Six sum­mer things par­ents of a teen should do

Teach­ing them how to do their own laun­dry is just a start

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - MELISSA T. SHULTZ

For many par­ents of teenagers, the im­pact of their chil­dren leav­ing home is some­thing they’ve put off think­ing about un­til the day ar­rives, and not a mo­ment be­fore.

As the mother of two grown sons, I can tell you this ap­proach to the loom­ing empty nest doesn’t work out as well as you might think, mostly be­cause de­lay­ing the in­evitable doesn’t make it less in­evitable — it just makes it harder, later.

To avoid the sud­den “Uh-oh, now what?” re­al­ity, try think­ing about the time be­tween then and now as a process. With a lit­tle plan­ning and a healthy dose of con­ver­sa­tion, you can si­mul­ta­ne­ously move on to a new stage of par­ent­ing while your chil­dren move on to adult­hood.

Sum­mer is an ideal time to talk about shift­ing roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties (and per­haps of­fer an over­due laun­dry les­son) be­fore the school-year de­mands kick back in.

Here are some tips to help tran­si­tion with con­fi­dence.

1. Make the shift from ac­tive par­ent­ing to men­tor­ing. Try cut­ting back on the de­ci­sion-mak­ing and prob­lem-solv­ing for your teens, as well as tasks such as sched­ul­ing doc­tor or den­tal ap­point­ments and man­ag­ing a bud­get or al­lowance. You can still help, but ex­perts say it’s best to let them take the lead. By hav­ing them de­velop these skills over time, as op­posed to all at once when they leave home, you’re teach­ing them how to be suc­cess­ful adults.

2. Talk with your kids about the shift. Let them know mis­takes are a nor­mal part of the process and OK. Be­gin the con­ver­sa­tion with: “This is all new for me as I know it is for you.” Some other talk­ing points: “Our roles are chang­ing. We need one an­other dif­fer­ently, and we have dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions about how we should be in­ter­act­ing dur­ing this shift to your adult­hood. Let’s be pa­tient with one an­other and hon­est.” Be sure to re­mind your chil­dren how proud you are of their de­ci­sion­mak­ing. It will en­cour­age them to keep mak­ing good de­ci­sions, and you to keep hon­ing your new role in their lives.

3. Con­sider your own fu­ture. What are your per­sonal and ca­reer in­ter­ests? Are you do­ing work and par­tic­i­pat­ing in hob­bies that you en­joy? Mine your child­hood for in­spi­ra­tion and be open to change. If you’re think­ing you’re too old to start some­thing new, sci­ence has shown that’s not true.

We not only learn from new ex­pe­ri­ences, we can re­train our brains. As we chal­lenge our­selves and ac­quire new skills, the brain rewires and re­mod­els it­self. If you’ve been a stay-at-home mom and are con­sid­er­ing a new ca­reer, think about skills you de­vel­oped as a par­ent. Make a list. Do the same for in­ter­ests. Try as­sess­ment tests. What kind of work can you do that blends your tal­ent with your in­ter­ests and val­ues? Re­mem­ber, you’re the only per­son with your par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.

4. Take stock of your friend­ships. Re­search shows that friend­ships and so­cial sup­port im­prove our health, hap­pi­ness and longevity. There’s no magic num­ber of friends that you should have, but be aware that dur­ing your tran­si­tion, some of the friend­ships you once held so dear might not stick. Some­times it’s be­cause your needs and goals have changed. Some­times, friends might be go­ing through an ex­pe­ri­ence they don’t feel they can share.

So what should you look for in a friend at this stage of life? Loy­alty and trust­wor­thi­ness, for starters — some­one who takes an in­ter­est in you and takes the ini­tia­tive to plan things so they are not al­ways one-sided. Ask your­self: Is there a par­tic­u­lar per­son­al­ity I am at­tracted to? Who makes me laugh? In­spires me?

5. Re-ig­nite your love con­nec­tion. Try go­ing on a date with your sig­nif­i­cant other and not talk­ing about the kids for more than 15 min­utes. This is harder than it sounds. Make time to dis­cuss is­sues im­por­tant to both of you, per­haps those you’ve been putting off, think­ing you’d get back to them once the kids were gone.

What­ever you say, say it with kind­ness.

That’s the No. 1 habit of happy cou­ples, ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts. If you need help open­ing the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, con­sider re­sources such as com­mu­nity and re­li­gious-based classes, or pro­fes­sional coun­sel­lors and re­la­tion­ship coaches.

6. Purge. Are you hold­ing on to ev­ery pa­per and project your child ever brought home from school or af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties? Sort through them and whit­tle down the piles.

Make a me­mory box to store the best of the best. The goal is to avoid be­ing in a home where your kids no longer live, but all their stuff does.

This can make for some se­ri­ous empty-nest blues even for the tough­est and busiest among us.

Try whit­tling the piles down to­gether, as a fam­ily. Maybe a pizza din­ner is the re­ward. Maybe it’s just know­ing it’s done. Trust me, you won’t lose the good mem­o­ries. They live on in your heart.

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