Just when you and your child are feeling so close, he leaves you
Just when my daughter and I had become real friends — when we finally enjoyed each other’s company — she stepped out of my life. Of course, this is exactly what I wanted for her. But I have to be honest: her leaving home has left a giant void. I miss her so much that I find myself crying off and on during the day. It’s already been six months. Is this pain ever going to end?
As little kids morph into sophisticated, articulate, and fun-to-be-with young men and women, their parents naturally enjoy their company. Although many parents complain about the challenges of raising adolescents, this stage of life isn’t difficult for everyone.
People who have been blessed with more than one child often see this for themselves. There are “easy” kids and more challenging ones. The “difficult child” often remains complex and harder to raise for two decades of parenting and beyond, sometimes moving on to become someone’s “difficult spouse.” His or her parents may have stretched beyond their human limitations in trying to smooth the way, but to no avail. Their parenting journey with this youngster would not have been described as fun. In better outcomes, this difficult child becomes a fantastic adult, leaving his parents collapsed, having drawn on every last ounce of their physical and emotional resources in the process of raising him.
But we digress. We’re talking here about easier-to-raise children and pleasant parent-child relationships. In this scenario, older teens and young adults are functioning well in their home and school settings. They’re cooperative, always willing to lend a hand. They are young, full of life and good humor. Being with them is relaxing, uplifting, and energizing. A parent can really enjoy the relationship he or she has with this new-found companion. No longer a little kid who needs constant guidance, the older child is someone the parent enjoys being around.
The Good Good-bye
And just then, this delightful companion leaves home — for yeshivah or seminary or marriage. In the happiest-grief scenario, the young person is leaving to be married, hopefully never to return home again.
Although this is exactly what the parent has prayed for, the pain of loss is a normal reaction. In fact, some parents grieve for the loss of the child from the home for months. Many parents are confused by their own reactions, wondering if perhaps they have become depressed or if they might need psychological counseling. In fact, parents need to understand that their grief is natural and as long as it resolves within the year and does not impair their functioning or cause undue distress, is nothing to be concerned about.
Keep in mind that a parent has often lived with a child for about two decades — a significant time span in which to develop a very strong attachment. Moreover, the love a parent has for a child can be extremely intense; sometimes it is stronger than any other love that the adult has experienced in life. Different from adult attachment in marriage, the parent-child bond is often unconditional, irrational, primal in nature. Even a murderer can be loved by his mother, whereas far less serious crimes committed by a spouse can completely destroy a partner’s feelings of affection. And if the parent-child bond is so intense even in the case of the troubled and troubling child, it may be all the more so for the perfectly healthy, pleasant, lovable child.
Although a married child is still alive and well and maybe even live nearby, he or she is not in the house. There’s no more kitchen banter, passing in the hallways, turning the key in the door. Even if the relationship continues to flourish, it inevitably changes. The young person must turn his or her attention to the new spouse and the new life; parents must step aside to allow the child to make a healthy transition into marriage. Things will never be the same, and this can feel, at least temporarily, heartbreaking.
Fortunately, Hashem heals broken hearts. Over time, the pain recedes just as naturally as it appeared. The married child now brings more love into the household — the gift of a new son or daughter-in-law and a tumble of adorable grandchildren. Parents adjust to their own changed and changing family life and usually come to like the new arrangement.
The adjustment happens most quickly and easily for those parents who can accept and acknowledge their feelings of grief, allowing themselves to release their feelings by simply feeling them. Like family life itself, feelings are in a constant state of flux; the shifting sands and changing landscapes provoke our endless personal evolution. In parenting, change is the name of the game. We’ll be happiest when we embrace it.