Letting Your Kids Go: Why My Son Starting College in Another Town Was So Hard
I’ve been a psychotherapist for 25 years, and I think I’m pretty good at it. I can empathize with all kinds of people, and I’m surprised sometimes how easy it is to feel connected to a client’s suffering with whom I would never cross paths outside of my office.
One client revealed to me the other day that he had a permit to carry a pistol and had been in a gang. He’s over six feet, and a bear of a guy. But I know his story, and I can relate to the universal pain of wondering if he is lovable. He doesn’t scare me one bit.
For years I’ve had parents talk about the loss, the fear, the freedom and the uncertainty of sending their kids off, whether to college or to pursue their grown-up lives.
I’ve talked to many moms who feel the acute pain of their kids moving to distant cities for jobs. It’s all in a day’s work for me. I love my job, and I think my clients feel supported and understood.
Nothing Prepared Me
But nothing prepared me for this. When the opportunity came very abruptly for my son – with whom I am very close – to go to college in Oregon, I literally lost my breath.
He’s an only child, and, for a number of reasons, we are particularly close. He hasn’t been the easiest kid to raise, with a number of learning differences and his non-conforming way of seeing the world.
I could say he goes to the beat of a different drummer, but this kid doesn’t go to any drummer at all. He is, however, smart, sensitive, funny and totally unique. And he’s my kid.
Letting Children Move On with Their Lives Is a Unique Kind of Pain
My friend, also a psychotherapist, and I used to joke that this whole mother/child system was perverse. You love these people with every single fiber of your being, and then you are supposed to launch them? Send them on their way? Say, “Good luck in your future”?
It’s all wrong, and it leaves moms with a hole in our hearts you can drive a truck through. I’ve experienced loss as we all have, but this has a unique flavor. It’s a ripping away that I swear I can feel in my whole body.
Daring Myself to Be Hopeful
And yet, even with the pain, there’s the very beginning of excitement, of curiosity, and a certain sense of wonder. Who will this young man grow to be? Where will his talents take him? Will he be able to make good choices?
I wonder all these things, even as I’m filled with anxiety. I knew it was going to happen eventually, I just didn’t know it would almost knock me over. I know it’s the natural course of parenting, and even though I’ve heard parents talk about their breaking hearts, I didn’t think I would feel it.
No Choice but to Move Forward
Telling myself I have to accept the natural course of things hasn’t really helped. I was just in the grocery store, wheeling my cart down the ethnic food aisle, and had that deep feeling of loss that caught me off guard.
My son is an adventurous eater and as a child delighted in calamari salad from Zabar’s in New York. The feeling of missing him was so strong, my whole body went a bit limp. The only thing that helps when I’m hit with a bolt of grief is riding it out like, well, a contraction. The irony is not lost on me.
At Least I’m a Mammal and Will Adapt
The good news, I suppose, is that as a mammal I’m built to adapt to new situations. I know that it will feel less traumatic as time passes. I’ll adjust because I have to, and I’ve noticed that other mothers have as well.
In the meantime, I’m going to distract myself with a new knitting project, some high quality chocolate, and a nice doubles tennis game with women who know exactly how I feel.
How have you dealt with your children leaving home and moving on with their lives in another part of the country or the world? What advice do you have for other women who are missing their adult children? Please share your valuable insights below.
Nicole Christina, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, podcaster and presenter. She leads an online course based on the Harvard Study of Aging. Her podcast, Zestful Aging, focuses on mature women and the metamorphosis they undergo. She enjoys talking about aging with sass and class, playing tennis, and romping with her dogs.