When I dropped off my son at university yesterday to start his second year, I did so with a happy heart but at the same time, my heart went out to all you parents who are facing the immense change to your family unit when you wake up this week to the reality that your first-born has finally flown the nest.
Now that all the packing and hectic preparations of the past few weeks are over and you’ve finally waved goodbye to your fledgling adult, the first few days and weeks – silent home, no dirty laundry and piles of ironing, no meals to cook, no ferrying around – can leave you feeling somehow purposeless and adrift.
I just want you to know that this is perfectly normal – you have, after all, spent your life up until now caring for your child, preparing them for this moment – and now the time has come! However well prepared you think you may be, the sense of sudden separation can knock you for six.
I know, because despite feeling happy about dropping off my son this year, last year was a whole different kettle of fish.
The first few weeks went by in a blur of mixed emotions. As it gradually dawned on me that this was not just some holiday my son had gone on, but that he had crossed that line into adulthood indefinitely, there was a sense of loss and emptiness I hadn’t experienced before.
Then there as with a constant undercurrent of worry about how he was going to cope. Had I prepared him well enough to be independent? Would he be able to cook, shop and look after himself? Would he be OK? Would he like his course? Would he fit in and make friends?
I’d made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to be a ‘helicopter’ Mum and so I waited for him to contact me, letting him know I was always there if he needed me and relishing the time he would Skype me of his own volition.
As time went by, I was delighted to hear that he was enjoying his studies, was having fun and making friends. He was even asking me for advice on recipes as he took up cooking for himself for the first time. I felt so proud of him – he had grown up! And with this realisation, I knew it was time for me to let go and that it was safe to do so because he was safe and settled.
So for all you parents who have just waved off your fledgling adults and are feeling bereft and anxious – here’s some advice on how to assimilate this period of transition, based on my experience as a mother who went through this rite of passage last year:
- Confide how you feel to a close friend who is willing to listen and advise you – talking always puts things into perspective.
- Be kind to yourself. Nurture yourself; give yourself time to adjust to the new situation.
- Allow your fledgling adults to have some time for their own adjustment. This is a huge change for them too and they need to work things out for themselves. But make sure that they know you are there if they need you.
- Try to avoid burdening them with inadvertent emotional blackmail – there’s no need to pass on your feelings of loss to your child – it may well end up alienating them.. Keeping a non-possessive yet open line of communication is key.
Once you’ve both got into the flow of your respective independence from each other, the next stage of wonder as a parent that you can look forward to, is observing how your child begins to bloom into the adult he or she is becoming away from your protective eye.
As I finish this article, I’ve just received a text message from my son telling me he’s fine and thanking me for my help yesterday. I probably won’t hear for him now for a few weeks, but that’s fine. I feel so much gratitude for the years I spent bringing him up but in this past year, just as he’s learnt to fly – I’ve learnt to fly too and have embraced my role-change as a fantastic opportunity to take up my own interests again.
Much as I love that he still wants to come home in the holidays – when I relish the chance of being mum again while I still can – now that he’s gone happily back to his new life, I can’t wait to get cracking on with mine!
I’ve helped countless clients deal with the process of assimilating this massive midlife milestone, so if you find you’re struggling to adjust to being separated from your child, please don’t bottle it up. If you have no one to confide in, contact me and let’s have a chat.
Forthcoming follow up article
“What’s next for me? Life after full-time parenthood and how to avoid coming down with “empty nest syndrome”.
Have you decided what to do with YOUR OWN life now that your role as full-time parent is over? Does the thought excite you? Will you be dancing round the house in the coming weeks, relishing YOUR new found freedom? Or walking around listlessly, wondering what to do next?