I look at Facebook, that toxic mix of people I love and people I envy. Distant cousins, classmates, back-fence friends from childhood, college friends, workmates, neighbors, moms from long-ago volunteer commitments in this club or that team from my kids’ journeys through elementary, middle, and high school.
People post the good news on Facebook
This kid is graduating from college and going to law school. Does anyone know of a place to live in [expensive East-Coast city]?
That kid is getting married to her college sweetheart. They both graduated from college last year, they have jobs, and they’re buying a house. We love them so much. Don’t their engagement photos look beautiful?
This kid was accepted to this college. Or that college. State college, private college, community college, some college somewhere. Congratulations!
That kid went to trade school and is now an apprentice electrician, he loves his work, and he has a new job with benefits. We’re so proud of him.
This kid is planning on graduate school in [this specialty]. Can anyone recommend their graduate school program?
That kid is becoming an engineer just like her dad. Isn’t that amazing?
These adult kids are getting on with their lives. Whatever problems they might have are papered over with Facebook pictures from proud parents, pictures of young adult kids smiling at the cameras, doing all the right things.
There is no place to post on the kids who screw-up
Facebook doesn’t have a place for the screwups. So I bury them deep, and try not to let them eat their way out from the inside.
There’s nowhere on Facebook where I can whisper about how my kid’s life went smash. His house of cards came down. And he’s home again, looking for a job, in debt, with no certificate, and no degree.
He’s clearing out left-behind Nerf guns and model cars from his childhood bedroom. Trying to make room for what he needs now, making payments from his dwindling funds on a storage unit full of all the things from his grown-up life that he can’t afford to keep in an apartment after he got fired, and after his ex-friends kicked him out for being a terrible roommate.
He made stacks and piles and mountain ranges of stupid decisions. Irresponsible decisions. Impulsive decisions. Overselling his skills. Not finishing his degree. Not showing up at work. Not doing his dishes. Not paying his bills. On and on and on. We thought we were through. We thought he was grown. Yet here we are.
We’re doing what families do. Taking him in. Starting over.
We have his girlfriend too. Her family, for reasons we don’t understand, won’t let her come home. We couldn’t send her to a homeless shelter and still live with ourselves. So she’s here too. Because we’re kind. Because they’re broke. And chastened. And homeless.
We are supposed to be empty nesters, but we are not
We were supposed to be empty nesters. Instead, we’re safety-netters. Helping them start over again on adulthood. They’re learning how to be part of a shared house, how to be good citizens, how to pay their bills, how to pay rent to us, how to not spend more than they have. How to build up a savings account. How to work with a therapist and make responsible decisions about the future.
How did we mess this up so badly? How did he not learn any of the things we tried to teach him about chores, money, work, and school? About the skills that keep all of our lives from falling apart? Honest, I swear he grew up with two working parents. He grew up emptying dishwashers, scooping dog poop, doing his own laundry, and working at summer jobs. We tried. God knows, we tried.
Are they taking advantage of us? I hope not. Maybe. No. Yes. I hope not. Are we doing the right thing? I hope so. Maybe. No. Yes. I hope so.
We love him to the moon and back. Yet here we are.
Does anyone ever post to Facebook: “We found the best family therapist who is helping us navigate through this mess”?
Does anyone ever post, “We’re setting house rules for our adult son and his girlfriend who have moved in”?
Does anyone ever post, “I can’t wait until my next therapy session because I have so damn many questions and I don’t know how to do this”?
Does anyone ever post, “This sure as hell wasn’t in the baby books”?
I just can’t look at other peoples’ happy Facebook posts
I can’t look at Facebook. Not now. Not at the pictures of engagements, grandchildren, graduations, weddings, and post-pandemic starts at nursing school, auto mechanic school, or medical school.
The endless parade of people whose young adult children seem to have it together, at least from what I see in the pictures. I don’t want to know.
I know there must be others like me, with the ugly parts hidden. With mixed-up adult children, falling on their faces and starting over again.
I see you, moms and dads whose kids are making messes out of their lives. Your re not alone; I’ve got your back.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
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