Thoughts on My Last Child Leaving Home
This is a bittersweet time. I’m wrapping up my parenting career.
I mean, I know you’re never truly “done.” After all, before long, I’ll have grandchildren.
My friends who are grandparents say it’s an adventure that allows them some measure of redemption–since as a 50+ grandparent, all your rough edges have been bumped off, and you’re not responsible for the outcomes. So it’s just less scary.
I have Thanksgivings and family reunions to look forward to. And my two youngest, college students, will probably come home for the summer.
But I’ve just become an empty nester. I’m about to move to Park City, after raising my four children in Orem, Utah.
I’ve been here for 33 years–since I arrived in this town a shiny college freshman, myself, in 1985.
As a single mom of four, the past 10 years, I’ve wondered how I would feel about this moment. As my youngest son, Tennyson, has left for a summer job out of state, and then starts his freshman year at a university several hours away.
Did I do the job well enough? I try not to dwell on my failures and weaknesses. But, as I look back, there are many things I wish I’d done, conversations I wish I’d had when they were younger.
Back when I was the major influence in their life. Before the hard conversations with teen and young adult kids earned me an eye-roll, and before their peer group became their biggest influence.
Are they ready for adulthood, independence–and all the ways Life will give them challenges and trials?
I went to my personal page, on Facebook, and the Green Smoothie Girl page, to ask parents of children over 15 this question:
“If you had it to do over again, knowing what you know now, how would you parent your children differently?”
In this blog post, I share some of the answers I got.
As for me, I’d go back and not sweat the small stuff. (And as the late, great, Richard Carlson said, “It’s all small stuff.”)
I have always been ambitious, a pusher, with a high bar. I’m not sure that was the right approach. Not with as many ways as I used it.
I’d have dropped everything, as a work-from-home Mom, more often. Made eye contact and just listened, longer. Listened empathically instead of with suggestions and solutions.
I’d be far more creative, in finding ways we both can win, to avoid power struggles. Starting with more “conversation” before imposing “consequences.”
I’d be amazingly slow to anger, if I could re-invent myself as the perfect parent. I’d save “raising my voice” for that few times in a lifetime where it was absolutely needed.
I’d have let my oldest son drop out of preschool. It was the wrong environment for him, really toxic, in fact–but I had this fixed idea in my head, that “We’re not quitters around here.”
For heaven’s sake, he was 3 years old. He never really liked school, after that, and I blame myself.
Sometimes quitting is the exact right thing to do. I should have let him quit piano, earlier, too. I fought with him over it, for years. (Who cares about piano! Now, with perspective, I know.)
I’d talk to them younger, and in installments (rather than one “perfect” grandiose talk about a big subject).
About sex, marriage, porn, alcohol and drugs, relationships. How to be a good man who cares for his lady. How to be a woman who stands up for herself, if she’s in situations she’s uncomfortable with.
You can read between the lines, there, on the issues my amazing two sons and two daughters have faced.
All that said, I know, too, that extending myself mercy is part of the deal.
I went into parenting planning to be perfect, and determined to be a better mom than my own mother knew how to be–with her own backstory of trauma and unresolved issues, in an age where no one was intervening to help with those issues.
I don’t know how many parents have no regrets. If you’re one of them, write me a comment on this blog. Share your wisdom. (And feel free to add your own “what I’d do differently,” if you’re like me, and you DO have regrets. It might help someone.)
Parenting is a “long game,” and we learn it as we go. Each child is so different, and adapting to their unique needs and personalities can make your head spin.
Now, many of the parents weighing in on my Facebook post, were the easygoing type. We all “reap the whirlwind” of our children’s innate characteristics that they were born with, combined with the way we knew how to parent, when we were still so young, ourselves.
I thought you’d enjoy what parents of teens and adults had to say. Read these and see if these pearls of wisdom help you, too. I’m inspired by them, and wish I’d had a list like this, to read several times a year, when my children were very small.
You’ll read some raw angst…some parents who feel they nailed it…others who wish they’d done almost the opposite of my own regrets.
But you’ll pick up some themes, too. See which of these comments resonate with you:
Maria H. I have learned to not yell at my kids. I raised my voice because I was tired, worn out, and lazy. I hear parents yell at their kids today and I cringe. All I had to do was interact more and connect more with them. Get down to their level.
I wish I would have cheered on all their hopes and dreams better. Instead I tried to push my agenda and ideas for them, on them. In doing so, I was basically telling them their ideas, hopes and dreams weren’t ok.
Eric W.: I’d make him do more (or really, any) chores.
Ryan P. I’d listen and respect the opinion of my children, instead of readily dismissing because I knew I was correct.
Christina C. I’d get counseling to work through our own issues before repeating some of the negative aspects of our childhood with our own kids. Now that they’re older, this is harder to do.
