These five tips can help you to keep the right kind of contact with adult children who have recently flown the nest. When your adult child leaves home, both you and your child go through a period of weaning. All you want to do is to keep in close contact but you know your child needs to develop more independence. You may have to step back a bit until you find a balance of communication that is right for both of you. Communication today is so easy with all the tools available – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, email etc. However, as Robin Raskin, author of A Parent’s Guide to College Life says “The digital age is a double-edged sword for empty nesters – the good news is that staying in touch with far-flung kids has never been easier. The bad news is that it has never been easier, too.”
Think before you call
Adult children need to become independent to survive and thrive. If you bombard them with a blitz of messages, offering advice at every turn, it can be quite overwhelming. Your children will be looking to you for the answers instead of discovering answers for themselves. It may take a while before they find their feet and it can be difficult for you as a parent to see them floundering and trying to adjust. You need to re-examine your behavior if you are constantly reaching out to rescue them. Don’t encourage them to text you with requests all the time. They have to learn how to deal with many issues without receiving your input on every step to take.
When your children first leave home, they may message you often. You may be called to help them decide on what classes to take, how to open a bank account, or how to deal with a roommate. Even children who have showed independence while still at school may have some difficulty adjusting in a new environment. As they begin to get their bearings, the calls are likely to be less frequent.
The right attitude
As parents, you never want to give your children the impression that you are not available. However, you also need to get the message across that you know they are able to manage perfectly well without you. It may also help to reassure your children that you are coping well and that you aren’t spending all your time longing for them to come home – you have a full life of your own.
The right communication balance
This balance is unique to you and your child. You have spent enough years bringing up your children to have a good idea of when they are struggling and need encouragement or have to be given room to figure things out on their own.
If a voicemail remains unanswered, it does not mean that your child is in trouble. It probably means that life is full and exciting. However, if the silence is much longer than usual and you noticed your child was upset during the last call home, follow up with an email or a text, simply asking him or her to drop you a line and tell you they are okay or to set up a time for you to call.
The right time and method of contact
A voicemail is easily ignored. Email is more effective but still too easy to ignore. If you want a quick answer, you have to learn to text. This is the way your children communicate – it’s quick, easy and convenient. For you, it may not be the same as methods of communication that allow you to see them but it is the way they use to communicate more often than not. If you are one of those parents who resists new technologies, not seeing any point in them or feeling that they are a lot of trouble, it may be worth reconsidering your attitude.
A warning here – don’t text them just because you can. They aren’t going to appreciate you texting them at a crucial moment on a first date. If they keep getting texts from you at unpredictable times, they may find it embarrassing and irritating. It is far better to set up a time when it is convenient for you to call them and to reserve those texts for occasions when they are necessary.
Observe cyberspace boundaries
When my daughter came home last weekend, she was feeling very sorry for a girl whose mother had asked on Facebook if anyone knew of a place close to the university where her daughter could get her legs waxed. This was an embarrassment to her daughter whose friends all saw the post.
Facebook still appears to be the space where your children track their ‘friends’ – who is dating who, who has broken up, who likes or dislikes a band or a movie. On its pages, your children have an image they want to project to the world. If you are you disturbed by what you see, it’s better not to be ‘friends’ with them.
If you do choose to follow your adult child on social media platforms, keep an open mind (many children aren’t that concerned about privacy settings, although theoretically they can prevent you from seeing certain things) . The very first rule is to avoid posting embarrassing photos or writing comments all over their Facebook wall. There is a big difference between wanting to stay involved in their lives and stalking them on Facebook.
I know about a daughter who was extremely upset when she discovered that her mom had a board on Pinterest entirely devoted to her. Her mother has thousands of followers and the daughter was horrified that her whole life was on display. This mother failed to see that she had done anything wrong but her daughter felt otherwise.
Previous generations did not have the opportunities we have to stay in close contact with children who have left the nest. We are very fortunate that we live in the digital age. However, the problem with being able to stay in touch 24/7 is that it creates the risk of relentless communication. In the time when children should be developing independence, it can allow them to cling too tightly. It also offers the temptation for a parent to maintain too much control in the life of the child. The parent needs to take cues from the child at this time. Finding the right balance of communication can be crucial to the health and well being of both parents and children.