Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Caryl asks: Am I Mom Enough for Detachment Parenting?

As is often the case,  I am a living statistic of my generation.  This time I embody the parent whose beautifully educated child beaten down by an unforgiving job market must return home to heal and regroup. I have another child too at grad school arming herself with more degrees--this time vocational--and racking up loan money she'll have to repay when--and if--she gets a job in her new field. But that's another statistic.

Is it any wonder then I sat out Mother's Day in the country alone? By choice, I'll add. Our little family of three needed the space to recharge. I did so by sitting on my Havana day bed in the garden peacefully finishing The Newlyweds.  Then nature sent me a metaphor.
 Right there in the tree closest to me was a nest with two just-hatched baby robins.  And flitting from tree to fence to rooftop and back again were the mother and father birds fetching food, guarding the nest, chattering to each other. It was exhausting just to watch but I envied the birds for the easy arc of their parenting.  The robins were giving their offspring roots and worms, strengthening their tiny wings for flight.

We did too.  We gave them roots, wings--and everything else: ballet classes and music lessons, cultural outings and educational vacations, semesters abroad and summer internships. The list goes on.  We were so attentive that we were dubbed helicopter parents; our involvement in their childhood and adolescence knew no bounds.  But now that some of them have returned to the nest, none of us know quite what to do. There's no manual yet for raising grown children. Vibrant Nation has advice from other mothers--always a good place to start--of adult children returning home.  Sally Koslow's upcoming book Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empy Nest sizes up the situation with stories of frustrated parents and their frustrated offspring.  Reina Weiner, one mother quoted in Koslow's book, posits: "If you step back, they'll be able to step forward." Send the helicopter to the hangar.

I am already practicing detachment parenting. This new child-raising style isn't about tough love, it's about tough times. Unlike previous generations, our kids have been slammed by a brutal economy.  They grew up with high expectations only to have the world crush them down. (Did we forget to teach them resilience?) That's why last Sunday I was sitting in my garden  reading about young marriages and watching baby birds.  Life goes on, I learned from my first life.  But it doesn't get easier, I am finding out from my second life.  This detachment parenting is hard, even painful work. I hope I am mom enough to do it.


  1. Replies
    1. Glad you liked the pix. Today I looked into the nest--a week after I wrote
      this--and there were three, not two, baby robins. I am sure other (human)
      parents have been surprised to discover they were having more than the baby(ies) they expected. At least one of my friend had twins when she thought she was delivering a single. They are now both out of college--and as far
      as I know out in the world.

  2. It is tough for the young. Mine work very hard.. My son with little hope of buying an apartment in London. Hoerver at least we have relative world peace.

    1. And, I am also thankful for inner peace. And grateful for the riches of
      of friends old and new. I loved your post on white t-shirts and appreciate
      your mention of Happy Day!

  3. I really can relate to this entry and I, too, feel very sorry that the American children we raised have no expectation of finding good employment. My son also came home again and is working on getting his masters--more debt and more school. It is difficult to non-parent but I have (I think) successfully doing it. It is a tight rope learning to just keep my lip zipped and let him figure some things out the way we did, the hard way. We pretty much just orbit around one another. It goes without saying he still needs me and hates that!

    1. Yes, Lori, that sums it up. They need us--and they hate that they do.
      I feel badly even about that. Their pride of selfhood has been damaged. And, it's not something we can fix. Only time will change that. Were that it was
      only a scraped knee.

  4. Deary, yes, you're mom enough to do it, first for those beautiful daughters and secondly because you need more days on the divan in the garden. What a perfectly wonderful idea.

    Being less involved with the daily minutia of our adult chilren's lives is the only way to free ourselves up for a second or third act. My daughter is a helicopter dog owner, while son in Manhattan and beautiful wife are major helicopter control freaks. I thank God I am letting them do it now.

    Meanwhile, when can we get together for a good glass of Valpolicella?

    1. How I would love to share at glass of Valpolicella! Or, a grilled salmon
      at you know where. My garden divan is always waiting for you. So are
      the weeds. Ha!

  5. I'm here from A Femme d'un Certain Age. This is a terrific post, and while I don't have grad school students returning to the nest (my sons are both in college), I can relate to a good deal you describe here.

    As an older mom, and one who's gone solo for more than a decade, if and when my baby birds return to the nest, there will be no ability to provide them a soft landing. It's taken so much to get them launched, that's all there is - in terms of energy and other resources.

    I worry about paying work after college for both, and the loans that will need to be repaid. Fortunately, they both have significant amounts of scholarship, but it nonetheless leaves many many thousands of dollars in student debt they're taking on - and if there are no jobs - I have no answers. And I've always been the parent to pull something out of my hat, and "no answers" will be a shock, if it comes to that.

    I have had a taste of what it will be like - as each has returned (more independent than ever) during summer months. They regress; I grow irritated. If I'm working around the clock, they need to be working at something.

    This is an economy that requires reinvention (yes, on my mind much of late) - and for millions of us who are older it is the case, and for millions of our once idealistic sons and daughters, perhaps where we help is not only in tough love born of a tough economy, but our examples of refashioning our mode of earning a living - so they may learn lessons and find a way to adapt.

    I'm thrilled to have found your blog. And I'm certain you're mother enough to adjust your style. They say "necessity is the mother of invention." I believe mothers are the architects of addressing necessity.

  6. BigLittleWolf--

    I am so glad we have found each other. (I've already signed up for your blog alerts!).
    We are kindred spirits, I can tell, and sisters of reinvention, and, yes, architects of
    our lives. (I used to use the latter expression all the time while my children
    were growing.) And, now we are members of the same (2nd lives) club. As I
    said before, I am with you all the way.