Melanie H. Let more go. Show more love.
Bradley M. Time spent is much more valuable than money spent. Give your kids responsibilities, and trust that they’ll appreciate them later.
Kathy T. Treasure every minute. They may seem to drag, some days. But believe me, you will look back and find those moments flew by.
Be 100% consistent and truthful. If you say they gotta eat all their vegetables before they get their cookies, you make sure they eat their vegetables. Don’t bargain or play that stupid, “Okay, just eat half” game. Kids need to know 100% what to expect. They need sure boundaries. So make the rules and stick by them, and you can avoid the worst headaches.
Susan S. Boundaries and consequences must be the same, no matter which parent or grandparent is laying them down. I’d do more activities together, whether it’s yard work or hiking or going to the library. Family home evening, anyone?
Ramon R. I don’t regret a lot. Even our mistakes have been good learning times for us all. But on a do-over I would have set a better example and culture of exercise and self care. I would also have tried to have more patience. “Wag more, bark less.”
Deb J. Less trying to control their behavior. More time showing how to love.
Pasquel N. Let them fail, and endure the consequences.
Amy D. Relationship is more important than responsibility.
Brittany H. Spend more time on my marriage and keeping myself connected to the outside world. I didn’t “helicopter parent,” but between the kids and house, and keeping up with our businesses, I lost myself, my marriage, and the businesses. I have my children but the instability in ME definitely impacted them.
John S. You must be a great parent, because the bad ones never use introspection or admit they did anything wrong. And yes, one of the biggest things we often neglect to teach our kids is that spouse comes first, children need to see and hear that: they learn from example.
Deborah B. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Laugh more with them. Ask for forgiveness.
Kim S. I would look into their eyes every time they talked to me.
Alyce C. My husband and I both worked full time and choose to work the same weekends so we could enjoy off weekends together as family time. I want to think, looking back, that opposite weekends might have been a better choice because that would have allowed kids all weekends with at least one parent…but hindsight can be skewed.
Robin S. I would have a LOT fewer rules and a LOT more fun.
Kim D. By example, show them how to pray. If I had just known that He Still Speaks and that it’s like talking to a friend, not reading from some perfect script. It’s like having a “Helen Detox” for all matters in life. The Relationship. It really is Key.
I would know their Identity. How many times in life are we upset because someone maybe didn’t see our worth? If we were confident in our IDENTITY it wouldn’t matter. If my kids saw themselves as Christ sees them, they we would be a lot healthier.
Randy F. I would not have put my daughter through a 7-year relationship I had, while she was young, with a partner who didn’t like her. I spent those 7 years over-compensating for what she wasn’t getting from my partner. I will never forgive myself. Greatest regret of my life, don’t know what the hell I was thinking.
Wayne B. I am still learning how to be a better dad. But the one thing I know is to spend more TIME with them.
Nessa N. I spent the last 19 years raising my daughter as a single parent with no help, financial or otherwise. Biggest regret is working so hard all the time to support us that I missed a lot of small joys and TIME. You never get that time back.
I have a beautiful, well-rounded, smart kiddo. She is now a Pre Med student, works full time and goes to school full time. Scary when you can see what values your children take from you, and that they may end up missing the special little things just like I did. Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses and enjoy a green smoothie here and there.
Amy K. I would teach my children how to stand up for themselves more and not get walked on for being nice and having manners.
Jane G. Be kind ALL THE TIME.
Riki E. Give them more choice, and allow them to make “affordable mistakes.” These are great material for teaching moments. Don’t shield them from all pain, but instead, coach them on how to work through it.
Rochelle T. I wish I’d known how to manage my anger better.
Andrea R. I wouldn’t have always let my child win. To this day (at 27), he’s still a sore loser. Even when you’re playing snakes and ladders, don’t be afraid to climb the ladder and let your kiddo go down the snake.
Kim H. My girls are 21 and 23, and I’m not sure I would have changed anything. Although we made plenty of mistakes and hindsight is 20/20, our girls turned out extremely well–but by the grace of God.
I was super strict in areas of clothing and what they could watch and listen to, until more age appropriate. I was extremely relaxed in discipline, and never had any trouble with them. We had every pet we could manage. They went to private school, were homeschooled for 5 years, and then went to public school. Both college graduates, Magna Cum Laude. One is starting law school, the other, her career.
Jennifer O. My children are now 26 and 29. I definitely would have been a better example of healthy living–eating healing foods, and speaking more kindly and thoughtfully. We ate mostly the Standard American Diet, and I had a different mindset then.
Lisa R. I wouldn’t allow video games. We used them as a babysitter when the boys were young. My youngest, now 20, is stuck, and I can’t wean him. He has no drive, and didn’t graduate high school, though he did get his GED.
