It comes round, so fast.
One minute, you're learning how to be a parent, how to keep this tiny, delicate human being thrust into your care alive. You help them learn to walk, talk, function. Navigate milestones like first teeth, potty training, first day at school.
Before you know it, you're helping with homework, freezing your bits off at the edge of a [insert appropriate ball-game here] pitch, washing dirty kit, learning the offside rule.
Then there are hormones to contend with, slammed doors, broken hearts, exams...
Until, finally, the day comes when they fly the nest.
It's a happy day, right? After all, isn't this what we wanted? Happy, confident, independent children? We're pleased for them, proud.
1. Recognise your Feelings
So what is this hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach? Why do our eyes smart with tears on the drive home? Why does walking into that quiet, empty house for the first time without them make your stomach turn over?
Of course, these feelings are natural. We're bound to miss someone we have probably seen every day for the past 18 plus years, aren't we? Only this feels a little bit like grief. Like a solid stone in the pit of the belly that doesn't seem to want to go away.
I remember when my last child left home I was hit by the thought "what am I for now?" From a distance, that seems crazy, but at the time it was very real. Being a Mum was a huge component of my life's purpose. I had been so busy helping my son get ready to set off on his big adventure, and his brother and sisters before him, I forgot all about me. No wonder I felt lost.
2. Don't Cling
The truth is, there's a huge period of adjustment ahead, not just for your child, but for you. It's crucial that you don't cling, that you work on truly letting go.
That doesn't mean that you won't be there for them when they need you. You will still be a big part of their lives, just not as big as before. Not as much as you will still feel they are part of yours.
I knew a woman who travelled 200 miles round trip a week to clean her son's student room, the communal rooms (including the bathroom) and do his washing. He tolerated this intrusion into his life presumable because a) he was 18 year old lazy and b) because he was sensitive enough to know that his mum needed to feel needed still and this was her way of showing love.
How much better would it have been all round if she had taught him the basics of looking after himself? How to operate the washing machine, cook himself a decent meal and clean a toilet?
Of course, his patience ran out in the end. The more you cling, the more likely they will push back.
3. Do the Work You Need to Do on Yourself
This is an opportunity for you to do some self development work. Time for you to take a step back and assess where you are and where you would like to be.
If this is your last - or only child - leaving home, you no longer have the same constraints on your time or attention. Not to put too fine a point on it, you now have more freedom. What are you going to do with it?
This question might well seem daunting at first. Take your time. Reach out to your friends, or make more friends. If you're single, you are far more free to socialise, if that's what you want. If you are partnered, a whole new world is opening up for you. I wrote a light hearted blog post about this last year at this time:
I know it hurts. Missing them can be a physical, visceral feeling. You miss the chatter, the smell of their skin when you hug them, the very presence of them next to you on the sofa. Don't underestimate the strength of your feelings.
But you will get used to this new normal. And just as you do, the holidays will come around and they'll barrel their way into your life again like a bull in a china shop, upsetting your new, fragile calm.
It will take a few hours, if not days, to readjust. And then they'll be off again, leaving the quiet, the absence of them behind. It'll take a few days to get used to it again.
It will take a while to adjust to this rollercoaster of coming and going, but you will. You must. Because they need to know that YOU are ok, that they are not responsible for your feelings.
It's time for YOU to become independent as well as them. Not just for your own sanity, but for their sake too. Everything we do for our children is an act of love. Including letting them go.
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