My son’s departure date is fast approaching. He just graduated from high school and is going on a three-month learning experience in Israel and Eastern Europe. I vacillate between being irritated by him/looking forward to his leaving and adoring him/being excited for his adventure/feeling a smidge sad that he’s going. Just the other day he came back from a four-day youth group convention out of town. It was just starting to snow and I was cooking delicious treats, looking forward to being snowed in with my family.
“I’m going to spend the night at my friend’s house,” he announced, “I haven’t seen my buddies in five days.”
“Okaaay, but you’re going to spend three months with them,” I reminded him. I had hoped he would want to spend some time with us, and then felt a little pathetic, like a dog waiting for scraps of attention. I had a brief pity party and then I remembered being seventeen. I preferred my friends’ company to my family’s for a long time. My son has clearly crossed the line of wanting to be with his friends more than with his family. I know it’s normal and appropriate, but sometimes it bugs me. How could he not want to be with us? Aren’t we as awesome as we think we are? I also find annoying his occasional intolerance of my benign inquiries, like “what are your plans for the day?” I’m an awful, intrusive mother – obviously.
I was venting to my sister about my mixed emotions. “Sounds like he’s soiling the nest,” she said.
Precisely. I have heard about this phenomenon and am now experiencing it firsthand. Obviously, he is not literally soiling our home. Psychologists say graduating seniors may struggle with vulnerability and self-doubt about being equipped to fling themselves into the daunting unknowns of the next stage of life. They cannot directly confront their sadness about saying good-bye to the familiar “knowns” of childhood. How could they take flight, so weighed down by such emotional burdens? Better to fling off all that drag and fixate only on enhancing the “good riddance” of their good-byes. Better yet, why not soil the nest on the way out, “gifting” US with an easier “good-riddance to you too” good-bye ?! The more toxic and messy they are, the easier transitioning to the next phase will be, for them, and for us. I know we’ve got a fairly mild case of nest soiling. My son is not toxic or even particularly messy. He is generally sweet and thoughtful. But I gotta say – I’ll be kind of glad when he goes. This waiting period is hard. Ripping the band-aid off seems the better way to go.
The parties are over, the important talks have been had, with emphasis on “Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family or your school.” Let’s face it – it’s about him, but it’s also about us – the parents. No big to-do or send-off as we cross the line of this next milestone in the life of our family.
There have already been inquiries from his siblings about the use of his empty bedroom. Looks like some nest-reorganizing is in our future. At least until what’s-his-name comes back.