Monday, August 22, 2016, will be a very significant day for me as my youngest daughter, Sophie, starts full-time work for the first time in her life. Gone are those lovely long university holidays, those month long Christmas breaks, summers spent chatting, walking, playing tennis and cooking together. It seems like it was only yesterday when this little soul came into the world and it’s at that point the ‘letting go’ all starts; as soon as your treasure is born.
This time of year will be very poignant for many parents as your little one starts at nursery school, primary school, secondary school, their first term at university than to embark on their first career in the huge world. All the time you’ve been preparing and nurturing them for the world that lies before them. Which route will they take, which path will they follow, which road will they navigate along? I believe the greatest gift we can give our children is to ‘let them go’ – allow them to make mistakes, let them fail, let them fall and scrape their knees, let them know it is ok to do this. It’s all part of learning and growing and achieving the success that is around the corner for them.
But what about you? Are you prepared to ‘let your little ones go’? Are you prepared for the heartache and the pain along the way? Nothing really prepares for you that loss, that empty chair at the dinner table, the tidy bedroom, the quiet house and the empty washing basket. These signs all tell you that, ‘You’re done, you’re job is over.’ BUT it never is – your children will always need you, you will always be their parents – all that’s happened is your role has changed.
I’ll share with you here what I wasn’t prepared for when my children left home;
- I wasn’t prepared for the fact the family unit meant so much to them; they loved the traditions we held together, the family meals, the walks, the days out. When it came to the ‘last supper’ I really wished I had organized more of these as family meals became a rarity. Don’t underestimate the power of family time and doing things together; it doesn’t matter what it is as long as everyone is included. I remember when Charlotte, our eldest daughter, left for university I laid her place at the table (automatically) for months and we ended up placing the iPad on her table mat with her chatting to us as we all ate together. It might seem strange, but it worked and it helped in the transition.
- When the two older children went to university I had no idea the effect it would have on Sophie being left at home as the ‘only’ child. Sophie really missed her brother and sister and hated the ‘quiet’ house, no one to chat to or even argue with. I totally underestimated how much she missed her brother and sister. So we encouraged all the children to stay in contact with each other regularly over Skype, and regular visits home also helped.
- I think one of the biggest shifts was the change in roles; what was I supposed to do as a parent now? Do I text Charlotte every day, do I Skype her at weekends, do I constantly check that she’s ok and if I don’t will she think I don’t care? This was hard, really hard but I let Charlotte dictate the roles. I let her take on her new responsibility and if she texted I replied, If she Skype’d I answered the phone and if she wanted to come home I made sure we were free. All three children had very different needs with this but letting them take the lead seemed to work. It wasn’t easy and I did struggle with this but I’m glad I got through it. Texting your child is not the same as seeing them walk through the front door after school, even if they do just ‘grunt’ and go to their rooms. Don’t underestimate how hard this might be and you’ll be prepared.
- You really don’t know what sort of parent you will be until the actual times come. We all think we will act in a certain way and invariably we do something different. We all want to be amazing parents and for our children to experience magical childhoods but somehow this isn’t always the case. Be kind to yourself, parenting isn’t easy, you’ve done your best with the tools you have and you are allowed to be upset, you are allowed to cry, you are allowed to mourn the loss. Celebrate all you have done, do not dwell on what could have been. Over time, the pain eases, life continues, new ventures open up; as one door closes another one opens with opportunities galore. Keep your eyes open and don’t miss the moment
- I think this is heavily underestimated…the relationship you have with your husband/partner when your last child leaves the nest. Before your child leaves home start to look at the two of you again as a couple, take the time to be together, perhaps a meal out or the cinema. Don’t leave it until your child actually leaves home; start before their departure and it won’t come as such a shock. Communicate with each other, don’t bottle up your feelings, and tell your partner/husband how you feel. This is the next phase of your life. It can be exhilarating enjoying your new freedom – having closed one chapter I am now looking forward to one day being a Grandma….. you will always be part of children’s lives.
Hold your children in the palm of your hand as if they were a butterfly, let them fly and they’ll be back.