A finishing school for boys … and parents?

Young women receiving deportment lessons at a finishing school in the mid-20th Century. File photo.

Sunny Grace makes a case for a return of the finishing school – of sorts – and not only for girls.

Okay, so it didn’t all go to plan with the empty nest. Four months later and my little seaside apartment is now housing my two adult sons and myself when I am not with my husband up north. The sons discovered life in regional Australia is not for them after all, with more work opportunities in Sydney. 

However, they don’t have the means to go it alone yet. Rents are high, wages are low. And with the chaos of recent years, from the firebomb to Covid-19, it appears they need a little more parenting and a gradual move into the big wide world. I was talking to my Mum about it who coined it a kind of finishing school …for boys.  

Finishing schools were originally for women to prepare them for marriage and society. To make sure they knew enough but not too much to get them into trouble when they ventured into the world. For my boys, it means learning how to navigate the adult world of living out of home, dealing with bureaucracy and waiting in queues. So many queues when you are a grown up. 

Last week, my youngest son asked if I could help him open a bank account and get his own Medicare card. In many ways, he is very independent but being gifted with dyslexia and ADHD, he finds it harder to navigate government and institution’s websites. I mean, does anyone find it easy? Anyway, after many queues and forms we got it done and as we were walking back home, I said, ‘Welcome to adulting’ – to which he replied, ‘Adulting is boring.’ I laughed in agreement because it really is. And yet it is a necessary part of this modern life.  

Like food. My youngest is a great cook. Inherited it from his Dad and grandmother. He can whip up a delicious stir fry or Bolognese with no recipe and no fuss. My eldest, however, gets anxious in the kitchen. His biggest hurdle out in the world is feeding himself without resorting to expensive Uber Eats. 

So, over the past two weeks we have done a refresher course in using the washing machine and hanging out the laundry. Other classes included cleaning the toilet every other day, not just the day before mum gets back. Will report back on that one. I have left them alone in the apartment for a few weeks. With food in the fridge and a ‘do and do no’ list. Do take out the rubbish and the food scrap bin regularly. Do remove old food from the fridge before it resembles their old slime toys. And strictly, do not have parties, or sex in my bed or on the couch. They have been warned if there is any damage to my dream couch (the one you have when there are no kids or pets) they will have to buy me a new one. 

My husband and I both left home quite young and had to learn to fend for ourselves in the world. I paid board from fifteen and left home at seventeen, although I did go home for a year when I was eighteen as I needed a little more finishing. Many other parents I speak to are despairing that their kids are staying home for longer too. So I say bring on finishing school, a place where these young adults can learn to fend for themselves without their parents around but with a safety net of some description. Perhaps it can also reinforce respectful relationships, platonic and sexual, including how to talk about consent and co-habitation. 

Last night my eldest son sent me a photo of his dinner, grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. His dad and I were impressed. My youngest is off to get his Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate today, without me by his side. Seems like finishing school is working. Although when my son texted me to tell me he had to do the RSA today I went into total parent mode and tried to help him book it in, etc. etc. Rather than helping, I totally stressed him out. Turns out he didn’t need my help at all. 

Perhaps I need finishing school too. Parental finishing school, to learn when to stop parenting and let them make their own way in the world. Whilst I will always be a parent, there must come a time when I finish parenting my adult offspring.