The day comes when the reality that our children will one day leave us hits hard. Learning to let go of my children wasn’t easy but possible
My son turned 18 this August and it’s a milestone I’ve been building up to since he was 14. That may sound odd but it was then that the thought that he (and his younger sister), would one day become adults and leave home, really hit me. Learning to let go of my children was what I needed to do.
When our kids are little, we typically don’t dwell on this (although some think of it the moment their children are born), not least because we’re worn out raising them!
I had the privilege of raising my two on my own. I choose my words carefully here, because whilst I’d have preferred for my children to have had a father as part of our family unit, it wasn’t an option and as a result, I embraced the role I was given as their sole parent. Whilst hard work, it was immensely rewarding and a bond with two people that will forever be unsurpassed with another human being.
How to come to terms with our children getting older
So when my empty nest syndrome crisis hit me four years ago, I went into grief. I cried, talked to friends and my therapist about it. I panicked. How could I be okay without my children intertwined in my life? And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have a life outside of looking after them; I had a career and friends. But my children were my priority and whilst I did the online dating gig, I didn’t nurture long-term relationships but typically used it as an outlet to feed my basic needs.
Now I look back at this time and realise that the crisis I experienced four years ago, gave me the opportunity I needed to prepare for the inevitable time that my children would fledge. These are the things that I have done to adjust and I hope that they will help you:
By crying and talking about it, it allowed me to process my fear and to adjust. I had the good fortune to be able to chat to a few good friends who could all bring a slightly different type of support to me. Just the act of them listening and soothing me, helped me to process the grief. It took time and tears but it was part of learning to let go of my children.
Learn about transience
It’s not a loss, it’s a change and change is a normal part of life. I studied transience and stumbled across the art of the sand mandala which is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from coloured sand. It teaches you that you shouldn’t be attached to anything. An important Buddhist belief is impermanence. They don’t believe that death is the end, it’s just a passing phase; it’s our essence that carries on.
Identify your core values and purpose
Another important lesson for me involved a period of self-reflection about my core values and purpose. In a six-week course on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, I had the opportunity to understand what was important to me and how to live my life according to these core values. You can read in more detail about how to discover your values in this article which includes a free downloadable worksheet.
One of my core values is to prioritise the health and happiness of my children. Every decision I make, to some extent is guided by this and by doing so, I’m happy with my choices.
Another one is caring about and helping others — don’t think I’m a Saint, it’s just food for my soul. This has led me to pursue my career in psychology (my degree is in psychology) and I took a one year course in counselling which has led me to a masters degree in integrative psychotherapy which I begin this October and will enable me to practice as a psychotherapist. I also started volunteering two years ago. More about that next….
Volunteering is clearly important to communities, be it kids in a Third World country with free English classes or litter picking from your local beach. But, less thought about is the benefits for the doer for a whole host of reasons.
These include stress reduction, connecting with others, combating depression and providing a sense of purpose. Indeed the social contact aspect of helping others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being.
Volunteering can also build self-esteem and confidence by taking you out of your natural comfort zone and environment. Helping those in real need can also provide you with perspective and help you to view your own life in a better light.
I trained as a crisis counsellor for Shout two years ago and dedicated two hours per week as part of a team of volunteers working on a text-based platform, chatting to texters helping them transition from crisis to a calm place. Doing this, helped me in all of the ways outlined above but also helped me to think that this was a purpose I could maintain when my kids were no longer living with me. It has given me another outlet, so to speak. If this interests you, you can find out more about volunteering for Shout here.
Look forward to the future
I now find myself excited about watching my children fledge and achieve fulfilment. At the same time, I will continue to fulfil my own goals and pursue new relationships and nurture existing ones.
It will be a new chapter but it was only ever going to be temporary, as is life. We are, after all, part of the cycle of life, and our children are next in line. Our job as a parent and supporter never ends, it evolves. Whilst we may not live under the same roof forever, we can still be closely connected. Give them wings to fly and a nest to return to whenever they need it.