If You Love Your Kids Let Them Go, Because Nobody Wants to Be Co-Sleeping With Mom in College

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The tough thing about parenting is that you get a tiny, clingy, needy, mewling little grub who can’t be physically apart from you for even a moment, and then in what feels like zero time to you, they’re giant, hairy, full-grown adults driving cars and voting and eating cereal for dinner because you wouldn’t let them do that when they were kids. For them, that transformation takes a lifetime. For us, it’s a weekend. And if we do it right and dote properly and love fully, they grow up and they go out of the house and meet exciting people and get wrapped up in their own lives and forget to call and email and we’re kind of sidelined. It’s a bittersweet thing, but that’s what happens if we do this parenting shit right.

If we don’t, well, then we wind up co-sleeping with our kids in their 20s, and that’s not good for anybody.

A college senior wrote to Dear Prudence to ask what to do about her excessively clingy mother, who really is having her 22-year-old daughter sleep in her bed so she won’t be lonely.

“I’m a senior at a local university, commuting from home, and my younger sister is leaving soon for a distant school,” she writes. “It’s just me, my sister, and our mother in the house, and I’m worried that I’ll be smothered now that Baby Sis is going away. Mom’s a single parent and does everything she can to keep us close so that she’s not lonely (this includes asking us to sleep in her bed for weeks at a time, and it’s been this way for years).”

The letter-writer says she feels guilty staying at school after class or even doing homework on campus. She shouldn’t feel guilty about that. She shouldn’t even feel guilty about going out to frat parties with kids her own age, or running off to Spring Break for a week, or whatever it is that college kids do for fun these days. It’s not her responsibility to stay home and watch Netflix with her mom so her mother won’t be lonely.

It sounds like the younger sister is getting out. By leaving for college out of state, she has a built-in excuse that will allow her to leave without guilt. But the letter-writer is stuck trying to figure out how to rip off the Band-Aid and figure out how to live her own life without feeling like she’s abandoning her mother. It must be hard for the mother, to have no one else in her life but her daughters, and to know that her daughters are about to leave. But it’s going to have to stop at some point. The letter writer will have to move out, get a job, get friends, get married, etc. Or that doesn’t happen, and it becomes a tragedy, like some sort of middle-class version of Grey Gardens.

Prudence hits the nail on the head when she says it’s not the letter writer’s job to figure out how to leave without letting her mom get too lonely. Not being lonely is her mother’s job to fix, not hers. The letter-writer needs to get out, whether it’s for a date, or a study-abroad term, or some kind of regular after-school activity. The mother needs some new friends, some therapy to help her cope with having been a single mother with no friends or support network for 20 years, and maybe a dog to dote on and snuggle. A lot of empty nesters consider trying for another child, but discover that what they really want is just something to snuggle and love and take to the park, and a dog fits the bill nicely. It’s OK to be clingy with a dog.

It’s really tough to make friends as an adult. When you’re a kid, someone plops you into the middle of a group of people your own age and says, “Here are your new friends!” As an adult, that doesn’t happen. You get your family and your coworkers, but it’s really easy to go your whole life without ever actually making adult friends. (I’ve seen 30-something women on Facebook going, “Where are they? I heard they’re at the YMCA. I think I need to go to the YMCA. I’m utterly failing at making friends.”) But we really have to do it. Go to the Y. Join one of those old lady clubs where people wear red hats. Just do something to get other people in our lives, because otherwise we can wind up leaning too heavily on our kids, and that’s not good for anybody.