With parenting comes a myriad of conflicting feelings. Some parents this time of year are jumping for joy with getting back into a routine, having structured activities for their kids, or seeing their kids back with their friends rather than wrestling with their siblings. Some parents, however, are feeling a deep sense of loss at the beginning of a new school year. You hear it most from parents of kindergarteners and college freshman. However, for me, it struck me almost every year.
The thought of getting ready for school to start is exciting. Shopping for pens and pencils, binders and notebooks, and new clothes gives a feeling of a fresh start, a new dawn. New beginnings usually generate anticipation and excitement.
Simultaneously September can mean endings of the preschool, elementary, or middle school years, or that much anticipated moment of dropping your child off for a year where they will live away from you. The depth of the loss parents can feel is real and may take you by surprise.
The ups and downs of all your parenting experiences is part of the journey. Without the downs, we can’t appreciate the ups, and vice versa. The question is how to respond to those feelings and how managing ourselves first can help us better assist our children in their ups and downs. Here are a few ideas of what to do:
Acknowledge how you’re feeling and let yourself feel it
There’s nothing wrong with a good cry or being honest about your relief and elation over having some space from your children during school hours. They are developing their lives, (and isn’t that the plan?) and you have done your job to create a capable independent child. You need your space and they need to increasingly cut the apron strings.
Talk to others
Find friends or relatives that you can talk to who will listen and accept. More than once I’ve chatted with someone who has just dropped their child off at college and we’ve both teared up. The 10 minute conversation after that moment was incredibly helpful to feel seen and heard. It’s alright to feel the loss of our children’s presence.
Set up a system to stay connected
Regardless of the age of your children, set up a little bit of structure in how you will stay in touch. With school-aged children it may be scheduling Special Time each day or a few times a week, with older kids not living at home it may be a weekly phone call to check in. At first it may seem like that connection time is for you, however, our children need that lifeline and a place, a time, and a person that they can count on to be themselves and unconditionally loved.
Remember that going off to school for a day, or a year, is not permanent
With good communication and an accepting relationship, our children will continue to come back and share their adventures and the wonder of their growth with you. Even when they are independently living on their own, and I hope they are sooner rather than later, their visits can be joyous. In our family we spend a week at the shore with our adult children and their significant others every year. We all look forward to it and have a great time reconnecting and playing. This year the day after everyone returned to their respective homes, I was so blue! You would think I would have this rollercoaster down by now. I had to remind myself, it’s the joy and grief of being a parent.
I wish for you the presence to acknowledge your joys and challenges. If your feelings of loss are preventing you from functioning in your everyday life and linger too long, please reach out to a professional. If you want a partner to help you continue to develop that two-way connected relationship with your child 2 1/2-18 years old, give me a call.