Graduate 2020/ Diane Helfrich

It has been six years since I graduated my last homeschooled child and sent her off into the world. In these six years, I have had a bit of time to reflect on things I might have done differently. The wisdom I hoped to impart to both of my children is this: there are no wrong decisions. There are only decisions, and if this decision isn’t working, then make a new decision. I did the best I could (as we all do) in the process of watching my chicks fly from the nest. I can say that there are no regrets here, but I do carry some observations that would have made life with young adults easier.

Having your children leave home is the most significant change that you will face in your relationship with them until they marry and begin families. They enter the adult-zone of making life decisions and social choices on their own; they are no longer under the protection of your wings. They may be living in that great social experiment called the university environment—which is unlike anything they will experience before or after schooling. They may be launching into a job and living solo or with friends. Some of our children will marry earlier and leave our house to create homes of their own. Regardless, their relationship with you is now differently flavored. Now they will sort through and establish their vision for their life, and their vision may look like the home in which you reared them, or it may look quite different.

As hard as it can be for some of us to watch, we need to let our children bumble through this time as they learn the responsibilities and patterns that come with independent living. We need to be hesitant to chime in; we need to resist giving guidance unless we are asked. We have been the recipients of unrequested assistance, and we know how that feels—ugh! Our children do not like interference any more than we do. So how and what do parents do to properly influence their adult children? I would suggest that before their departure, you have a conversation about expectations for your family relationships from this time forward.

  1. On which holidays do you want them to come home? Which traditions do you hope to protect? You may have to pick your battles here!
  2. What are your expectations for communication: daily, weekly, texts, phone calls, videos, letters? What is an acceptable timeframe for them to return your calls before you become concerned? Twenty-four hours can seem like an eternity.
  3. What are your ground rules when they come home? Remember they are adults now, so will they have curfews? Do you still expect them to help around the house? Do they need to communicate to you about meals? Or if they have moved to a dorm or apartment, do they need to tell you before they drop by?
  4. What are your expectations about family activities and how much they participate with things like going to church, visiting Grandma, or siblings’ birthday parties?
  5. And when they come home, how much laundry may they bring? From a voice of experience, this is a question worth asking in case they don’t already realize that they can’t go shopping every time they haven’t done the washing! And not just laundry, how many friends can they bring over? Without clear communication, your open-door policy can become expensive, or you may be embarrassed if you hadn’t planned to feed a crowd.

There are other conversations that your family may want to include, but these are the bigger ones. You get the idea: clear communication is paramount. Decide what is important to you, and have that conversation before they leave. In the absence of a prompting event, it will reduce tension more than you might expect. Blessings to you and your family in your new relationship. Let the adventure continue!

Diane Helfrich currently serves as the NCHE development director and as the region 8 liaison. She is married to David, who is soon to retire as a civilian serving the Department of the Army. They have two children: Ian is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech, and Anna works as a case manager for abused and trafficked children in Yakima, Washington.