This is the emptying nest season. A lot of our kids have left for college and parents are wistful and lump-in-throat sad to see their empty place at the kitchen table. We wish they were still youngsters living under our roof. Or so we think. But four years hence, we may not be so thrilled if the young adults return and set up headquarters in their former bedrooms (now our guest rooms or dens).
We were devoted parents while they lived with us but we may not be so happy to see them come back. That's the gist of a column by Charles Blow, an oped columnist for the NYTimes who usually writes about such weighty matters as racism and immigration. But Blow, a single dad since his son was six years old and his twins were three, has taken time to fill his column space with an essay on parenting. He acknowledges that when the twins went off to college a few years ago he felt "free, that I was entering a new life of my own, and I felt absolutely no guilt about that."
When the twins graduated from college, they moved back into his house and settled in as they searched for jobs and looked for their first apartments. Blow admits to, well, being less than happy about their return.
I will say the thing that we as parents are not supposed to say: What happened to my empty nest? The very definition of home has changed. Mine will always be their family home, their spiritual home, but it cannot be their primary home. This is now my primary home, alone.
I know that this arrangement is temporary, and I want to help my children out in every way possible, but it would be dishonest to say that their reappearance in “their rooms,” which I now call guest rooms, has not been jarring.
Then he addresses the conflict many of us feel when our kids refill the nest and our culpability in making it oh-so-comfortable for them.
No matter how much I try to resist the urge, I’m reverting to my last-phase parenting mode — worrying about whether they’re eating enough and eating healthfully, washing their clothes and taking them to their rooms.
These are young adults and not children. I have to remember that. I also have to remember that this phase is temporary. But, I also have to prevent them from dragging their feet leaving home and starting their own lives.
When your children return to your empty nest, it is a good thing to firmly nudge them out. That, too, is what love looks like.