Even before the coronavirus hit, they were trickling home, those millennials who were supposed to have launched, supposed to be independently living their own lives. And we, their parents, were left scratching our heads. Where is that empty nest syndrome that we’ve all heard so much about? Where is that time alone that we’ve either fantasized about or dreaded or perhaps a little of both? Isn’t it supposed to be our turn now?

The preceding paragraph was chock-full of the word “supposed” and perhaps that’s where the problem lies. There is no such thing. There is no set trajectory. Everyone’s life takes its own unique twists and turns, so there are no distinct phases, and certainly no predictable expectations.

It's tempting to believe that the world ran more smoothly in other generations. We may even reflect back on our own journeys and say to ourselves, “We didn’t move back home, why are they?” But it’s possible we’ve conveniently forgotten some of the details of our own journey towards independence. Did we go to college without parental assistance? (And if we did, was it possibly cheaper then?) Did we buy our first car or home without parental help? Did we get married and set up our homes without calling our mothers for advice? Didn't we ask our parents to babysit so we could get a night out when our children were young? (Would we have air conditioning in our house if my husband’s grandmother hadn’t given it to us?)

A friend was describing in puzzlement the return of one of her children to the nest. Again, this was pre-corona. Just a young man who needed a little more safety and security, a little more development, had a few issues to work through before he could fly away. It’s not that she wasn’t happy to have him there. It’s not that she wasn’t prepared to help him process his challenges. It’s just that she was surprised. She thought her job was basically over, she thought it was all bouncing grandchildren on her knees from here on in. But she was wrong. Since I’ve opened myself up to it, I’ve heard more and more stories similar to hers.

Young men and women returning home for further nurturing and development. Young couples desiring financial help and/or emotional support. Grandchildren who are struggling and turn to their grandparents. It’s nice to be needed, to not be considered obsolete, but it can be overwhelming as well. For them and for us.

I think we definitely exacerbate the challenges if we tell ourselves (or our children!) that it’s not supposed to be like this. If we accept the premise that the Almighty is in charge, then clearly this is what’s supposed to be. There were generations when young men went to war, generations when young women regularly died in childbirth; there is no "supposed to be", there is no normal trajectory. There is only perhaps naïve expectations and adjustments to the reality.

And even if other generations had it easier (I’m sure they don’t think so), it doesn’t matter. Because this is our generation and our situation and we need to make the most of it, the best of it. I’m sure there are times when you wish your kids were out of the house. I’m sure they wish it also! I’m sure there are times when you wish your children were financially independent. I’m sure they wish it also! I’m sure there are times when you wished they didn’t call so much. I’m sure there are times when you complain that they don’t call enough!

Life is complicated and messy and difficult and wonderful. Parenting is the same! And just like you (hopefully) don’t stop really living until you get to the end of the journey, we don’t stop parenting either. It’s a lifelong job. So, whatever the age of your children, whatever their circumstances, say a prayer and buckle your seatbelts. It’s going to be a long ride!