09 Apr When Children Grow Up. When Children Leave.

Its a startling thing when your children leave home and begin to go days without needing to speak to you.

Eighteen months ago, five children occupied my home and heart, breathed all my air, and jostled for attention and cookies.

Then Big Son went to university and even though, logically, there should have been more air to go around – I couldnt breathe. I cried. All the time. I missed him. All the time. I could not comprehend how I would ever stop feeling like “someone’s missing. Count heads again. Where is he? HE’S BEEN ABDUCTED. SOMEBODYS TAKEN MY BABY. WTF IS HE!???? CALL THE POLICE. WE HAVE TO FIND HIM.” Panic. Fear. Adrenaline rush.

Then Big Daughter went away to do 7th Form in NZ. More crying. Another huge chunk of emptiness bitten into my soul. Then Little Son went away to boarding school.

Nooooo!

Suddenly, I didnt have five children barraging into my hermit cave every five minutes and driving me nuts. No. I only had two.

We are now officially a four person household. Like those palagi families with 2 adults, 2 children. If we wanted (and if we won the Lottery) we could get those holiday package deals for 4 now. And fit into one hotel room. Or go to a theme park on a “family” ticket. None of which was possible before because families of seven arent really families. According to budget holiday providers anyway. We could probably afford to go to Disneyland now. Or at least to (yucky) Rainbow’s End.

Except I dont want to.

Because I dont have all my children with me. Because it wouldnt be fun without them. Breathing my air, eating my donuts, using all my non-existent money, making me laugh and cracking jokes about how their hermit mother hates leaving the house.

But I’ve noticed…

As time goes by, you, the parent, the mother who at one time fretted over their every tremulous breath, can go an entire afternoon WITHOUT thinking about them. Wondering what theyre doing…eating…how much schoolwork theyre getting done…how many times theyve laughed that day…did anyone make them cry? And at the close of day, you catch yourself going to sleep without that moment of panicked realization “My son isnt here…I didnt check on my daughter tonight…theres only two children in my house and I am incomplete…”

And then you feel guilty because you arent riddled with anxiety all day, because you DIDNT miss them desperately every minute, because there is no gaping hole in your home and heart. Because babies grow up and children become young adults. They eventually dont NEED you anymore. And maybe, just maybe you dont NEED them anymore either. (Oh you still love them desperately, but you arent quite so tied to needing the validation of being their mother to give your day meaning?)

It makes me sad.

But it also makes me peacefully happy and hopeful because me and Darren helped make actual people who can breathe without us, their parents. Young, smart, funny, creative, kind people who (for the most part) are doing smart, funny, creative and kind things in their lives that are separate from ours. And it helps SO much that our children – who are no longer children – have loving supportive family where they are. Watching over them, ready to give help when its needed. Im so grateful for the strength and love of extended family aiga. This stage of parenting would be SO much harder without them.

I’m learning to navigate my daily life without five children being physically present and without the constant ache of 3/5’s of emptiness inside me. I’m learning how to still have family dinners – when theres only four of us instead of seven, when there’s that lazy mournful voice inside me that says, ‘why bother? Your family is incomplete. Just leave that hassle until they all come home for the holidays.’ I’m learning how to be a mum to fewer human beings who are physicallly present, and how to be a long-distance mum to human beings who are still children in my heart but adults in their own eyes.

I’m also getting to know my two younger children so much better. My conversations with them are more leisurely, have greater depth and longer pauses for musing because there’s fewer people jostling for space in the conversation. I’m seeing Middle Daughter cautiously navigate her new role as the eldest, sometimes with a thrill of excited discovery, “I can sit in the front seat now…I decide what to cook for dinner!” And sometimes with a frown of resignation, “But Sade always bathed the dog…why do I have to do it?” I’m seeing Bella figure out how to still be the Boss youngest – when there’s fewer siblings to alternately indulge her whims and censure her.

We are all making adjustments. Changing, growing, shifting and re-aligning. Learning how to be parents to young adults as they move towards independence. Learning how to be present without hovering (or stalking them!) Learning how to better love without judgement.

Learning how to be a family across oceans. Learning how to let go – and still keep them close. I anticipate that we will always have our (adult) children moving out and moving back home, and they will always be welcome to come home and breathe all my air again…but I want them to all eventually, be independent fabulous human beings who are emotionally, mentally, spiritually (and financially lol) able to walk and breathe in deeply of life’s challenges and adventures, without me.

And looking far ahead, wondering – when that happens, where will that leave me? What will I do? Who will I be?

Hmmm…

6 Comments
  • Leilani Martinez
    Reply

    And your children will be all the kind of people that you hoped for and prayed they would be…and even more…because you raised them to be that way–responsible, loving, compassionate, generous, kind, discerning, respectful, smart, argue loudly but very quick to apologize and forgive–quiet and pensive like their father, with a bit of devilish humour like their mother that makes them laugh and cry and laugh some more…because that’s what they’ve seen in their parents. Children are very much like their parents…and yours will become wonderful people like you and Darren. Please forgive me if I presume too much of your family. I just feel this closeness because you and Darren remind me so much of my honey and me and many ways…and I thank God for my beautiful four children who are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they are perfectly wonderful for a mother like me…and yes, we do miss them, no matter how old they are, or you are…they’re still your babies!

    April 10, 2015 at 12:21 am
  • Congrats on your children growing up. As a new adult (I am 26 but that doesn’t feel old at all) I want you to know that I also feel a little strange being away from my family. It’s fun and liberating and all that wonderfulness living on my own, but it’s also lonely and scary and utterly new. I have a husband now, so there’s no more loneliness, and we’re soon to work on our own kids, but there’s something about your parents that makes you feel safe and happy, and like there’s someone who really knows you and loves you for you, without ulterior motives. So now I visit them almost every Sunday, and I go to lunch with my mom on our lunch break at least once a week. They’re becoming more than my parents now that I don’t live home, they’re becoming my best friends, and that’s the one thing that makes me feel better about being an “adult.”

    April 10, 2015 at 2:42 am
  • Dave
    Reply

    Beautifully and poignantly stated. The wife and I have been through this process with all five kids now, and it’s equally difficult for each child.
    There is a silver lining in having your kids move which you may have overlooked – eventually you’ll have grandchildren! It’s the best part of parenting. 🙂

    April 10, 2015 at 4:10 pm
  • Claudine Tufue Samuelu
    Reply

    coincidentally i came across this blog of yours on my brother’s funeral (today). he is also the eldest and also left home couple here’s back to search for the American dream. the family circle is slowly shrinking not only through death but the unmistakable truth of barriers. duck, duck, goose is no longer played because like you said, we became the ideal family in Communist China. we used to argue over getting the best chairs around the family table, now we have more than we need, so much more i’m close to having a nervous breakdown and just burn all the empty chairs. despite the fact, we should still learn to “talk” with our children and vice versa. don’t brush them off, don’ list them under your “to-do” list, hearing and listening are companions when it comes to conversations with them (all vice versa). embrace them! death or physically-socially not-there should not be the right to appreciate them while they’re around-both children and parent. loved your post. thanks Lani for that little flavor you taught me through your writing. looking forward to read about my sibling and I through your ‘Scarlet Lies’

    April 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm

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