I have concluded that the most difficult stage of parenting is not the terrible two's, not the first day of kindergarten, not the angst-ridden years of adolescence, not even the first year after they get their driver's license...the most difficult stage is when they move from dependent child/student to independent adult.
At this moment we have four "kids" going through this stage. In ways one of them has already passed through, although her choices continue to baffle us and we know that at any moment we could be faced with financial obligations we had hoped to be done with. Kristen graduated from college in 2008 and moved to Boston where she managed to find a great job in a successful company.
She was earning good money, had great benefits and we were relieved to have one launched. We continued to cover some expenses, but for the most part she was off. All that changed recently when she quit her job and moved to Phoenix to be with her boyfriend. She has a job lined up but it pays $20,000 less than the one she left and the benefits are not clear yet. But we are pushing more of her expenses south to Arizona and hoping she will make it. When she called yesterday to announce that she had gone jet skiing and bought a new video game, our desire to help-out financially faded!
Andrew graduated from college in 2009 and spent a year working in a lab for $10 an hour. He is the super-responsible one and frankly, it has been an easy year for us as parents. He has picked up his own car and health insurance and student loan payments and managed to cover all of his expenses. He is off to start a PhD program in a couple weeks and the next 5 years look set for him. He earns a salary and gets free tuition and health insurance. The challenge for/with him right now revolves around a girlfriend - uncertainty flows throughout that situation and there has been more than one night when he has plopped his 6'3" frame in front of us seeking advice...we shall see how that plays out.
Heather graduated this past May. That for me was an unsettling time. For the first time since my kids were born I had no defined role. While they were in school and college I knew where they were, knew they had a roof over their heads and food on the table. I made editing suggestions on a paper now and then, but mostly I just lurked on the edges of their lives. When Heather graduated I felt more responsibility than in years, but no defined right to impose. It has been an interesting summer. When things are going well she is an adult and my suggestions receive an eye roll; when everything seems to be falling a part I get a frantic, tearful phone call. I am trying to just hold on to the very tip of the kite that is Heather and watch as she rides the currents. She has ideas and dreams that seem ungrounded, but then I watch as she makes them happen. Nevertheless I am worrying more during the wee hours of the morning than I have since the first time Andrew had bronchitis as an infant.
And then there is Tom.
Tom completed his PhD in Math 4 days ago. He is 27 and has been in school since he was 3. I only came into his life during his junior year of college, but he has tested every reserve that his dad and I have. Tom is impulsive and we experience that with daily phone calls. He feels the need to tell us everything, before he tries to resolve it - he calls and stresses us out. He is just back from 3 weeks in England. The boy presented a lecture at Cambridge - he can solve the most challenging math problem on earth, but he calls us for the simplest concern. On Tuesday he starts a teaching job at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Because of time constraints we worked with him and made arrangements to have his car shipped to Toledo, we bought a plane ticket for him, paid for a hotel for the first few nights - even gave him money for the taxi from the airport to his hotel. He was to fly there tomorrow. Today at about 1:00 PM he decided to drive rather than fly. We have been discussing this for the past 36 hours and discouraging it every way possible, but he called at 4:00 and he is in Arizona. It takes 35 hours of driving to get from San Diego to Toledo. He has just about that before he starts his job. If he drives without stops. If his ten-year old car doesn't break down. The car transport company already charged our card and we are now stuck with an airplane ticket - changeable, but not refundable. We are exhausted and frustrated.
But, I think that every kid needs to find their time and their method of disengaging from their parents. And we need to step back when that time comes. This is Tom's time and our challenge is to wait for his call and then to ask, "gee, what are you going to do about that?" rather than continuing to anticipate his needs and pay his way.
Wish us luck....
PS: I have just re-read this and am reminded, again, that we are blessed. These challenges are enviable in many ways but I need to take a step back to remember that!