From Gabby, a Grown and Flown writer: In the spirit of saying goodbye to your child, we college parents want to assure you that “goodbye” isn’t for long….
My witty sister-in-law coined the expression “Forced Family Fun” when referring to the mandatory family gatherings in which she requires her reluctant teens to take part. It has entered our family vernacular as we try to gather together all of the cousins, even those who are less enthusiastic about the “togetherness.”
In their final years of high school, as my kids entered the house, I would literally jog behind them to sneak in a few questions or requests as they raced through, changed their clothes and dashed out to another school event – a study session, a game, community service or yet another social gathering.
When I insisted that our family would be having dinner together on a Sunday night (alone or perhaps with cousins or visiting grandparents) they would say incredulously “but, Mom, I already told you (NOT), it’s my very best friend’s birthday gathering. EVERYONE is going to be there. I can’t possibly miss it.” And so the negotiations would begin about SOME time that they would HAVE TO participate in “Forced Family Fun.” I often wondered if these exhausting conversations were worth it, even though the events were pleasant, when they finally came about.
Yet I persevered, as I believed it was my last chance ever to have time with them. I pictured us as college parents watching them depart for freshman year, with suitcase in hand, and then fast forwarded to visiting them in some far off place while they snuck away from their demanding career for one dinner out with us. I longed nostalgically for those wonderful summer vacations when my three children begged to stay just one more hour on the beach digging sand castles, as the sun was setting.
My first glimpse that I might have overreacted came several years ago during the fall break of my oldest daughter’s college freshman year. The first day she was home she asked if I would come and sit and chat with her while she got her haircut and then inquired if she could go along with me to my exercise class. In a daze, I stumbled to the phone, reorganized my work schedule and cancelled much of the next few day’s activities to spend time with her.
This summer, with a heavy heart, I bemoaned to my husband that our three children’s schedules conflicted so that we couldn’t take a proper family vacation together. Our two oldest were saving money by babysitting (college graduate) and working at a summer-long internship (college student.) My youngest was returning to her final summer of camp before heading into high school pre-season sports in August. Yet…here is what happened. This summer I spent more time with my three children in various combinations and individually than I have in YEARS…..so much in fact that my friends wondered where I was.
The secret I discovered during these busy high school and college years is simple…just keep offering up options. We have enjoyed multiple last-minute dinners on our patio, barbecues, outings to see fireworks, speed walks, running (no I can’t keep up the whole time), tennis, a late night movie or a new tv series at home, church, trips to the grocery store, weekend visits to the lake… in which one of them either suggested the outing, offered to come along or agreed to accompany me or my husband or all of us. Often these consisted of bringing along friends or significant others or them joining in with our adult friends.
The summer is winding down and my youngest is already busy all day at high school and has just been invited to spend Labor Day weekend away with another family. My middle child is back at college before classes start because he is on the newspaper staff and is probably organizing the party schedule at his Fraternity. My oldest, the one who has graduated and starts her first full-time teaching job, requested a mother/daughter two-day getaway during this week as a graduation gift. So take heart at the college-drop because I’m off…..heading down to the beach now for a long walk with her.
Grown and Flown: Parenting from the Empty Nest explores the entire arc of childhood from infancy to young adulthood with a special look at the high school and college years.