I remember each and every time one of 4 of my 5 children left home. I cried non stop. I knew that they weren't very far away, in fact, one only moved a few miles down the road. But I had spent so long as a mother first and foremost that they're moving out seemed such a huge thing. My middle child continues to live with me although she almost 25 now and I know she too will leave soon. At that stage, I will live by myself for the first time in my life. Unlike some people I didn't leave home until I got married, that was Ireland of my generation and previous generations. I know it won't be long until I face empty nest syndrome and I swore to myself that I would do something about it for myself. So that I didn't do what my grandmother had done, which was to sit by the fire and wait for her children to call. With that in mind, I have been preparing for a long time for when my last child leaves home. For me, I feel preparation is key in the run up to my children leaving home.
Parenting as an identity challenge?
Becoming a parent involves a challenge to our sense of identity when we first become parents. But we face another shift occurring in that identity when our last child leaves home. This change has been placed up there with divorce and retirement. Being a parent is a huge role in our lives, even when they leave your children will always be your children. You will worry about them just as much but maybe in a different way than you did when they were younger. When they have children of their own believe me your grandchildren will be added to that list of worries.
When they leave we need time to adjust if you have not already prepared yourself. The loss will feel perhaps sudden and need to be grieved out. You will need to identify new roles and interests that are now bringing meaning to fulfil your life. You can not just get used to these adjustments in your life, you do need something else to fill the void especially if you have been a stay at home mum or dad. Perhaps you will be like me and the children leaving and moving on with their lives will occur over a longer period of time, this will allow you time to adjust more slowly to the changes taking place. You may even have grandchildren like I do before the last child leaves home. But whatever your circumstances, preparation for the change in your role and more freedom to do what you want to do as an individual or as a couple is important.
Advanced preparation is best, so start early. Some would say that as soon as your first child starts primary school you should learn to let them go little by little from that day onwards. But how can I? We don't even think that far ahead anyway do we? We don't just wake up one day and say yes time for me to plan out my life. For most of us, we are just happy to get through today.
I would suggest you start from where you are right now. If you don't have a fulltime job I would advise you start to consider a part-time or voluntary position that you can do around your children. Or perhaps you should start to look at taking up interests and hobbies before your child leaves home if you have never done so before. What's wrong with showing your children you are more than just mum or dad? Remember if you are in a relationship it is important to work on being a couple all the time. Date night is important and it doesn't have to involve a financial cost. Letting your children see that being a couple is important to you just as much as it is being a parent. It's okay to have some time off from being a parent, to have interests and friends. What if you haven't done anything except look after your children up until now and now they have left home?
Strategies that might help after they have already left.
- Time for a review of all the roles you have in your life? Where have you been focusing all of your attention until now? Is there something or one area of your life that needs a change or more commitment? Maybe it's time to invest more time in you or if you have a partner in that relationship?
- Make a list of things -interests and hobbies, neighbourhood or community groups you'd like to try. Volunteering is a very worth while thing to try. You will get more out of it than you ever put in.
- What about all those places you always wanted to see? Or that bucket list of ideas you have compiled over the years? Now is the time to do them. Start small if you feel the need, you could even be a tourist in your own town or nearby city for a day that may get you started if anything bigger feels too scary.
- What about all the interests you had before the children came along. Yes, you maybe rusty at some of those interests but why not take a refresher course.
- It is so important to remember - although it is better to try things and get involved before the children leave - it's never too late to start!
Change is scary but it's okay to make it. At fir,st it may feel strange not having to do everything you once did. But It will get better with time and practice. Above all be patient with yourself, you are experiencing a big life change, so take your time to get to know yourself again and what you want to happen next.
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