That time of year
There’s a unique melancholy for the parents of an almost-grown child at back-to-school time.
Those ungrateful teens have no sympathy for our desire to help! They want to go get their own clothes and office supplies. No longer do they smile cheesily for the first day of school picture — you’re fortunate to get a forced grin. They may sneak out just to avoid it, if they are driving! They won’t let you walk to class with them anymore to greet their teachers and see their classrooms – how rude! You get the grunt when you ask how school went, especially if you have boys, like me.
Then you hit the years after – when they are heading off to college, career, or military. Nothing can quite prepare you for the whirl of emotions involved with that! Some days are easy and some days are so miserably hard. If they push you away, as is the trend when they are processing their own feelings, it is extra tough.
It’s all normal, Mom and Dad. You’re normal. Every think you think, every feel you feel as you send them out into the wider world –
- overwhelming grief
- giddy excitement
- guilty relief
- paralyzing anxiety
Some weeks you may feel all of those in the span of a few days!
Give yourself a semester to mourn, to adjust to a new normal, to send worried texts (and understand you may not receive a reply🤷🏼♀️), and to be filled with anticipation for their first trip home. Then expect the same all over again as they leave after Thanksgiving or Christmas or Passover. Normal, normal, normal.
Then expect some of them to irritate you so much next summer with their mess and noise that you can’t wait for them to go back to school! And then be ready for the grieving all over again.
Normal, normal, normal.
We humans are bizarre creatures. We each go through things differently, feel strong emotions about different things. Huh! Just like some of us felt passionate about breastfeeding our newborns but could care less about disposable vs. cloth diapers, we all feel differently about sending our kiddos out on their own. Envy the parent who is more excited than sad about the leaving, then go cry if you want to. Or, expect to only be excited and happy and joyful and don’t be shocked if you mourn for months like it is a death in the family.
But, whatever your own feelings, let them go. It’s their time. Time to learn new things, make new friends, explore new opportunities, and, yes, make mistakes and feel their own overwhelming loneliness some days.
Be their soft landing space, suck
it up and be their go-to for letting out frustrations, and, unfortunately, learn to be invisible sometimes. What they think and feel and do in this new phase is normal, too.
Just warn your friends when you are headed into a maudlin phase. It’s not unlike sharing the newborn picture album with single friends. Sometimes people don’t get it until they have been there. You may have to find new/other friends – probably will. At a book club, gym class, or church group.
You can do this! And you can do it well. But maybe not every day.
And that’s okay too.
If you don’t want to be weepy, move right along. But this is a very poignant essay that Rob Lowe wrote about the complicated emotions involved with this season.