For generations, parents have been saying goodbye to the last of their children when they graduate high school. They go off to college, the armed forces, a gap year or otherwise move away. What more can be written that hasn’t already? What else is new that we haven’t heard before?
For anyone, like me, who is preparing to send their last (or only) child off into the world, there is something new and different. That is, it’s happening to us . This exact experience is personal and ours alone.
Like being pregnant, giving birth or loving your own child, well-meaning people may try to tell you what it will feel like but there is nothing anyone can say or do that will prepare you for your own experience when your last child goes out into the world. The feelings are deep and primal. It is a singular event, marking time like no other.
Family’s change with the youngest leaves home
There are, of course, many other moments in your child’s life that come only once. The last day of nursery school, the final time we’re invited into the pediatrician’s exam room, the last school play, basketball game or dance performance. But this is different.
Although we knew this day was coming, it still feels like a forced metamorphosis of sorts; sometimes welcomed, other times not. At this stage, our children slowly shed their high school selves to make room for the emerging adults that they will become, apart from us.
But this transformation is ours as well. We, as parents, are compelled to examine the role that we will no longer play in our children’s lives. We also contemplate the role we hope to play, moving forward.
Who are we, if not a parent active in our child’s daily routine, identifiable as someone’s mom? To whom do we belong, without the school community we were a part for so many years? What are our goals, now that we’ve successfully helped our youngest navigate high school and receive their diploma?
Whether we work outside the home, in the home or from home we will be affected in our own unique way. From wistfully bypassing the cheese sticks in the dairy aisle to filling a silent house with music; from relishing the available time on our calendar to padding it; from grieving the loss of the family with whom we once lived to reexamining the kind of life we want with them and for ourselves.
Whether they return home to live for a time or just visit, it won’t be the same as before because they (and we) aren’t the same as before. While this feels like a loss right now, the good news is that the relationship you will have with your child can be just as wonderful and for some, improved.
Our children are poised to take their first steps in “adulting.” They’re experimenting with their autonomous place in the world. Maybe it’s worthy of us as parents to take a page out of their playbook and figure out who we are independent of our children.
This transition can be an opportunity for us to focus on our own personal growth, relationships, career or our own dreams for the future. Maybe the time has finally come for us to have a more inward focus. To take care of ourselves. To take risks. To start something new or tend to something long forgotten.
The sense of loss is undeniable even as we celebrate their launching. We will miss them deeply. We will miss who we are because of them. But it is not their job to take care of us now. It’s their job to navigate new pathways, learn about themselves and explore the world. Together, we’ll figure out what they need us to be for them. Cheerleader, sounding board, hugger, advisor. Parenting doesn’t end. It evolves. Just like we do.