I don’t know how much my reaction to my 18-year-old daughter leaving home for a gap year is to do with my own upbringing, but I am dreading it. Next will come university and I expect I will hardly see her outside of the holidays. My 17-year-old son will no doubt want to do the same and I dread to think how I’ll cope once they have both flown the nest.
I am an only child and my mother made me very unhappy with her endless criticisms and put downs. As a result my childhood was both sad and lonely and I spend a lot of time longing for a loving family of my own.
Fortunately I wasn’t entirely crushed by my mother and used her behaviour as a template on how to do things differently. My husband, children and I are all very close and both kids at different times have asked me for advice even as teenagers. It is something I feel very proud of.
But I worry about letting them go. I still feel attached to them by an invisible umbilical cord that tugs at my heart and I can’t help feel responsible for them. I am so used to discussing everything together too, that it’s hard to think of them out in the world, making their own decisions without any input from me.
I also worry that they will not want to have much contact with me once they leave home. They have been so vital to my happiness and I already feel abandoned as if my life as a mother is over.
My husband has been kind and tells me it’s lucky I have a job I enjoy and that now is the time to perhaps find a new hobby and think about my need more.
Of course I wouldn’t dream of telling my children any of this and certainly not that I have been crying my eyes out for weeks. I want them to feel free, at least in theory but it’s so hard in practice.
It's a landmark for any parent when a child leaves home and many find it traumatic and upsetting. Mothers, in particular, can feel they have been cast on a rubbish heap. Or that that their life is over. It isn’t of course, but their relationship with their child will and should change, but it can be just as fulfilling and loving. Just more adult. When a child has time apart from their parents it gives them space to view their upbringing more objectively. Many then realise what support they have had and often become more appreciative. Especially if while they are away they find that the mess they leave in their bedroom is still there when they come back and its up to them to sort out what they eat and when.
It is important for a parent to accept that one phase in their relationship with their children is over so another can begin. This is the time when it is important not to be too possessive or involved in everything they do. Take a step back, and give them privacy and freedom. They shouldn't feel guilty or responsible for you. Good parenting means the young person you reared so lovingly, is ready to go out into the world and make their own mistakes. It can be painful for a parent when a child of any age is in trouble, but no one has a perfect life and all you have given them as children should help them cope.
Fortunately the pain and longing usually eases after a while. Your husband has given you good advice. Think positively what you can do with your extra time. Do more things together and perhaps even plan a second honeymoon.
Do come onto our forum via the website and offer any thoughts or experiences you think might help.