Awhile back, a sweet mom messaged me and asked if I had any suggestions on how she could cope with missing her newly-flown child.
I know she’s not alone in wondering this. I’m wondering the same thing right this minute. This is SO HARD. What do we do? How are we supposed to feel? How do we get through this? Will this ache ever ease up a little (notice I did not say go away)?
This is what I told her…and what I’m telling myself a lot these days as I’m fiercely missing my own away-from-home big kid.
12 ways to get through missing your teen
- First of all, give yourself lots of grace and time to adjust to this huge change. You’ve had so many years one way with your child; it is natural and right to take time to adjust to a new way. It honors what you’ve had…and loved.
- If what you’re feeling seems like loss, that’s because it is. You are feeling the loss of the way things have been. It is entirely natural—necessary, even—to mourn the departure of a person from the places we’re used to seeing them, from their presence in our daily lives.
- This is a good time to take some extra care of yourself. Rest, fresh air and sunshine, good food, maybe a daily walk: these feed your mind and body and, in turn, feed your heart.
- Don’t expect yourself to know how to do something you’ve never done before. We don’t expect this of our kids; why should we expect it of ourselves? Even if you’ve already sent a child out into the world, you haven’t sent THIS child out….or, if you have, you haven’t sent them out at this exact time. Baby steps, on a journey taken one wobbling step at a time.
- Find yourself some supporters…the kind who won’t “at least” or “it will be okay” you out of what you’re feeling. Yes, “at least” they’re happy. Yes, it probably will be “okay.” But while you’re acknowledging these realities or waiting for them to materialize, this life-without-your-big-kid business is HARD, and you’re going to need some people willing to sit with you in that hard rather than trying to rush you out of it.
- Tell your team what you need. I finally had to tell my husband not to ask me if I’d heard from our college daughter. I promised him I’d keep him in the loop. But I also explained to him that when I hadn’t heard from her, his question only reinforced that painful fact. Sometimes, our supporters need a little guidance to know what’s helpful…and what’s not.
- Make a look-forward-to list. In our family, we say that looking forward to something is half the fun of it, and if there’s ever a time when you need extra fun in life, it’s when you’re aching for your out-of-the-house college or military or career or newlywed kid. Even before my last baby left for college three states away, I started a list in the notes section of my planner titled “Look-Forward-To List.” I included items like “try out new pumpkin recipes over fall break” and “make homemade applesauce” and “put a Christmas tree on the front porch.” Some of these involved my student; some didn’t, reflecting life as we’re going to get to know it from now on.
- Start new traditions. I have a small square white enamel baking dish with blue flowers on the front that my college daughter and I often use to make half a recipe of something that normally calls for an 8- or 9-inch pan. At one point, she told me, “I’m going to need one of these in my house when I get out on my own.” So a couple weeks ago, I found one at an antique store and got it for her. Then my older daughter mentioned she guessed she’d need one, too. I promised to find one for her and told her that down the line, we should all do a Zoom baking session together, making a half recipe of something and putting it in our matching blue-flowered enamel dishes. We all loved the idea, and thus the anticipation of a new tradition was born, in the category, “things can be different and still be good.”
- Tackle a to-do project. In the early days after we moved my last baby to college, I finally dove into the great hangout room clean-out project. Over the course of 20 years, the room formerly known as the playroom had become a dumping ground for everything from formerly treasured stuffed animals to half-used school notebooks to partially completed scrapbooks my daughters had started at summer camp. I channeled my college-mom angst and started throwing and giving things away with ruthless detachment. While I was doing it, I was mercifully distracted from thinking EVERY SECOND about how much I missed my daughter. After it was done, I felt blissfully triumphant at having finally accomplished the much-needed task. And every time I walked into the room subsequently renamed “the lounge,” I felt a fresh sense of peace—an invaluable commodity during the settling-in season.
- Watch a funny movie. The first weekend after we moved our daughter to college, I told my husband, “I desperately need some humor.” He queued up one of our favorite comedies, and I was amazed what a relief it was to laugh and not think (only) about missing our girl for a couple hours. Laughter truly is good medicine, especially when you’re heartsick.
- Trust that you will gradually find new ways to connect with your away-from-you big kid and feed your relationship. You have equipped your child to love and give because you have loved and given to them. To watch them do this will fill you with fresh pride and joy.
- Take comfort in the certainty that no matter how old your kids are or where they live, there will always be some way for you to love them well.
And lastly (for now), if all else fails, never underestimate the power of the two “C’s”: a good cry and some good chocolate.
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