When Your “Grown and Flown” Moves Out of Town

Last July, my oldest daughter, who had just graduated from college, accepted a job offer in New York City. The fact that she had found a job — one that she happened to be very excited about — in the middle of a pandemic, was reason to celebrate. And yet, as happy as I was for her, I was in no mood to do cartwheels.

I always knew that her moving to another city was a possibility, and I understood that a grown child’s choices belonged to her and not me. But still, I couldn’t help but wonder: How could she have picked a job headquartered outside the 30-mile radius I had mentally drawn around the family homestead when I thought about where she would land after graduation?

Why would anyone want to leave home and move away from their “cool” parents? (Twenty20 @crystalmariesing)

My adult daughter moved across the country for a job

If you’ve moved halfway across the country for a job or you’re one of those well-adjusted parents who doesn’t mind that your offspring chose a college an 8-hour car ride away, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. 

Maybe it’s me. I’ve lived in the Philly metro all my life. When it came time for college, there were so many universities in the area that I didn’t feel the need to go far from home. When I graduated, the question of where to look for a job was easy. I had always loved Philly, and it came along with the side benefit of having friends and family nearby. 

I suppose it’s natural to assume, or at least hope, that your children are going to want the same things that you did. And the fact that our daughter chose a college a mere 30 minutes from home had probably lulled me into a false sense of security that she was on a path to make the same kinds of choices that I had. 

My daughter wanted an urban experience

But my raised-in-the-burbs child had said for a while that she wanted a chance to live in an urban environment, a scenario she hadn’t achieved with her college pick. That and her desire to live in a city different from the only one she’s ever known helped make the city that never sleeps seem enticing.

Externally, I was entirely supportive of my daughter’s move. After all, I had no good reason to object. She was excited about finding the kind of job she’d been looking for, she had a roommate lined up, and it was after all, her life to live. 

Internally, it was hard not to be disappointed. During the weeks before her departure, it was hard to watch episodes of Friends, which we’d been viewing together as a family during quarantine. I started to resent Monica, Chandler, Joey and the rest of the gang now that I recognized that they were part of a conspiracy to make NYC seem attractive to someone just out of college. 

I was also a little bitter because I didn’t feel like I deserved this outcome. My husband and I had never been helicopter parents. We’d always respected our daughter’s boundaries and given her the freedom to make her own choices. Was this our reward? And why would anybody want to move far away from such cool parents anyway?

I was, of course, smart enough to keep these thoughts to myself, and I did my best to cope. As usual, I found that a sense of humor — so useful for slicing disappointment into more manageable chunks — helped.

When I grumbled to my friends, I referred to her city of choice as Gotham because I’d learned that the snide nickname referenced an English village known for the foolishness of its inhabitants. On my worst days, I fantasized about repurposing the old Fisher Price “Go Anywhere Girls” playset gathering dust in the basement into the “Don’t Go Anywhere Girls” so that I could form a Voodoo Mothers Club with other moms who didn’t want their offspring to settle far away. 

I began to accept my daughter’s choices

Eventually I reached the stage of grief known as acceptance. My daughter seemed happy, and if I squinted hard enough, I could see how the lure of the Big Apple could be more enticing to a 22-year-old than living in the same area code as her parents.

It turned out that anticipating what it might be like when she left was worse than when it finally happened. (Just one more example of how coping in real time is almost always better than the scenarios I imagine.)

When moving day arrived, there was plenty of evidence that my daughter was ready to be an independent adult. Her neighborhood seemed safe, and her apartment was nice.

She had made wise decisions about her furniture, choosing a double bed, a desk, and a dresser that would fit in her small bedroom without it seeming crowded. She had selected a correctly-sized window covering and an appropriately-sized curtain rod to go with it. As I saw my daughter bustling about, clearly happy about how everything she’d planned was falling into place, it was hard not to feel a certain sense of peace.

Having my child in another city is not as bad as I thought it would be

Since then, I’ve learned that having a child living in a different city isn’t as bad as I thought it would be either. She calls regularly. Our family group chat helps us stay low-key connected.

Her ability to work remotely (thank you, pandemic) allows her to come home to visit whenever she wants a change of scenery and extended time with the cat (and hopefully the parents) she left behind. But best of all I can see that she is thriving — content with her job and enjoying new experiences, even as she waits for NYC to return to normal.

I confess that I did get a little excited when she mentioned that she would eventually like to move back to Philly. But I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched — there’s always the possibility that she’ll decide to stay in Gotham for one reason or another. I’m hoping for the best, but I’m hanging on to that Fisher Price playset just in case.

More to Read:

Physician and Mom: How to Stay Close as a Family Over Time 

About Joanne McHugh

With daughters ages 18, 20, and 23, Joanne McHugh has reached the Maytag-repairman stage of parenting when she only needs to be on call for those rare instances when her super-reliable children break down. Her mission now is sharing everything she thinks young women should know about building a life. Her forthcoming book, Things Your Mother Should Have Told You, offers wit and wisdom about developing a career, navigating marriage, and becoming somebody’s mother.

Read more posts by Joanne

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