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Living with the Boomerang College Grad

We’re back after a longer-than-planned hiatus.  August was downtime; September was very much uptime  with launching a new semester, hosting birthday celebrations and serving as sous chef for my daughter’s annual “Italian Feast.”

While October brings the usual hectic routine, it’s minus the added activity, so this week mothering21.com returns, with regular publication on Tuesday mornings now.

As we noted in May, my youngest child graduated from college and like thousands of her contemporaries boomeranged back to the nest to plot her next step: looking for an entry-level position in broadcast journalism. That’s still a work in progress, as is my adjustment to living with a young adult, not just for vacations and summer break, but for the foreseeable future.

A record 43 percent of children under age 25 have moved home in this recessionary era, and numerous experts have counseled parents how to cope with this change.  After reading and writing about all the “does and don’ts,” I entered this new parenting phase knowing that it’s a balancing act between being supportive and suffocating, between letting your child direct her own future and trying to micromanage it.

While those articles flooding the media advised parents how to interact with their adult children, none mentioned it’s a two-way street and that our adult children regard us differently tooThat has been an eye opener: the realization that they look at us from–shall we say–a more critical lens than when just passing through on school vacations. 

In the college years and beyond, our children have enjoyed/suffered a myriad of new experiences and friends, living in dorms, apartments, travelling the country and the world.  As we hoped and planned, they have grown and changed since high school graduation.  Among those changes is that all the experiences  influence how they regard us. While the new relationship is positive in many respects, there’s also an element of criticism from these smart, sophisticated, worldly young adults!

This realization hit me when I was burning dinner, as usual. I’m a decent cook but often multi-task while making dinner: answering email, throwing in some laundry, reading the day’s newspapers running an errand (just kidding).

One night, as the sautéed chicken scorched, my daughter said, “You probably wouldn’t burn dinner if you focused just on cooking.  You multi-task too much!”

What? Who me?

“You can’t do just one thing at a time.  You’re always doing three,” she said, in a matter-a-fact tone.

Ouch! What hurt most was that she was right.  I’ve been a multi-tasker for decades, and even though my life is measurably easier without three children at home, I’ve managed to add an item to my plate for every one that has been taken off.   I suggested to my daughter since she usually restricts herself to doing one thing at a time, maybe she could occasionally make dinner! She agreed. However, we will be eating more tofu.

That was the case with a friend whose daughter had also moved home a few months ago. This friend is an excellent cook. Still, her vegetarian daughter wanted more than meatless meals; she suggested that her mother should plan more “healthy” dinners.   Then she went one step further, insisting that mom needed to put her dad on an exercise routine. My friend was initially exasperated; they were doing just fine until this healthy lifestyle guru moved back.  However, she too saw some truth in the message and, turning the tables, suggested her fitness-minded daughter devise an exercise routine for Dad, which she did.  Whether he’s following it is another question!

Other friends have shared a similar litany of critiques, from the state of disarray in the home to the slow computer connection speed.

Perhaps what’s called for in these situations is more communication and less control.  We are in charge at our home’s Mission Control, with routines and habits shaped by the demands on us as mothers, wives, workers, daughters, and grandmothers.  As a 30-something new mom recently told my daughter, “Enjoy your twenties.  It’s the last time in your life that you have only yourself to take care of.”    So true. Even with their array of activities, for adult children it’s still “all about me.” We need to remind them occasionally of all the responsibilities moms juggle. There are half a dozen good reasons why we drove the car home on empty!

But moms also need to step away from Mission Control. Take a hand off a few of the buttons and let adult children assume some of the home and hearth duties. Ask your adult child to choose a few areas of responsibility and then try–really try–not to micromanage. We are so used to being in charge that it’s hard to cede even a little control.  Maybe we’ll even learn to like tofu. Well, maybe not.

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