5 Universal Truths About Teens ‘Soiling the Nest’ Before They Leave Home

So the soiling of the nest is a real thing. Whereby your newly minted graduate takes a scorched earth approach at home, thereby making it easier for them to leave and assert some independence.

Does this sound familiar? 

I read about this when my eldest was in high school. It’s indeed a weird summer for them — an even weirder one for us parents. I simultaneously want to hold them tighter but occasionally crave dropping them off in a field and driving away. And I knew this was coming to some extent with child number two. But I’m like an old football knee injury. I can sense the storm is coming long before it hits, but I still can’t do anything to stop it. 

The storm has arrived. And there are some universal truths regarding kids about to leave the nest in our house. 

The concept of teens “soiling the nest” before they leave home is a truth for our family. (Twenty 20 @ethomander)

When teens soil the nest before they leave for college

1. They already know everything

I can’t tell you how relaxing it is to live with someone (or two or three) who already knows EVERYTHING about the universe. And yet is suffering from some acute amnesia and is unable to remember how to address an envelope, set the alarm, call to make an appointment, replace a roll of toilet paper or pick up a wet towel. 

2. They are critical

The way we do things around here apparently sucks. I thought we were doing a decent job. Roof over our heads. Refrigerator full of food. It’s like a hotel over here. Not a luxury hotel. No pool. But a solid extended-stay hotel with a Keurig. The things you need are here.

However, these teenagers assure me that when they leave they will live better, faster, bigger, cleaner, and more organized. To achieve these goals I highly recommend they don’t have children of their own. 

3. They are emotional tornadoes

One foot in their old life and one foot in their new one. I thought we were done with the reminders when the high school grad cap flew in the air. But I’ve replaced it with the college reminders.

It’s chaos as they navigate this stage of being in between. So I try some reminders. They have a lot of on their plates working, seeing friends and family, saying goodbyes, preparing for fall. My reminders? Futile. All met with, “I already know.” *Please see #1

4. They have romanticized getting out into the world

Everything will be perfect in college. The grass is already greener even though they haven’t yet seen the grass. Yikes. I don’t want to crush their dream but I do want to temper their enthusiasm with reality from time to time.

They are about to move in with a stranger. Learn a new system. Take classes in subjects they never imagined. Navigate a new city. Make mistakes, plenty of them. I guess my husband and I have made adulthood look SO FUN, they cannot wait. 

For those of you who are living Instagrammable summers with cheerful, helpful children who take long walks with you holding your hand, please scroll on by. You won’t understand this content, and it may make you fearful or, worse yet, smug. This is for the rest of us. 

5. I know it gets better

It gets better. I know it does because I have a 21-year-old daughter who has a psychology internship this summer working with children. The other day she came home and lamented that,

“The kids complain even though we plan all these special things for them and take them amazing places. They spend so much energy just complaining about everything. You can’t imagine how annoying it is.”


She is on her way to getting it.

Good things about teens leaving for college

I’m trying to do a mental list of the pros kids leaving for school. Maybe it makes me feel better.  

Pro: At home grocery bill goes down.

Pro: Large bags of chips are found in the kitchen and not in beds.  

Pro: Noise in the house goes down.

Pro: You don’t have to leave a post-it note on desirable leftover Chinese takeout.

Pro: Access to clean dry towels skyrockets.

Pro: Car maintenance issues decrease.

Pro: My husband and I instantly become smarter.

Pro: We get to watch them get somewhere they have been wanting to go so desperately. 

So as we endure this fast summer of transition…god speed the future roommate of my son. I hope your mother didn’t raise a neat freak because you are in for a real surprise. My deepest apologies.

He’s a friendly kid, but his decorating style involves everything on the floor. The soiling of the nest makes it easier for the kid but also a bit for the parents.

I love this kid. I would walk through fire for him. And I will miss him like a limb when he goes. But I will wrap myself up in the comfort of the endless supply of freshly laundered towels. And wait for Thanksgiving and hope that he knows just a tiny bit less than he knows right now.

More Great Reads:

A Letter to My Son as He Begins to Step Away from Us

About Jen LarsenFortner

Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth.  She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at mymildlifecrisis.com where she tells stories about her family that they never read.

Read more posts by Jen

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