obviously, and she did share a lot about her life. But the University refused to tell me or her father anything about anything except her right to privacy. Her grades were private. Her schedule was private. And the scary part we found out about later on was when she had a pretty serious concussion. Neither the University nor the hospital was at liberty to tell us anything. We didn’t know it had even happened until she was able to call us the next day. I don’t know how or how long it would have taken before we found out if she hadn’t been able to call.
So What Does The “After” Look Like For Empty Nest Kids?
The first thing you need to know is that your child isn’t really a child anymore. She’s legally an adult, albeit a young and inexperienced one. Be reassured that she already knows a lot more than you think she does. Remember, she’s been looking after herself long enough to have a ton of new experiences and new knowledge. And she is proud of it! She feels independent and excited to tell you what she’s learned and experienced, and she isn’t looking for you to challenge her. She only wants help from you if she asks for it.
As for the privacy issue, you just have to accept it and jointly figure out how you want to handle it. You probably speak with your empty nest kids on a regular basis already, or if not, you might want to consider agreeing on a day and time for a once a week call. That way, if he doesn’t show up for a call and hasn’t let you know in advance, you’ll know something is up.
If you have the opportunity to go to a parent weekend or on-campus event, get to know your child’s friends and room-mates. Give them your phone numbers and ask them to call you directly if something is amiss. And make sure that you have at least his room-mate’s cell phone number and he has yours.
Have your children put your contact information as an ICE number (in case of emergency) in their phone. And something else you can do is have your son or daughter write, sign and date a note, and carry it with them, that asks that you be called in an emergency and says that they give permission for you to be given their medical information.
Leaving the nest means big changes—for your child and for you, although you may not notice much until he comes home for a visit. How will you or are you handling those changes? I’d love for you to share your biggest fear or worry about how it will all be different. But don’t let that worry interfere with your relationship with your daughter or son. As I said in the beginning, in some intangible way, she or he will always be your baby. So never fear, you get to have that war and fuzzy feeling toward your children even while you relate as adults.