They've left the building--our building, that is to say their childhood home and the comforts of their bedroom, our company and the family pets. They're off to college or to their own apartment. From day to day contact--and pretty constant text or email updates on whereabouts and what-they are doing--they are living a more independent life.
We have an empty nest. We're no longer in control of daily decisions--what did you eat for lunch? Curfew is midnight. Who's driving you home? But we still have access to a possible 'control' button--the icons on our cell phones that let us tap out a text message or a Facebook comment.
So, how often should we use social media to stay in touch, and do we abuse it if we use it to make us feel our empty nest is still filled?
This is a question raised in a NYTimes story. Henry Alford interviewed several recently emptied-nest parents to explore where on the continuum of keeping in touch we should land--a continuum that flows from being a hands-on, controlling parent to an advisory counsel.
Actress Alfre Woodward, whose younger son, Duncan, left for college in 2012, had this advice:
“You have got to leave your kids alone. The only time you text is if you have something really slammin’ to say. Something you know they’re really into. Like, Duncan is a big golfer, so I’ll text, ‘Oh, no, Rory didn’t!’ That’s all I’ll say. What you don’t want to write is ‘Your room is so warm!’ Or ‘Have you eaten?’ Or ‘Do you have any friends?’ ‘Are you drunk?’”
Karen Coburn, the senior consultant in residence at the office of the vice chancellor for students at Washington University in St. Louis, had this observation of college kids and warning to their parents:
"Some students say that no way do they want their parents on social media. Others say they like it because it means they don’t have to communicate with their folks as much because the parents get an idea of what the kids are up to. But one of the worst things a parent can do is to ‘friend’ one of their kid’s friends. One of my students told me, ‘Another student came up to me and said, ‘This old woman friended me on Facebook, I think it might be your mom or grandmother.’ The ‘old woman’ was probably 45.”
As for Alford, he ends with this sage piece of advice that covers not just the etiquette and wisdom of being part of a social media presence in our children's lives but our overall relationship with them once they've left the building:
"The greatest lesson for many empty nesters may be learning to be their child’s coach or inspiration rather than a child’s concierge or critic."