5 Tips for Parents of Graduating Seniors

Here’s a story I wrote a few months before I officially became an “empty nester.” Many of my friends are going through the transition from full-time parents with their kids graduating high school and starting the next phase of their lives. This story is for anyone facing the empty nest or having their oldest child graduating high school. Trust me, it gets better and you’ll learn to love some “me” time.

I’ve written about the top 10 things kids need to know before leaving for college. But, what about us? When our kids leave, it’s a drastic change in our lives.

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When we took our son, our oldest child, to University of California Santa Barbara, I was strong. I was emotional about moving him into the dorms, but I was excited for him, too. I loved college. They were some of the best years. I was excited for him to love it, too.

But, then we said our good-byes. It hit. Like a punch in the stomach. Then, the tears. Oh, my! I wasn’t expecting that. The drive home, my younger child, age 15, looked at me in horror. I was falling apart. Thank goodness for her riding in the car with me. I probably would have wailed like a complete idiot without her staring at me.

 

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My son on our friend’s sailboat during orientation weekend.

Now, I have a few months left before I face a totally empty nest. What did I learn the first time around to prepare me for this time?  I wish I knew some secret to make it easier.

During orientation, UCSB gave parents a few tips on how to parent your college kid. This is what I remember:

1. Give them space. Don’t hover, don’t call too often, never call before 10 a.m.

2. Set up a time to make calls on a weekly basis — and not more often than that.

3. Expect them to get homesick. It’s natural they will miss home-cooked meals, their own room, their friends, pets, and you!  Reassure them that this is normal. They tend to get homesick around six to eight weeks. It will get better. They’ll adjust. But, will you?

4. Be sure to send a few care packages. Their favorite cookies, toiletries, something to make them smile. Mid-terms and finals weeks are ideal times to mail care packages.

5. Take time for yourself! Write, paint, sew, take a yoga class. Do something every week for just you. Make a list of things you used to love doing, but through the child-raising and working years, haven’t found time to do. Make another list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t. You’ll find your way.

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The quilt I made my son out of his swim tee shirts.

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My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

 

 

 

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Who is to blame for millennials’ angst?

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When the kids were young and I hadn’t messed up parenting too badly, yet.

I watched a video posted on Facebook by one of my children’s former swim coaches about millennials in the workforce and the problems they face. It really made me reflect about my own parenting and kids. There’s an increased number of kids in this age group with depression, committing suicide and overdosing. That’s terrifying, don’t you agree? What can be done about it? And why is it happening?

You can watch the aforementioned video here

Here are the four main points of the video:

ONE
Bad Parenting

I hate that bullet point and know I’m guilty of some bad parenting myself. The main idea is that our kids were told they are special at every turn, whether it’s deserved or not. Consequently, millennials often suffer from low self esteem. While we’re trying to make our kids strong, mentally and physically, we’re doing something very wrong. We have highly educated, competent kids who don’t believe in themselves. Maybe everyone shouldn’t get a participation trophy in tee ball. It’s one of the reasons why I like swimming. Every mili-second dropped and ribbon received is truly earned. The clock doesn’t lie.

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Before the computer and cell phone I thought the The IBM Selectric II was the greatest invention ever.

TWO
Technology

Checking our number of likes, texts, etc. give us a jolt of dopamine. That’s why we get addicted to our phones. Social media and cell phones are not much different than other highly addictive substances like tobacco or alcohol. When teenage brains are exposed to dopamine, they get hooked and their brains get hardwired. Hearing this part of the video makes me want to look at my own cell phone usage and make some changes—a good thing to think about for New Year’s Resolutions (I’ll write more about this later). Social media is preventing our kids from developing personal relationships and may lead to depression and being unable to handle stress.

THREE
Instant Gratification

Our kids have grown up in the world of instant gratification. If they want to watch a movie, they turn on Netflix. If they want to buy something, they click on Amazon and it’s delivered the next day. I interviewed a psychologist, Dr. Nicole Walters, and wrote about instant gratification here. Job satisfaction and relationships aren’t a click away. Instead they are messy and time consuming, but our kids aren’t learning these skills of waiting and working for things.

