So that day has finally come when you are feeling redundant as a mother. You are officially on the bench moving from the front line to the side lines with your kids. You have achieved what you set out to do, and that was to make them into capable independent young adults who would grow wings and fly. Congratulations on a job well done, you should be very proud!
So they have a plan, are firmly on their new path and know where they are going and what’s next. But what about you?
The thing is if you are anything like me you knew this day would come, it is after all the natural order of things, but at the same time you didn’t see it coming. Am I right? And when it does it takes you by surprise and can be hard to get used to. I think for me I was so invested in the raising of our children, from the care I took when pregnant, to the sleepless nights and years of nurturing and being there. I put my heart and soul into these three beings. I still put my heart and soul into my bigger three beings! So it should be no surprise that you might feel sad when they start to leave the nest that you spent years building.
We can feel a sense of loss at many stages of the journey raising our children. It could be when they first go to nursery, or to full time school. Some children may well go away to school or their first time away from home might be to go to University. At any stage you are likely to feel it’s a wrench and this can be a physical pain. Remember though that this comes from loving them unconditionally, and now feeling that the future has a big void. Don’t underestimate these feelings, they are perfectly normal and are a form of grief. If you look at it this way then you can allow yourself the necessary time to grieve and to find a way to move on.
But here’s the thing, I guarantee it will be way harder for you than for them. As they are having a lovely time making new friends and exploring their new environment, you will be fretting and clock watching wondering when you can pick them up from school. Once they begin to move away this turns into longer periods of time. There can be a that you could end up wishing your days away waiting for them to come home. Granted, they will of course miss you and the home comforts some of the time. We wouldn’t want them to be sad and homesick. I am told that having a homesick child is equally, if not more painful and difficult to deal with for both of you.
I think that when they nest starts to empty – for me that is one child working and two at University stage, there can be a feeling of redundancy. You can feel you have lost your identity, especially if like me you have been a full time stay at home mum. No laundry, no meals sounds like a dream (what we always wished for heh?), but in reality it can leave you with too much time on your hands and possibly a feeling that you have little or no purpose.
I have been giving it a great deal of thought and I think a great way to approach it would be in the words of the Rod Stewart song – ‘Can’t Stop Me Now. The lyrics “the world is waiting, it’s my turn to stand out in the crowd”, sums it up for me. It is our time, but it does take a bit of getting used to and some planning for sure. Try to plan ahead of them leaving, as these emotions take time to process. Ultimately you want to be strong and positive for them when they do head on their way. Nothing worse than having your mum a gibbering wreck as she drops you off to halls at Uni! Have things lined up to keep you busy. Start to think about what you would like to do with your time. This was the reason I set up Mushroom London and my Instagram account 2 years ago, for just such a time.
It doesn’t have to be driven by working. Make a list of the things you would like to do, or the places you would like to go. Volunteer, travel, spend time with your spouse. Word of warning, don’t over focus on your spouse and start picking holes in things that they do. Remember you are directing your energies meant for many into one person. This is a time of adjustment for you both, so give it time and keep communications open. Catch up with your old friends, single parents – date again? This year I have made a pact with myself to get back into tennis which I love and to play more golf. Fair weather golf that is!
You have to go with it and don’t put a time limit on it. You are about to enter an exciting phase in your life although it may not feel like this to everyone. You will undoubtedly have good days and bad days. Embrace the space and the time, the lie-ins, the pub lunches, taking up a new hobby or revisiting an old one. Always remember they do come back home, and they still need you but just in a different way.
There is a well known saying that “you are only as happy as your least happy child,” but I am learning that it is important not to make your own happiness dependant on your growing children. In some extreme cases it is known as ‘not letting go syndrome’ (disclaimer – I not an expert, these views are all formed from my own experiences or those of others I have talked to).
Some people say that they experience feelings of rejection. Let’s think about this. I would suggest that this sensation could occur at any stage of your parenting journey. It could be the first time they hold the spoon for themselves. Or perhaps when they say no to a bedtime story. Then as they grow up it may be them wanting to be with their friends rather than you. You are no longer the greatest and best person in their world and this takes a bit of getting used to. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it just means they are widening their circle and becoming independent. Remember you will always be part of their inner circle, especially when they need you! Friends will be a massive draw and a lot more fun than a parent. They may go away with another family for a holiday and you feel you have had to give away your child to another family for a precious week of the holidays. They really aren’t rejecting you, their minds don’t work like that, they are just expressing themselves the only way they know how.
As your growing children return to the home, they do so as emerging adults on their own life journey and you need to allow for this. Then will come the time when they get partners. It is inevitable that they will spend holidays and celebrations with their partner or their partners families. If your entire existence has been around raising your children, you may well have an unrealistic expectation of your future relationship with them. It’s about learning to let go and to manage your own expectations.
Therein we tread a fine line for our own happiness and theirs. Not in a bad way, we just need to examine our own expectations and dependencies. We suddenly have adult children, well it feels sudden anyway. We know we love them unconditionally and that will never change. We must however, be careful not to try to meet unmet needs in ourselves. Things like being needed, the desire to nurture and care for someone. Its not surprising this need may be there, as it is often born from years of doing just that.
You mustn’t define yourself only as a parent. Remember you existed before you had a family. Your source of joy and happiness needs to be an inside job and not dependent on the actions of others. Learn to be alone but not lonely. You need to let your children go. With that may be the need to also let go of some of the preconceived ideas of how you thought life would be for them and you.
I also think it is important to say at this stage, that not everyone will feel the same. You may feel or have felt, some, all or none of the things I have talked about. We will all deal with it in our own way, and this is fine and as it should be, but if the feelings are making moving to the next phase of your life difficult, it may be worth seeking support.
Any questions, thoughts and experiences please share with me – email email@example.com, I would love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading.