All around the world, the challenges and emotions of sending our children off to college are much the same.
This insightful blog post came to me this week from a friend in London, J. John. I think it caught the essence of this changing relationship with children just right.
From an empty nest
I don’t often bring my family into what I write: I think they deserve some privacy. However, my wife Killy and I have recently undergone such a drastic change in our lives that I feel the need to write something! Our youngest son has gone to university and for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, we are quite literally home alone.
There are both good and not-so-good things about this. Suddenly the house is free from suspicious piles of washing and there is no loud music. The shower is never occupied for half an hour, the only magazines or CDs we are in danger of tripping over are our own and our food bills are halved. We can watch what we want on television and the house is quieter: the phrase ‘low-profile’ can never be applied to sons!
But of course there are not-so-good things. Even in this age of being able to connect to almost everyone, everywhere, at any time, to see your children leave the home results in a feeling of being ‘disconnected’. There is a new remoteness. You find yourself frequently wondering, ‘What are they doing right now?’, ‘How are they feeling?’ ‘Is there some way we can help them?’ Indeed, at the deepest level, there is something that could rightly be described as a sense of loss. It’s hardly surprising. You have spent a quarter of a century with much of your life oriented around fulfilling the needs of your offspring and then, suddenly, they are gone in a cloud of suitcases and boxes, leaving silence behind. There is a finality, too, about children departing. When your sons or daughters are at home they are clearly your responsibility: however old they are, they remain ‘your children’. Once they leave they are on their own; they are still your sons or daughters, but they have to look after themselves. Childhood is ended.
So there are losses and they are painful. Yet – and here’s the interesting thing – what’s the alternative? We all know that if you try to hold on to your children something very wrong happens to them and to you. There is a time for birds to leave the nest and it is a foolish parent who tries to prevent that happening. The old saying that ‘you don’t have children, you are only loaned them’ is a very true one and if, like me, you see children as a gift from God then it has an even deeper significance. Oddly enough, another good thing is the feeling of quiet satisfaction that your children actually want to leave home. As the wise saying goes, ‘You need to give your children roots and wings.’ In one sense, the painful stillness of the empty nest says ‘we hope we did our best’ although I think that children have usually left home by the time their parents really get the hang of parenting! In the summer our eldest son got married and on the day of his wedding I told him, ‘Mum and I did the best we could as parents. Forgive us where we failed and we hope you do better with your children!’
Can’t wait for the Christmas holidays for their return!
If you would like to read more from J. John, you can find his blog HERE