Deciding When to Be a Parent or a Friend With My College-Age Daughters

by Kim Flodin

Image via  Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

We are in Ikea buying bookcases for our 24-year-old daughter who is going to graduate school. We are thrilled with her accomplishments and while she's getting significant funding from her university, we have offered to help out with furnishing her apartment as she makes a move to another city.

And we are bickering. Daughter likes bookcase A. She thinks they are pretty and will work best for her many volumes. Husband likes bookcase B. He thinks they are sturdy and multi-functional. Both items are reasonably priced. When we finally agree it will be bookcase A, we pass bookcase B again in Ikea's many make-believe rooms and Husband says, "What about bookcase B?"

Finally, Daughter answers in exasperation, "OK, sure, bookcase B!" Husband, sheepish, responds, "No, honey, you like bookcase A."

All three of my 20-something daughters were home this summer and we stepped on each other's toes from the moment they started to arrive in May. We had friction over dentist appointments not booked, antibiotics not taken, suitcases not emptied, dishes not cleared, and summer calendars not kept up-to-date.

When I was 24, I lived with a much younger version of Husband. I called him Boyfriend and I can assure you no parent on either side was concerned with our appointments, let alone our bookcases. No mom was figuring out the dimensions of our apartment, no dad was schlepping boxes and tearing his hair out over infuriating Ikea instructions. Instead, Boyfriend and I built a precarious tower of pilfered plastic milk crates to house our books because we had no parental financial support from the moment we graduated college. Were we better for it? In some ways, yes — we were resourceful, serious, and thrifty. We also stayed in dead-end jobs too long during those years because we couldn't afford to take chances, and we sometimes made important decisions in a vacuum because we lacked the authentic connectedness with our elders this generation enjoys.

I don't want to be overbearing because I give more than I received at this age. I also don't want to clean late-night snack dishes in the morning to make room in the kitchen sink to fill up the breakfast kettle. I want to respect my grown children's boundaries and have them respect mine because we have a great time together when we do. This summer we listened to the Hamilton cast album non-stop, binge-watched Orange is the New Black, and shared fascinating perspectives on art, politics, and movies. We danced at weddings, were introduced to Spanish wine by the daughter who spent a spring semester abroad, and figured out as a group what the hell was going on with Pokémon GO.

Read more: All the Grown-Ass Adult Places Pokémons Should Hide in Pokémon GO

I didn't have much in common with my parents when I was 24. The gap between my generation and our young adult children is narrower, and sometimes, in that camaraderie, I lose my way when to parent, when to friend, and when to roommate. But it's worth pausing to figure it out each time. When my girls make lunch to entice me to join them, or text me funny inside jokes, or ask for an old-fashioned cuddle, I feel lucky to witness their fascinating journeys in the intimate way they allow.

When Husband and I aren't being stubborn about bookcases or nosy about doctors' appointments, our daughters express their deep gratitude for the safety nets we provide. It's not forever or even much longer — and I know we and they are lucky to afford them — but in these transitional years, I believe these nets, both financial and emotional, have given them courage to reach higher than I would have dared at 24.

So, here's to giving only what I can give. Here's to not being a secretary or a housekeeper, and to picking my battles. Here's to respecting the young's right to make mistakes and feel their way through things. Here's to showing my daughters my trust in them is enormous.

Here's to summer turning into fall.


Kim C. Flodin is a Brooklyn writer who specializes in parenting, health, and family issues. Her personal essays have been published in The New York Times, Newsweek Magazine, and The Christian Science Monitor among others. She also helps many hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area communicate with their patients, communities, and employees. Last, but not least, she is the mother of three young adult daughters.