I, like many others find myself in a position and process of readjustment. My youngest has headed off to university and I am adapting to the new norm. There are feelings of pride that the young one has achieved a place in further education but it also becomes a suspended, far off reality, until the day of the move arrives.
My expectations of this transition were of parental worry and concern, which of course has figured to a significant degree. I was absolutely flawed and shocked by the magnitude of feelings of loss experienced. Having spoken to other parents, this seems to be a common thread. I can only liken it to feelings of heartbreak experienced in adolescence. There is comfort to be had in others facing the same feelings, it is reassuring that feelings are normal and not disproportionate. The most oft phrase I have used parrot fashion this past couple of weeks has been, “It’s a process of adjustment.” Which I genuinely believe to be the case. There’s the argument for ‘keeping busy,’ which is fine, however, the feelings cannot be avoided and need to be felt and worked through. A well meaning person encouraged me to ‘be positive.’ My acidic response was, “My positive pants are currently in the wash.” I wanted to feel bereft, I knew it would pass, but I also knew it was important to grieve.
It is irrelevant how near or far they are from home, the reality is they are no longer living in the family home. Day by day the sadness lifts and it becomes easier, thank merciful heavens. For me, this then allowed space for catastrophic thinking. A spectrum of risk and harm unfolded in my head. It’s not entirely helpful being a therapeutic practitioner specialising in addictions. Knowing that University campuses are a hot bed of illicit substances while trying to balance that with hope for good decision making and trust. University is not just about academic learning but also about social growth and emotional development. When I dream of my youngest, she is always about three years old, holding my hand and skipping, which speaks volumes. It’s not easy receiving a notice of redundancy for the role of protector and caregiver. Physical absence does not prevent feelings of worry or panic. The trick is not to give oxygen to the worry, think smouldering embers, they need oxygen and material to flourish. Keeping positive lines of communication is crucial to the success of any long distance relationship. It may be tempting to reactively text every nugget of information or words of caution, in the belief it will safeguard the young one but this can also become irritating and alienating, thus damaging the relationship.
My nest is not entirely empty, my middle daughter will never live independently due to her multiple and complex needs. However, this brings its own stuff and serves as a reminder that this situation is not the norm and contradicts the order and custom of parenting. On the plus side it provided perspective and grounding.
Who knew that receiving a video message of youngest daughter undeniably inebriated, crucifying an ABBA tune in the fleshpots of Manchester would soothe my aching, mum heart. The fact of the matter is, when they’re okay, we’re okay.