Preparing For Your Child To Leave The Nest

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The season of graduation from high school is drawing to a close. Soon after the balloons are popped, and the “thank you” cards are written (HA!) the first step toward the future is taken.

Some will choose to enroll in college, others will engage in a gap year, a percentage will enlist in the military, and some will get a job and start to work full-time. Each path has its pros for those ready for it, and its cons for those who may be struggling to make sense of it all. I care about these pathways, because I’ve spent 30 years as a college administrator.

In my role at five colleges and universities, I have run orientation programs, first year experience classes, assigned housing, mediated student conflicts, and personally witnessed so many shenanigans that it would make many of my reader’s heads spin off their shoulders (for instance, did you know that a student may actually think that running a tattoo business out of their dorm room would qualify for an internship?). I am a creature of observation, and I have a lot to say about what I’ve seen.

I am also a parent, and I understand the challenges that come with parenting, especially in the age of YouTube, smartphones and Venmo. We as a generation of parents have been overly labeled the helicopter parent, lawnmower parent, stealth fighter parent generation – and for that, I apologize. You see, a lot of my fellow colleagues use that language. I don’t. I get it, you actually WANTED children. Many of us used IVF, adoption and surrogates to make a family. We wouldn’t have gone through these challenging, heartbreaking and expensive options if we weren’t all-in on having a family.

We put our kids in a 5-point restraint seat, slapped a “baby on board” sign our car, and set up a wall chart to manage playdates and orthodontics appointments.   We even molded sandwiches into the shape of panda bears because some insane person posted it on Pinterest, and we thought “hey, this seems like a great way to get my child to eat healthy!” We like being a parent, and we even like being part of some parenting underworld where we compare notes, compare kids, and compare lives.

So, when it’s time time ship your kid off, it is highly unlikely that you are going to be able to just turn off the “parenting switch.” Calling you a helicopter parent is not only insensitive it is unfair. Look, if I was to tell you that after 20 years of drinking two cups of coffee a day, you had to stop, and never drink coffee again, except for an occasional cup during Thanksgiving and your birthday, could you just stop? I doubt it. So cut yourself some slack, but start to make some changes in your life so your kid can be successful without you.

First off, before you do anything, if you are dropping your child off at basic training, at the airport for their hike through the Appalachian trail, or at their college dormitory … plan a vacation for the next day. A vacation for you that will take you far away. A cruise is an excellent plan, because you cannot be easily reached off shore. If your kid is staying home, you can also take a break … don’t deprive yourself of it, because they are sticking around. Celebrate your new station in life, and get the hell out of town.

Next, put into place a summer of “school of life” curriculum for your grad. Make sure by the time they get to the end of the summer they know how to: do laundry, manage a checking account, have registered for some sort of road side assistance program, and can pay their own cell phone and data plan. These are the bare minimum. Once you’ve moved through phase one of the curriculum, push ahead with some more personal financial literacy and awareness including, paying their own credit card bills, educate them in what their weekly and monthly expenses truly are, and if they are going to college, make sure they know their way around their bill and their FAFSA.

The “school of life” goes beyond transactions – you also need to have conversations with your kid about alcohol, drugs, and sex. But, let’s wait until my next column for that. For now, let’s hit the low hanging fruit, shall we? Because here’s the thing, if you can’t talk to your kid about how to sort darks and lights, you may not be ready to talk to them about how consent works.


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