FOUR
Environment

Maybe our corporate environments aren’t a good fit for young people. Our kids blame themselves when it could partially be the fault of the company they work for. Companies need to work extra hard to build the children’s social skills and work on their lack of confidence. We need to work on interpersonal relationships and one good way to start is to put the phone down.

What are your thoughts about millennials and their angst? Do you think it’s our fault they are suffering from depression and anxiety? Or, does the environment and technology play a bigger role?

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Selfie of Mom and me playing BINGO. She is the best mom and my role model.

Are you losing sleep over your adult kids?

When they were young and I worried about other things.

 I read a fascinating story that said “Study Confirms That Parents Still Lose Sleep Worrying About Their Adult Children.” I am definitely on of those parents who is losing sleep and I know my dear friend Gabby, who shared this story on Facebook is one, also. 

Even before our children are born, we worry about them. We’re relieved when we count the 10 fingers and 10 toes in the hospital, but we still worry. We’re relieved when they do well on their tests in school and make the team, but we still worry. We worry about safety, about their grades, about what they’ll do for a career, about who they’ll one day marry or if they’ll get married at all. The list of things to worry about feels endless.

We hope that our worries will ease as our children get older, but it turns out that’s not the case.

Can you relate to this as a parent, too? On my current list of worries is the bad air quality due to the Camp Fire for my son. He suffers from asthma and the air where he lives has been defined as “hazardous” and/or “dangerous.” As for my daughter, she’s a new graduate trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. It’s a constant worry to me that she’ll find happiness where ever she decides to live and finds a career that is rewarding and satisfying.

Here’s more from the story:

A recent study conducted by Amber J. Seidel of Pennsylvania State University confirms what many parents already know – you never stop worrying about your children. Her study went on to show that parents actually lose sleep worrying about their adult children.

Parents, it looks like we’ll be worrying forever. If you’re children are already adults, you may already know that to be true.

In Seidel’s study, 186 heterosexual married couples with adult children were surveyed. On a scale of 1 to 8, they were asked how much assistance they offer their children. Assistance could include financial, emotional or even chatting on the phone. Choosing 1 meant daily assistance and interaction where 8 was only once a year.

The parents were also asked to choose from 1 to 5 regarding stress. In this case, choosing 1 meant no stress, and 5 meant the maximum amount of stress.

The third thing these parents tracked was how much sleep they got at night. Moms got an average of 6.66 hours and dads got slightly more with an average of 6.69 hours.

The results were not the same for moms and dads. For moms, it didn’t matter if they were the ones offering assistance or if their husbands were the ones offering assistance; moms were stressed out and sleeping less either way.

Dads showed a lack of sleep and more stress only when they were the ones offering assistance to their adult children. If their wife offered assistance, it didn’t affect them. This either means that dads are not affected in the same way as moms or that the wives weren’t telling their husbands about the assistance causing the dads to be stress free due to lack of knowledge about the situation.

I found it interesting that the dad’s didn’t lose sleep if their wives were the ones offering support. Or, like the article said, maybe they weren’t aware of what was going on. 

Do you worry about your children too, regardless of their age? What do you worry about most?

My kids are learning how to adult and I worry more.

Do as I say, not as I do

kiddosTalk about hypocrites. I read the strangest story about parents who live in the Silicon Valley and refuse to let their kids see or touch iPhones or any screens of any nature. These are parents who work in the high tech world and themselves use the devices. While they are at work, they hire nannies to shield their kids from the heinous devices they work to create.

Then to even go further, they make nannies sign contracts that they will keep them away from screens. They also hire spies to snoop on their nannies at parks to make sure they don’t cheat and check their phones. When these parents get home, they are locked onto their phones. Maybe it’s because they understand how miserable the phones are making their lives, that they want to keep their kids’ lives free from tech.

Here are a few excerpts from the article I read in sfgate called Silicon Valley Nannies are Phone Police for Kids:

SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.

But it’s very hard for a working adult in the 21st century to live at home without looking at a phone. And so, as with many aspirations and ideals, it’s easier to hire someone to do this.

Enter the Silicon Valley nanny, who each day returns to the time before screens.

