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She’s Leaving Home (Bye Bye)

Friday, 14 August 2015

Parents everywhere are counting the days until school resumes. I know many in this situation: Summer camp is over and kids are hanging around looking for things to do; needing to be fed, driven places and entertained. For some, the dog days of summer mean everyone might be a bit sick of each other. Don't feel guilty if you're in this boat. You're in good company and wanting your time back doesn't necessarily make you bad at your parental job.

But enjoy these moments, all you moms and dads. Those rug rats you want to strangle right about now? Before you know it, you’ll wish you had this time back.

Indeed, there is another group of families with kids who are are preparing to leave for university or college and moving away for the first time. And while I don’t have children of my own, I can relate.

I have a vivid memory of my father from a spring afternoon in 1987. We were walking to the mailbox at the end of our street in suburban Toronto to mail my university registration form. I’d been accepted at the University of British Columbia and I was moving to the other side of the country. I was jubilant about the adventure that lay ahead. I was skipping and running circles around my dad and as I dropped the envelope into the mailbox I said, “Don’t worry, Dad…I’ll be back!” My father put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye and smiled as he said, “No, you won’t.”

He was right of course.

Going off in pursuit of a post secondary education, especially if it’s in another town or city, is a rite of passage for many young people. For them, it’s part of growing up and moving on and preparing them for independence is what your job as a parent is all about. But it also means nothing will ever be the same and the so called empty nest it creates can be difficult for some. Personally, I think a feeling of loss at this time is a sign of having been a good guardian.

Saying goodbye to someone you love, even if it’s only for a semester, is never easy. But if you plan for it you’ll find your way through. Consider how you’re going to feel in advance. Then plan the logistics around the exit. Will it be at home? The airport? On the doorstep of student housing?

In the moment, try to be upbeat. Save the tears for afterwards.  The most important thing to do at these crossroads is tell people how you feel about them and in this case specifically, I bet a kid would love to hear that you’re proud.

When my mom dropped me off at my dorm room, we carried everything in, looked around a bit, hugged it out and then she left me to unpack on my own. I remember being thankful for that. It was time to make my own choices about how to organize my life. And as I write this I’m considering for the first time how she might have felt, walking away that day.

Nowadays, technology makes it a lot easier for families to stay in touch. I love that I can email, text or Skype my niece when she’s away at school. But of course parents (and aunties) can’t expect to know everything that’s going on in the lives of the newly independent. That’s part of the process.  Plus if you know, you might wish you didn’t.

When your mourning is complete, because mourning this loss would be wise, consider the advantages. Perhaps now you can take over the extra closet space? Have sex on the kitchen counter? And be sure to take the time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Finally, don’t forget that your baby will always be your baby. When I was in Toronto recently, a weary traveler arriving at my family home late at night, my mom had left a plate of freshly baked brownies and a note on my bed. Even at 45, a kid always needs her mom.

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  • Jim Wright

    Your sense of self-awareness is very impressive; that you can articulate it so vividly is equally compelling. Kudos to you!

  • Jim Wright

    And the Beatles reference??? Fabulous!