Parenting is the toughest job I’ve ever loved that simply never ends.
Until it does.
By that I mean the twenty-four hour intense always-present part of parenting that involves stocking favorite foods and keeping the back door unlocked even after going to bed. The parts where you have a sense of where they are at all times and are intimately involved in anticipating their moods and needs.
I’m watching dear friends celebrate high school graduations for their youngest or their only and remember vividly that sense of excitement, pride, and deep grief that accompanies that rite of passage. We raise our children to be independent thinkers who will go into the world to contribute their special gifts and find purpose and meaning along the journey. And then they do. And then we realize that that part of our lives is over.
Sure we hope that by sending them off as happy healthy humans, they will return for holidays and vacations – and at some point, with grandchildren…
But it’s a different kind of parenting that happens when the kids leave home. And for moms, it can be a really difficult transition. It may be for fathers as well, but I hear about the deep sense of loss mostly from my women friends.
It’s visceral and bone deep. One of my dear friends clearly is experiencing the happy grief of having raised two handsome and caring young men who are off accomplishing meaningful things in the world. And they’re gone, no longer leaving laundry and shoes by the door. It’s hard to explain why fewer shoes by the door bring such a sense of loss – but it does.
Last week, I stood at the counter of our neighborhood coffee shop when a young mom came in with her two grade-school-aged kids, and my heart moved to my throat as my eyes filled. Oh, what I would give for one more week with my kids in grade school. I miss hearing that breathy excitement about a new skilled learned or an upcoming assignment - when they actually enjoyed tackling a new project.
Now I understand why women of a certain age get busy with community projects outside of work. Either that or we learn that we really enjoy a glass of wine – or two – in the evenings. It helps distract or mask the hard part of moving beyond the intense parenting years.
There must be a better way of handling the happy grief that comes with the independence that is part of life after the kids leave. Purposeful work helps. So do great friends who also like to learn and grow. That, and planning trips that include the wonderful adult humans our kids have become.
Anyone else have ideas?