“Usually a day consists of me being allowed to take them to the park, introduce them to card games,” Jordin Altmann, 24, a nanny in San Jose, said of her charges. “Board games are huge.”

“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”

From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.

The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.

“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”

The bright side is these parents do care about their kids. They want what is best for them. In my humble opinion, why are they hiring someone else to raise them? I worked when my son was born and soon discovered I was jealous of the nanny. I wanted to raise my own child, not be an observer in the process.

rkcowboysDo the parents realize that their kids will model their behavior and learn most from what they do, not what they say?

Views from my morning walks

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Beauty.

I’ve been lousy about going to the pool lately. Mainly because of two reasons. First, I went to visit my daughter in Arizona for several days. Second, I got a nasty cold and I felt weak, congested and couldn’t breathe. Those are two absolutely acceptable reasons to skip Masters swimming, don’t you think?

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The Wellness Park in Palm Springs.

One thing that I haven’t missed, despite going out of town and feeling less than stellar, are my morning walks. In Arizona, I got to walk Waffles. Here, at home, the weather finally changed for the better. It feels perfect and the views are gorgeous. It’s the best I feel all day, being out in nature for an hour, soaking up the sun and radiant desert plants and mountain views.

I also treasured the days I had hanging out with Waffles, plus working on my laptop catching up on work. He’s a good companion, but not nearly as good as my daughter. We did the usual things we enjoy as a mother-daughter team. We went for a pedicure, she cooked me dinner, we shopped and we sat together and talked. All in all, the time together made me once again appreciate the small special things in life. Like having a daughter who wants me to come stay with her from time to time.

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Waffles

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Waffles and my daughter at Tempe Beach Park.

What are your favorite parts of the day? Do you find that they are spent outside or with family, too?

 

How to stop hovering and helicoptering

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My son before he learned to walk.

If you’re a helicopter parent, as I once was, how do you stop it? You know it’s not healthy for you or your kids, but how do we stop doing every little thing for our kids? In an article by Nancy Buck in US News, she said to go back to the toddler days. Unless of course, you were a helicopter parent back then, too. Buck explained that when our kids were crawling and learning to walk, most of us didn’t hover. We watched, we encouraged, we let our children fall, and get up again.

The objective is to raise happy, healthy kids who are independent and self-sufficient. With two much interference by us, they will suffer. We need to let go and increase our children’s freedom a bit at a time.

Here are a few excerpts from “Tips to Avoid Helicopter Parenting:”

Are you hovering? Try this instead to teach your child how to handle more independence.

RULES, routines and set expectations increase a child’s sense of safety and provide stability and consistency that support a child’s growth and learning. But there is more to parenting than creating this kind of secure environment. To raise a responsible and respectful child who matures into an effective and capable adult, you need to help your child learn how to handle increased responsibilities and freedom.

You accomplish this goal by slowly increasing the amount of freedom you give your child while simultaneously teaching him how to manage and handle the additional freedom. Your goal is to be the coach. Avoid hovering, criticizing and nagging, as this will not help your child tackle new challenges, which involves trying, failing and trying again as many times as necessary to master new skills.

One thing to keep in mind as you prepare your child to handle greater freedom is your shared experience when your child was a toddler. Do you remember what you did during this stage? Practice those same behaviors that helped your child stand, walk, and then run on her own. In case you forget what you did, you probably supported the attempts, encouraging the practice no matter how many times your child stood and fell, then stood back up again and fell again. Finally your child succeeded in standing on her own. Then she took her first step and fell.

Throughout this process you were close at hand, encouraging, smiling and perhaps congratulating. Did you criticize her attempts and failures? I bet no. Did you nag her to get up again and try even though she indicated she was tired and wanted to take a break? I sincerely doubt that you did. Did you stand or sit right next to her and catch her, not allowing her to fall? That’s called hovering, and it does not help your child learn to successfully and responsibly manage increased freedom.

Similarly, as a child grows, you’ll want to allow him more freedom, starting in the areas where he’s requesting it. Perhaps he is simply asking to go to a friend’s house without you taking him – say, riding the bus there from school. First you need to determine if this request is legal (my children wanted to drive a car before they were old enough, by law, to do that, so the answer was no) and if this is something you believe you can help your child successfully learn to do. Now seize this opportunity to comply with the request.

