Just before you become a parent, you “are expecting”. You cannot wait for the little person inside your (partner’s) tummy to come out and fill you with joy. After this, you go through various steps – first teeth, first school day, first this, that and the other, sickness, parties, school and lots more.
Despite parenting being a mixed bag and sometimes downright challenging, the presence of your child in your life is a constant. At the end of most days, your child comes home for dinner, shower, change of clothes, sleep and possibly some quality time. Even during their teens, when they come home later (or earlier, because it is already the next day ;), their haven is where you live.
But there comes a time, when kids leave home. There, I have said it (OK, written it).
Ronit and I recently started experiencing this, and the feeling is quite scary, actually. It started with the occasional sleep over at the boyfriend’s place. “See you in two days”, Eden said, and I missed her already.
Then, when the whole family went away for the weekend, Eden wanted to spend more time with her friends, and stayed at home without us. She cooked for them, had a great time and returned the house in perfect working condition.
For some time now, even while she studied, Eden has been working two jobs and making enough money to cover all her needs and put a nice amount aside. No longer can we say things like, “Well, we won’t pay for this”. She can just go and pay for it herself.
Can you feel the control slipping away and the anxiety creeping in?
A few months ago, our family planned a trip to Israel and Eden said she wanted to stay there for another 6 weeks on her own. She wanted to experience the culture firsthand, rather than through our stories, and we thought it was a great idea.
I went with her to the bank to get her first-ever credit card, so that she could be independent while she was away. For me, this was a happy-scary things to do. On one hand, I was very proud of Eden for having her own money and being so confident with it. She’d been managing it online and knew what was going on. On the other hand, this was yet another step of separating her from the family, another step towards setting up her own unit.
Over the years, I have made it a point to support my kids’ independence and to help them grow into empowered and confident human beings. I have always helped them make their own decisions and acquire useful skills, and felt proud when they have been successful. So I am not afraid for Eden. Not at all. She will manage.
But what about me?
At the moment, Ronit and I are getting a sneak preview of what this is like. Eden is now in Israel and we are back home. The house seems a lot quieter, there are noticeably fewer people at the dinner table and nobody comes home at 4am (although this could be considered a good thing, I suppose). In short, it sucks.
If she can be so far away and manage just fine (in fact, she is having a ball), does this make us useless?
Other parents in a similar situation might fear their kids could get themselves into trouble or hurt. We are fortunate not to have these thoughts, because they can be very scary. But even so, we cannot control all the other people out there, who may decide to do something that will affect Eden’s life and ours.
Divorced parents who lose custody of their kids probably feel the same feelings of loss of control and fear whenever their kids are not with them. We are fortunate to be married still, but this also means we have little practice being so far away from our kids.
As I was wallowing in self-pity, it occurred to me that I left home at 18, spent 3 years in the army and 4 at university, and then I was married and did not come home. When I was 28, I left the country and went to live in different time zones to my parents, at a time when telephone calls were expensive and letters were slow to arrive. Boy, that must have been tough.
Thank God for free Internet telephony.
Parents, get ready, because this will come your way one day. The end of home-living of your eldest child, followed by (oh, my God) the rest of them until the very last one. Sure, you dream about that motor-home trip around the country with your partner, about changing your lifestyle and about feeling free, but when you love your kids so much, separation will hurt a bit first.
Enjoy your parenting while it lasts,