Wednesday, August 8, 2012
In my years of parenting older teens, as the college years approached, I always heard that it gets easier as each one goes. Friends with good intentions gave me advice, freely recounting their momentous experience of finally being empty nesters. They told me that with each flight, a bit of freedom came. By the time the third little birdie flew the nest, I'd be a pro and barely bat an eye. In fact, they said that I'd probably do a happy dance as she ventured off into the world.
It gets easier? I could not agree less!
My first went off and it was hard. I missed her terribly, but the emotion that took over was fear. I questioned if I had given her the right preparation for life to manage on her own. I worried for her safety and well being to the point of not sleeping. Daily I questioned who I was as a parent and if I had done my job and given her the right tools to succeed, be happy and be healthy. I obsessed on if she was getting to and from class safely, if she was figuring out how to be on her own, if she was going to class, and if she was getting enough sleep. I battled that for months. After a few life lessons and knocks that she worked out and walked her way through, I realized that I had given her what I could to figure out how to be in the world. She'd call sometimes for guidance, but I knew in my heart that she would be successful in whatever she did. She was strong, able and capable- we saw her triumph.
Ok... I got the parenting thing down. I don't question that much anymore. But now my second is going off and it is hard for me. I know I have stocked the life tool box and shown her how to use them. She will make the choices of when and how to use them - she will figure that part out. Surely I'll worry about the things that I did with the first, but not in the same way or to the same degree. But still, it is hard, but in a different way.
My angst this time is not centered on safety and well being. Since I experienced that with the first, fear is not the dominant emotion - I processed that already and know how to manage it. Feeling confident in my parenting and how I prepared them has left time for a different type of emotion.
This time a difficult mixture of sadness and joy is dominating. I feel the sadness of grieving of turning over my precious child to the world. I feel the grief of remembering the child that was held nearly every second of every day until she was 2 1/2 stepping out of my physical grasp. I feel the grief of sending my child who didn't want to be the center of attention, didn't want to play on a soccer team because she thought there would be boys on it, and didn't want mom and dad to make a big deal publicly out of things, into a phase of life that pushes each one of those areas in her life. I feel sadness because I know that I am sending her into a world where she will have to play on teams she doesn't always like, because she will have to stand out on her own and shine, and that at times, she will need to step into the spotlight.
I also feel great joy in each of the things I grieve, because I know like our first, she will be triumphant. There is joy because I know that I, along with her dad, have helped her to be a strong and independent woman. I feel joy, because she is embracing life, taking a risk, and figuring out who she is. I feel joy because I know that in parenting her and her sisters, we have prepared them for life and the world.
So I say to all those that told me that it get's easier - either you were trying to soften the blow, you truly couldn't wait for your children to leave, or you refused to face how difficult it really was. Our children our extensions of us. They will become their own people and make their own path in life if we have prepared them well. But when we send them off, we are sending parts of us with them - and it is painful.
The good news is, in the pain, there is growth - for us and for them. Even though pain is not something we usually choose to walk into, I will gladly accept the discomfort. There is great reward in the end.