Saying Goodbye To My Children
I tried so very hard to prepare myself for the day that my son left for college in August, 2016. When my oldest child, my sweet, kind and very independent daughter, left for college two years earlier, I wasn’t really prepared for the upcoming emotional roller coaster that I would experience. Joy, that my loving and very grounded husband and I had raised such an amazing daughter who was capable of amazing things, and the pain of not having her in my life on a daily basis.
My own childhood was so different from what our family of three children is like today. I did not have the opportunity to go to college but instead just left home as soon as I could; no one really noticed that I was gone, and if they did, I suspect the primary emotion was relief. But now, my husband and I feel lucky and very proud that we are in a position to send our children to college; however I had no idea how painful it would be to see my children leave the only home that they, and even myself, have ever known as a safe place, a comfort zone, filled with love and an abundance of self confidence and reassurance that the world could be anything they ever dreamed it could be. So when my daughter left it was a very confusing time for me. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t reconcile the emotions that were so strong and deeply painful even as I knew that it was exactly what she was supposed to do and exactly what we prepared her to do. I simply didn’t know that I needed to prepare myself as well. Though she didn’t go very far away and we saw her often, it just wasn’t the same and I began a spiral deeper into the long time depression that had plagued me since my youth. The years with my children were the happiest years of my life. They were also at that time the hardest years of my life, with working full-time and raising three remarkable children in such a way that they would be prepared, unlike I was, to make good choices and live their lives knowing that they always had a place to call home.
So arming myself with the newly discovered realization of how I would feel when my son was ready to leave, I did my best to rise to the occasion and make sure that it was not about me, but all about him. I happen to be very close to this son of mine, my only son, and we have an emotional connection that I have not quite (yet) experienced with my two daughters who of course I love completely and unconditionally. But my son, wow, all I could think about was the idea that he would never know how much I love him because he will never be the mother of a son and there is just something very different and very intense about the relationship between a mother and her son. It feels like they’ll never come back and things will never be the same whereas with my daughters it feels like they will be back to look to me for advice and guidance in preparation for becoming a mother someday themselves.
The night before my son left for college we were scheduled to go out for dinner in celebration of his amazing accomplishments. I was dressed carefully, looking my best and happiest self but inside I felt like I was dying. Ultimately I was unable to attend the dinner party because the depression took a a type of grip on me that I have ever felt and I just couldn’t go. I just couldn’t say goodbye and I told him that I wouldn’t be able to go with him the next day to move him into college. And he understood because he understood……. it was just something special between us that he got in a way that no one ever had. The next morning, after saying my goodbyes the night before, I was going to sleep in and just stay home while my husband took my son away. But just before he left he woke me and gave me flowers and hugged me with every ounce of strength that he possessed. He knew, this amazing 18-year-old young man, he just knew. To this day I weep for him and the memories that I have of the privilege of being with him every day for 18 years. He’s doing great things in college and he’s going to be a great man in every way, much like his father. Recently, out of the blue, during a phone conversation with my son, he told me that he realized that I was the absolute best possible mom for him that he could ever have had. Any other mom would not have been the right mom for him even though they were certainly great moms. He wanted me to know that I was the only mom for him, that I was the only mom that made him into the man that he has become and without me he would not be who he is, so comfortable in his skin, so confident in his world.
Meanwhile my youngest child, a daughter, is leaving for college this fall, and I am steeling myself for the type of loss that I now know can only be experienced by a mother. Our third child that I and their dad, raised to be confident and independent and able to live without us. I was never a helicopter mom; I never hovered over my children or monitored their every move and every choice and experience that they encountered. I just raised them with unconditional love and availability, and a massive infusion of self-confidence and the realization that they were ready to face the world.
It still hurts, oh, how it hurts! Life will never be the same, these past 25 years filled with so much love, so many amazing experiences and a plethora of teaching moments for all of us. I see a lovely future with my husband and I’ve been looking forward to it for what seems like forever. But it will never be the same and I’m working hard to be okay with that. That hideous cliche: “It all goes so fast. Enjoy it white it lasts!” It’s more than just a cliche my friends. Sometimes, in the chaos of raising a family, it can even be insulting, but in the end, it’s a warning worth heeding. Prepare yourself as best you can, for there is nothing more difficult to face than letting your children go. And doing it gracefully? That teaching moment I’ve yet to learn.