Leaving the nest

It is that time of the year when parents are getting used to the fact that their eldest has left home for University, or maybe started a new job in another city or decided to take a gap year and backpack around the globe. empty nest syndrome

Whichever it is, the change from a teenager into adulthood represents a big transition for family members.

Whether it is the first or the last of your siblings to leave home, there are mixed feelings of relief that they’ve finally made a choice and are moving on coupled with a profound sadness akin to a feeling of loss.

You can read how I coped with my eldest leaving for University last year here.

As the final week of his holiday came to a close and we dropped him off at his digs for the start of the second year, I felt that loss, that emptiness in the bottom part of my gut and it is especially hard the first week of him being away.

His room lies silent and empty.

That he needs to go is without question but, as a parent, it is so hard to let go.

Once parents always parents but along the way, our identities change imperceptibly as we adapt to being mum or dad.

The role as parents is not a fixed one it changes from one phase to the next, from being the carer, nurturer, protector to that of a friend, counsellor and advisor.

Instead of feeling proud that our children have moved on we feel at a loss like a part of ourselves is missing.

Understandable given that we have loved, cared for and nourished our children for eighteen years.

When they leave it is like a part of ourselves is missing. But if we stand back and look at this parental stage of life as another new exciting chapter it doesn’t have to be all sad.

This time represents a new step in another direction, a time of change, time to do things differently.

A chick flies the nest leaving the debris of shattered hearts and a space at the dinner table all of which takes time to adjust and adapt to.

Whichever of the above is you, this time should be one to reflect on your life’s work raising your child to the point where they are ready to leave home.

We make sacrifices when we have children and one of them is making sure they are brought up to be independent and secure in the knowledge that they are well equipped to leave the family space.

But what about the parents who are left behind?

It can be a challenging time particularly when we have been used to looking after them, making sure they are safe, fed and generally taken cared of.

Having more time and less housework can leave many feeling lost and unable to get into a routine as children have dominated our lives, from kindergarten to final school exams.

What do you do now?

When our eldest son left for University last September, it was emotionally heartbreaking and harder than anything imaginable.

It had been a difficult summer and my husband and eldest son were constantly at loggerheads.

Both communicated in a foreign language and neither seemed capable or willing to understand each other and it put a strain on our marriage.

I could see both points of view but at times it felt as though I was being pulled in every direction, being asked to come to the defence of one or the other.

When we finally dropped him off at University it was with a sense of relief that the bickering came to an end but it was tough on all of us.

Many relationships come under fire during this time, the house is quiet, there is no one to shout or moan at, you feel like a loose end.

Whilst you had the children to keep you busy, you now find yourself looking at your partner from across the table wondering what to say to each other after eighteen years of raising children.

Your partner’s foibles and weaknesses appear to be more irritating than normal and you question if your relationship will stand the test of time.

That was how it was for me. At one point I couldn’t stand my husband being in the same room it was almost as though I was blaming him for our eldest leaving home when in reality he was going anyway.

I was short-tempered angry, sad and depressed leading up to Christmas and was frustrated that my husband and partner of almost twenty-one years didn’t get it.

He did not understand how I was feeling.

I know he deeply missed his son especially at the weekends when there was an empty seat at the dinner table but this made me angrier because why hadn’t he been more supportive in the months leading up to our son leaving for university.

Ultimately he wanted to make sure our son was equipped for the real world so he pushed him to get things done to sort things out without relying on us and in the end it paid dividends.

In the end, it was his way of coping with his son leaving home.

A year on and I can look back with love and affection it has been a great summer and whilst the four of us shared two weeks holiday together I’m all too aware that next year it may well be only the three of us.

Being patient and not being too hard on yourself is part of the letting go process.

It is alright to cry and hug the very bed your son or daughter slept in or to frequently go into their bedroom to feel close to them as the smell of them lingers.

It is their time now, you’ve done the hard work, time to let them go and be who they need to be, to have fun, to learn to discover themselves and make new friends.

But I also know it is hard to let go too.

Make the most of whatever time you have with your children, I know I do because soon they will leave the home you have lovingly created.

But I seek solace in the knowledge that whilst our son has returned to his studies I can reflect on the success our son is making of his life, being independent, capable of making decisions and working things out.

Our support, guidance and love have made him into the fine young man he is but it doesn’t make it any easier.

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