Here’s a question for all the moms and dads out there with kids who have graduated from fine liberal-arts institutions to a place on the living room couch: Who exactly has regressed?
Psychologists warn against children — yes, we’re speaking to you, 21- and 22-year-olds — who arrive home to leave a trail of dirty dishes, wet towels and demands in their wake. Regressing to an earlier stage and age is not uncommon for young adults who find themselves back home; in fact, it’s pretty natural.
But when I examined who precisely was regressing at our house, I had to revaluate. For while my son was doing what he had always done. And I had somehow reversed the hands of time and turned back into uber-Mom.
The warning signs
Might you be on the same path? Well, what are the warning signs? A few questions might reveal if you share my problem:
When was the last time you baked cookies for your empty-nester husband? Or even served dessert? Or cooked something that didn’t come from a Trader Joe’s box or bag?
If the answer is “When my kid came home,” you may be leaning towards regression.
How about your ability to walk by a mountain of dirty clothes left by your little darling without shoveling it all into the washing machine? When you suddenly realize that your work hours as a freelancer have been replaced by laundry duties, you need to buck up and ask yourself how, after four years of education, your dear child doesn’t understand how to operate a dryer.
Could that be remotely true?
Then there are the appointments. A 22-year-old who has managed to conquer a course in the philosophy of time may — may — be entrusted to schedule his or her own dental appointments. And haircuts.
Push them out of that nest!
This co-dependence has its sweet spots of course. It’s a memory of the old days, when your life was filled with diapers and binkies and car pools and sports practices and dance recitals, and your son’s and daughter’s lives were truly under your control. That warm and comfy feeling of being truly needed and totally necessary to your child’s life.
But right now, today, my regression to mom-i-tude lacks an upside – unless my goal is to have a 50-something warming my couch. I mean, with all the free labor I’ve been providing, plus the occasional room service, why would anyone leave?
So what’s a conscientious well-meaning mom or dad to do? Here the answer is simple: Nothing. Seriously. Don’t make dinner for a night or two and see if your child ambles up to the stove. Don’t change the sheets for a week and dare him or her to take charge. Take back the TV set for reruns of Downton Abbey. And forget about baking their favorite oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.
For those of us who have backpedaled, it’s going to be tough. They’re our babies, after all. But by backing off you’re doing them a favor, and the sooner they’re out, the sooner you can get back to the blissful state of empty nesting.
Of course, don’t tell them that. You want them to think that no matter what, you’re miserable without them.
Even it is kind of true.