I never expected that the first boy to break my heart would be my eldest son but that is exactly what happened. No, he hasn’t been arrested, or hurt anyone and he isn't suffering from a chronic illness. He has left home, leaving a dull, physical ache in the space in my heart he occupies. Now this may sound a little overdramatic but I honestly feel as though I am grieving. After almost 20 years of seeing my smiling boy every day, there are periods I don’t see or speak to him at all. This separation has bought an unexpected and overwhelming sense of loss.
Of course, as a parent, you hope there will be a day when your children complete their transition into well adjusted adulthood and have the confidence and capability to head on out into the world and flourish. But it has surprised me to find from talking to other parents that this sense of loss can occur in the period leading up to a child leaving and, for many, last for years afterwards, with some never recovering.
I wasn’t ready for life to feel so dramatically different, not only for me, but for my other children. My middle son, now thrust into the ‘eldest’ label, has no big brother to turn to when he needs advice or even someone to argue with. His sparring partner has gone. My youngest son has just realized that one day, he will be the only one living at home and clings to his remaining brother for reassurance he won’t leave yet.
The whole dynamic of the family has changed and we are all floundering to find our new identities. Yes, I am still a mom, but no longer the most important person in my son’s life and after 20 years, that realization instils an emptiness that’s hard to shake.
I have, however, found ways that are making this period of adjustment easier and wanted to share these with as every parent who has experienced, or will experience, a child leaving home at some stage.
1. Don't suppress emotions.
As a mindfulness coach I have found the techniques I teach invaluable in observing my emotions, and the physical sensations that arise with them, without being overwhelmed. See if you can sit and just be with your emotions: watching them, breathing into them, with kindness, compassion and curiosity.
Don’t resist your feelings. Emotions are temporary and you won’t always feel sad, but pushing them away could be laying the foundations for future ill health.
2. Be honest with those around you about how you're feeling.
I talk to my husband and my friends with similarly aged children. It’s reassuring to know that I'm not alone in feeling this way.
3. Look for the positives.
Children do take a lot of time, energy and space and when they leave you get that back. Our fridge no longer empties the minute the groceries are unpacked and the laundry basket no longer fills up at such an alarming rate. Our bills have reduced, especially our water bill. (How many showers does a teenager need a day?)
We have just booked our annual holiday and the savings we have made this year as a family of four, rather than five, is staggering. There is less cleaning and tidying to do and I am not ending each day completely depleted.
4. Create a new beginning.
I just bought an acoustic guitar. I have always wanted to learn but never felt I had the time. I want to rediscover the things I used to love to do, as well as find new hobbies and interests. I have poured my energy into raising a child and lost myself somewhere in the process. I now want to rediscover who I was before I was someone’s mom.
5. Celebrate your success.
I have created and raised a human being who is so resourceful, well balanced and comfortable with who they are they are able to fly out into the world, confident they have they skills they need to thrive. How awesome am I?
6. Communicate and plan.
Although it's not fair on my son to tell him how devastated I have been at his leaving, we do communicate regularly. With Skype, mobile phones and social networking, staying in touch has never been easier. Yes it’s not the same as a face-to-face conversation, but at least I know he is happy and safe.
We also plan to get together when we can. When I'm not working I can drive over and meet him in his lunch hour (yes, my grown-up baby has a career too!).
7. Be happy.
It is a choice. One of my favorite quotes is, "It will be alright in the end. If it isn’t ok, it isn't the end." That's to say, I'm still excited to see how my life continues to develop and grow!