Leaving the Nest: Encouraging Independence
Q:I think my daughter is going to graduate from high school (it has been touch and go), but she does not seem ready to go to college. I don’t want her staying at home past graduation. She is not getting grades for going to college, but expects us to support whatever she decides to do and let her stay home. I feel trapped! Help!
A: It is clear that your daughter has given you reason to suspect that handling college would be too difficult for her. Does she agree? What are her expectations? Does she think she’d be living at home with the same expectations you had in high school, or does she think that she will have freedom to come and go as she wants?
It is clear that you are concerned about the lack of a plan for her after high school. Has she ever been a planner or is this pretty much the same way she has approached life all the way through school? Is home life so harmonious that she will have a hard time leaving the nest? If living at home has been stressful for her, she might be more open to coming up with a plan for leaving home than you might expect. If it has been very nurturing, she might need a plan for how your connection will continue.
It is clear that you are ready for a break from the daily parenting that comes with children living at home. I hope that she, too, is ready for a break from family life. Have you started having these discussions, or are you getting ready for them once she has actually graduated? Often, when young people are struggling, it forces us to go from one milestone to the next, being relieved it has been accomplished before we move on to the next one.
You can’t approach thinking about the future without dealing with what messages your daughter is getting from her peers about after high school plans. Some parents are happy to keep their kids at home for as long as they can. Reasons for this are varied, from a close relationship with the child to how our culture has in many ways normalized youth staying with their parents much longer than in earlier times. Are her friends yearning to leave home or wanting to take a break from school expectations and spend some time trying to sort out their future paths? Are their parents subsidizing their leaving home or letting them figure things out at home until they are ready to go? You might want to take a route that is somewhere in between those two paths.
If your primary goal is to get her off on her own, your steps may have included making her responsible for herself over the past years. Knowing how to budget, how to stay safe, how to cook and do laundry are all skills she will need on her own.
It is expensive to live independently, so looking for a roommate might be part of the plan. She may be lucky enough to have friends with the same goals. She has already worked as part of a team in projects in school; these skills will help her learn how to work with one or more roommates in breaking down responsibilities and tracking finances.
How much are you willing to help launch her? If you and she are both in agreement that moving out is her best next step, then you can plan together. Listen and ask questions, and allow her to come up with answers. You get to set limits about the degree of your financial and emotional support, and she gets to learn how to live within those limits.
Some experts feel that these skills alone will support successful independent living:
• Money management.
• Clothing and laundry care and cleaning.
• Healthy eating and sleep habits.
• The ability to keep track of dates and time commitments.
• Healthy self-medication (especially if on prescribed medications).
• The ability to ask for help.
As you two work together to plan this next stage, continue to help her see the skills she already has and how they will help her as she moves forward independently. Many parents have no problem paying for tuition if their child is making passing grades. Does that match your family’s value? Is it in your best interest to help with some of her expenses? Some families pick up car and health insurance along with half of the rent. Others also provide the car, but keep it in their name so it can’t be sold. This gives room for your daughter to contribute as she can with her limited skills at this stage of life.
If she is not ready to move out, and working toward this plan will take time, then focus on developing and using these skills and contributing what she can to a fund for moving out (don’t forget all those deposits!). Talk as if she is on her way out as much as possible to set the new reality clearly in her mind. Do not intend for her to live with you without a plan to move out as a goal. Good luck!
Moving Out And Moving on: Guide for Female Teens And Their Mothers by Brenda Hayes