Overheard recently: A group of moms bemoaning the “acting out” behavior of their children.
Toddlers? Who said anything about toddlers?
These women were talking about their just-graduated high school seniors, who are heading off to college or gap years in the fall. Seems the tallish tykes shed their shimmering caps and gowns and revealed a noteworthy, shall we say, orneriness?
And cynicism. And suddenly superior debating skills about everything adults do that’s stupid.
But only when they’re home, which is never.
All I can say is, Moms and Dads and significant other important people in the lives of emerging adults, pat yourselves on the back.
You have done your job well.
Your children — and they really still are children — are doing the good work of separating from you. How kind of them to make it so easy, aye?
In fact, when I heard this story about the moms, my first reaction was relief. I wasn’t sure our modern college-bound kiddos, so womb-like close we’re Facebook friends, had it in them to rebel against us.
Remember our parents? Those mysterious people who made us do chores and grounded us for coming home late, and might have had friends and hobbies and secrets, but that info was so locked up even Ed Snowden couldn’t access it?
The good news, parents, is that you will survive this summer of their discontent. All you have to do is lower your expectations.
“What can you expect from your graduating teen the summer before his freshman year?
“NOTHING. No, really, I mean nothing!” writes Joani Geltman, a social worker and author of “A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens.” (And no, you can’t have my copy.)
Gratitude for all you’ve done, the million soccer games you schlepped to in ice storms, the sleepless nights? Nope.
A wistful awareness about how quickly time has passed?
“There is an expectation that, once the college applications are in, it will be so much nicer,” Geltman said from her home in Boston.
“All the hell is over and now we’re going to spend this delightful time together.”
Except, your progeny are thinking something quite different, along the lines of, “OMG, I can’t wait to get out of this house.”
They want to be with their friends, their lifelines. They know that many of those relationships are going to change after this summer, Geltman said, “so they’re going to hang on for dear life.”
Jenny Reimann sees this tug-of-war in her therapy practice, too. Otherwise easy kids suddenly start disregarding curfew, showing sass or introducing other disrespectful behaviors.
“It’s seldom anything awful,” said Reimann, founder of Maple Grove-based Reimann Counseling Clinic, “but it’s easier to leave somebody you’re mad at. Even as adults, we do that.”
Sometimes, all it takes to return peace to the castle is to address the elephant in the room when you’re feeling calm, she suggested.
“You might say, ‘Hey, do you think you might be worried that you’re leaving?’ The answer might be snarky back, but he or she might think about it and adjust a little bit.”
For example, explain that continuing to respect curfew is for their own good.
“I remind them, ‘You are so close. Don’t blow this,’ ” Reimann said.
Still, Geltman said she’d rather see some sass than no sass.
“I’m worried about the kid who doesn’t rebel,” she said. “Because parents and kids are much closer today, parents do a lot more problem-solving for them.”
That uber-closeness, Geltman said, has led to a sharp rise in transfers home, or kids who spend every weekend at home during college.
“If your kids are out and about,” she said, “that’s a good sign.”
And speaking of parents, we might need to adjust a bit ourselves. Tell your high school graduate that you understand how important friends are, but don’t feel sheepish about saying you’d like to carve out some time to hang out together, too.
Support their desire to be more independent, by avoiding “rules” and instilling a less-controlling “system,” as Geltman calls it, that keeps you posted on their whereabouts.
And start making plans for your future. Reimann works with a lot of parents who are unsure of what they’re supposed to do as empty-nesters.
“It’s kind of like they’ve retired,” she said. “Mostly moms ask, ‘If no little ones are left, what am I supposed to do now?’ The parent is so sad their kid is leaving,” Reimann said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations to remind them that this is what’s supposed to happen. They’re transitioning out of the nest. Yay! That’s what we wanted, right?
“After about a month,” Reimann said, laughing, “most of them are super-excited.”