Coaching for success does not mean you immediately turn over total freedom and let your child do what she’s asked for or wants to do on her own. Work with her, support and encourage her, and most importantly ask her to self-evaluate. How does she think she’s doing? Does she see any ways she needs to make adjustments or corrections? Does she want your input? If she does want your opinion, mention an adjustment or change that you think could help her that she didn’t mention.

I was with my kids every minute when they were outside the house. I walked them to the park, around the neighborhood, etc. We arranged play dates with other moms and kids and would gather at each other’s houses or the park. At one point, and I’ll have to ask my kids how old they were, they wanted to ride bikes around the neighborhood or go to the park without me. I was a nervous nelly about it because of the case of Anthony Martinez. He was abducted from his front yard and his body was found close to our hometown. This happened when my kids were four and one years old, and the case remained unsolved until my son graduated high school. I wonder if this horrific incident influenced my friends as well?

Statistics show that we have less crime today than when I was a kid, but we worry more. When something like this hits so close to home, I believe it affects us more than seeing it on the news. I finally did allow my kids the freedom to walk to the park, walk downtown, etc. but I loved to have their friends come over to our house to play.

The real problem I had with helicoptering was doing too much for them on a daily basis, such as bringing forgotten homework to school, rushing forgotten bathing suits to the pool, and doing all the household chores. I also didn’t allow them to fail. I was there to pick up the pieces and that made for a tougher transition into college.

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Playing in the back yard.

In what ways did you helicopter your kids?

 

Where did the year go?

I woke up thinking “it’s June first and where did my year go?” Mostly nowhere is where my year went thanks to falling on the slopes January 2nd. It’s been a long five months of being injured, having surgery and slowly recovering. I looked back at what I was going last year at this time and it was all about being together as a family. 

Here’s my story from one year ago today:

18920581_10213697294890444_4649514921325596156_nThis past weekend, I was in mom heaven. My daughter was at a swim meet an hour away from where my son now lives. We didn’t do anything that special, we got to hang out together. It was one of my favorite weekends in recent memory.

At first, I was worried about how my daughter was going to do at the meet. She had already told us that due to other things going on in her life, her last few weeks of practice were not consistent at all.

I told her, “You can still get a best time and swim well.” 

She thought I was delirious. She was very realistic about what she could do at that point in time. I have to admit that after her first race, I got it. I relaxed about the times and understood that this meet was about being together as a family. It was a small slice of time where we could hang out and enjoy each other’s company. If I had been focused on her times and upset that she wasn’t at her peak fitness, I’d have been so disappointed. Instead, I reflected on being the mom of two almost grown kids that I’m so proud of. And, the fact that they enjoy being with me and each other.

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My daughter getting instructions from her coach.

While we were driving around town, the kids were in the back seat pretending to be little kids elbowing each other. I turned around from the front passenger seat and said, “Children, there’s an imaginary line going down the middle of the car. You can’t cross that line!”

My daughter immediately yelled out, “Mom, Robert crossed the line!”

Later, after fits of laughter, we hung out together in a park, lying on the grass and staring at the green leaves and blue sky.

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The park by the Santa Clara pool.

We shared books, ideas and meals. My son’s vocabulary had us looking up new words and trying to memorize and pronounce them, like “primogeniture.” One of my kids favorite things to do was to copy our faces. My son does an imitation of me, while Kat has perfected her dad’s scowl. It always ended in a burst of laughter and fits of giggles.

The swim meet was exciting with a who’s who in the swimming world in the final heats. I witnessed amazing races and the international flavor was so hopeful and invigorating with countries in attendance including Argentina, Mexico, Japan and China.

It may be the last time we’ll be staying in a hotel with our daughter at a meet. Ever. Her final college season is ahead this fall and she’ll be with her team, not us. I was a little teary-eyed when the weekend flew by and it was time for me to return again to my empty nest.

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My super heroes at the Winchester Mystery House.

What were you doing one year ago today?