Donna S. Both kids, ages 30 and 32, grew into honest, hard-working and well adjusted adults. We were very strict, conservative, made both children own up to their mistakes and work to pay for cell phones and car insurance.
I would not change those things. But wish I had known about preservatives in foods at that time. I also wish we had slowed down our pace and had not tried to do so many activities that put stress on everyone.
Michele G. Not to sweat the small stuff, spend more quality time with them.
Wendy H. I would teach them to do more things on their own: life skills, making a budget, etc.
Nancy N. When they ask to do something, and request my help for it, I would do it right away.
Debbie T. My 3 daughters are 23 to 32. I don’t think I would change anything. They made mistakes and got grounded. Most of the time we let them make their own decisions. We sat down with them, and let them know what we expected of them, and told them never to be afraid to talk to us about anything. We are truly blessed.
Tracy P. My daughter is 19, and if I could change one thing, I would have waited to give her a cell phone until she was older, and put limitations on it. I feel like she got sucked up in social media and all that entails.
Kristin W. I would have fed them a whole foods diet and invested in their nutrition by having a garden.
Sharon L. I am a single mom and always had (and have) financial difficulties, but I would have tried harder to figure out how to be able to take us on a family vacation, somewhere, somehow.
Zina W. I’d learn more about their “personality type” and teach myself to be more patient and loving, remembering they are each unique and have different needs. I’d spend more “quality time”with them. They grow up fast!
Don F. I would give them less “agency!”
Karen B. I’d be more consistent. I’d have applied for services for my children with disabilities before they were teenagers.
Susan H. I would have read to them more, and engaged with them more, especially my older kids. They don’t come with instructions, so sometimes the first one or 2 become the ones you practice on. I have 9, and I think I was a better parent to the last 6 than the first 3.
Natalie W. I would have let them be little, more. I would have followed through and been consistent more. I would take the time to pause and teach more patiently and watch them make decisions and grow and learn with them.
Paula S. I like to think I would have fought with my husband in front of them, which I never did, or pressed for my viewpoint. We had our disagreements in private, and he usually won, and still does. My daughters didn’t really know how to assert themselves and argue well, in marriage, when they eventually married. One figured it out. The other did, as well, but only after a divorce.
Liz J. My husband and I separated when the girls were 9 & 12. My only regret is that, because of the divorce, I didn’t get to spend as much time with them because of shared custody.
I feel like I missed out on so many things when they were growing into their teenage years and especially when they went on trips with their dad to the “other” grandparents for Christmas or on vacations. I felt left out.
Melissa D. I would have spent more time playing with them when they were little, and less time yelling and worrying about the house being perfect.
Holly B. I would not take out my frustrations with the biological mom on my stepson. After 10 years, she still tries to undermine me and keep me out of his life, and as much as I tried to shield him from my negative emotions, I let him see my reactions. Which weren’t always good. I would do more to protect him and keep the appearance of peace and harmony. It’s not his fault.
Maria C. I wish I would have home schooled.
Genevieve W. I would have adopted a family dog instead allowing one child’s heart to break when I got a mental health pet for the other. I’m still deeply saddened every time I think of his response.
Susan B. I wish I would have taken more of an interest in all my daughter’s friends. I gave them their privacy. But they are all such dynamic, young amazing people that in a way I cheated myself out of the pleasure of knowing them more deeply.
Teri C. There was so much fear in my sphere, because of their illnesses, that they felt it, even though I didn’t talk about it. Now I know to just hold the space for then but not to create energy about it, because it will affect (in a negative way) the thing I was trying to solve for them
Margaret P. I was very present and loving with my three children, but I was a caretaker, and cared much more about their feelings than my own. I didn’t role model personal responsibility for my feelings and needs. I role modeled self-abandonment. I now believe that half of good parenting is being there for your children and the other half is being there for yourself, role modeling being loving to yourself and to them. I wish I had known that then, but at least I do role model this now.
Helen B. If I could have a redo, I would take more time out for play and just “being” with my children. I didn’t realize how fast time was moving! And though I think I navigated all the milestones with them pretty well, looking back, I think I was that helicopter parent, afraid to let my children fall a bit and learn important life lessons because I couldn’t bear for them to have disappointments or hurt. I’m a much better grandparent!
My previous blog post, where I ask all of us, as parents, to lighten each other’s loads by being less judgmental towards each other.
See my parenting podcast episodes, on Vibe, where I interview my brother, Rob, about his experience as we were growing up, Episode #40; an interview with “child whisperer” Carol Tuttle, Episode #8; and my own episode on 13 Secrets to High-Vibration Parenting, Episode #7.
— Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is a single mom of four salad-eating, adulting kids.
She has a FREE video masterclass you can sign up for here, to learn how she got herself, and her kids, off the Standard American Diet, to lose 70 pounds and ditch 21 diagnosed diseases.