Lisa Hess, an empty-nester who welcomed her young-adult daughter home in early 2020, contemplates the complication of pandemic parenting.
I've read numerous articles alerting readers to the fact that the parents of small children are not all right. They're stressed to the max, as I would have said in college, with simultaneous clouds of COVID, work stress, childcare stress, financial worries, and various other relationship concerns converging overhead and producing a never-ending thunderstorm of worry, punctuated by lightning strikes of unexpected crises that could morph into a fire at any time.
It's pretty bad. But other parents? We're not all right either.
Take the parents who sent their kids to college in the middle of a pandemic. That hole in the nest (or a totally empty nest) is a thundercloud in itself, one that also rarely travels alone. Are they ready to be on their own? Will they be able to manage their classes? What happens if they get sick? Will they go to a party that ends up endangering their lives? Does silence on their end mean they're thriving or curled up somewhere in the fetal position?
And then there are the parents whose kids graduated mid-pandemic. Their kids' final classes were not in classrooms, but on Zoom screens. The independence their young adults had grown into was stunted as they moved back into their childhood bedrooms. We watched for their names to flash on a screen as they celebrated four years of hard work by graduating in their own living rooms. Watched them try to navigate life after college in a world where everything was suddenly virtual, and newly empowered employees with experience asserted their value (rightfully so), leaving the inexperienced graduates competing with them for jobs that everyone (except those looking for a job) attests are plentiful.
No. The parents are not all right.
Let me begin by saying that I love my daughter and I'm grateful for the time we've been able to enjoy with her post-college graduation. Let me also say that I'm fully aware of the fact that many parents don't get this bonus time, and would give the world (or at least some substantial portion of it) to get that time.
But this crazy, mixed-up progression of high school graduate to college student to virtual student to living room graduate is growth-stunting for parents and young adults alike. We raised our kids so they'd be ready to fly and then, when that time came, the pandemic clipped their wings. We mourned our empty nests, slowly grew accustomed to our kids' independence, and learned along the way how to navigate a new sort of relationship.
And then they moved back home.
At first, it was a treat. An extended break where we lovingly cooked their favorite meals and picked up their dirty socks.
But two years is simultaneously too long to treat our kids as guests and not long enough to figure out how to parent young adults living in their childhood bedrooms. Two weeks is too long for dirty socks and college hours and sharing a bathroom that had finally become our own.
Let me reiterate: I love my daughter and I'm glad she's here. But after spending more than three years growing accustomed to simple pleasures like a quiet house and uncluttered surfaces—small reward for the gaping silence and sadness of those first few months of freshman year—I want a timeline for her declaration of independence. Not because I want her gone but because the longer she stays, the more I realize how hard it will be to let her go again.
And so I focus on the shoes I trip over and the mess in the kitchen and my loss of control of the remote because contemplating the next step feels so much like a do-over of one of the hardest parenting journeys of my life.
I know how to say goodbye after spring break, or even a summer. But for the foreseeable future?
That's something altogether different.
Copyright 2022 Lisa Hess
Image: Canva Pro
About the Author
Transplanted Jersey girl Lisa Lawmaster Hess is the author of a blog compilation, three novels, and three non-fiction books, including the award-winning Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist’s Guide to Sorting Your Stuff. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania. She blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, Organizing by STYLE, and here at Catholicmom.com. Read all articles by Lisa Hess.