Why It’s So Hard for Parents to ‘Let Go’
“GOOD-BYE MOM! GOOD-BYE DAD!” he says for the third time. Between good-byes, he’s found every excuse imaginable to stay just a little bit longer.
But now “good-bye” has a ring of finality. One more tearful embrace, a firm handshake and off he goes. As parents, you look at each other with the sober realization that he really won’t be coming back to stay anymore. The house that once was filled with his talk and laughter now seems so empty.
So much time, effort and emotion are invested in your children. For about 20 years your routine of life has centered on them. “Yesterday” you nearly panicked at the sound of your baby’s cry. You anxiously paced the floor of your doctor’s office when your six-year-old ran a fever. You held your breath opening their report cards, sighed with relief at their passing grades. You protested when your teenagers played their loud music, but cried when they spoke of leaving home. And now, one by one, they have all grown up and left.
Little wonder that many find adjusting to the “empty nest” a real challenge. “For the first time in my life,” confessed one man after his daughter left home, “I just cried and cried and cried.”
Whelan and Evelyn, though, trained their children for eventual independence. Still, when their children left, “it was quite an adjustment,” they said. “You’ve been busy, hustling here and there. And when they’ve left, you just have you and your mate. The worst thing is coming home and seeing that the kids aren’t there.” Norma, mother of a grown daughter, admits: “It took me a while to get used to Lynn’s not being in her room. So I would keep the door closed because if I left it open, I always felt as if she might be in there and I’d want to talk with her.”
Almost all parents feel such mixed emotions when the “kids” leave home. There’s pride that a child has come of age and joy at the prospect of having more personal time. Nevertheless, there may also be nagging doubts (“Did we raise her right?”), fear (“Is our kid really ready to go it alone?”), disappointment (“Why didn’t she marry that nice fellow John instead of this loser?”) and even guilt. One recent study shows that men in particular regret “not having spent more time with their children when they were younger.”
The ‘empty nest’ can also change your marriage. Some couples get along better. Others don’t. “Many marriages today end in separation or divorce when the children leave home,” say the authors of Ourselves and Our Children.
Too, your child’s departure often comes at a time in life already abundant in crises. Women experience the onset of menopause, which, according to one writer, “may feel to her like an unnecessary underlining of the statement ‘No more children for you.’” Men may face increasing job pressure or job dissatisfaction. Retirement may loom on the horizon. Inflation may have eroded family savings. Health may begin to fail. Seemingly stripped of parenthood, some even doubt their self-worth.
No wonder some parents doggedly refuse to let them go! The urge to hold on can seem irresistible. But saying good-bye does not have to mean losing your children. It means putting your relationship with them on a new footing and filling the void their departure has left in your life.
But how? And why is releasing them so vital to a healthy relationship with your grown children?
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“For the first time in my life I just cried and cried and cried”