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Permission to Grieve When Your Children Go Away to College

When our children go away to college it is okay to grieve! I was very sad when my oldest went to college yet found little support from others.

I remember four years ago August very clearly. The focus was on my oldest daughter Carly going off to college. She was only going an hour away to Monmouth University, however, I still felt sad that she wouldn't be living home anymore. Don't get me wrong, I also felt happy, proud and excited as well but the grief was the emotion that I was feeling the strongest. I realized during that summer and fall the importance of listening to others when they share their sadness over changes in their lives. I truly needed someone to listen to me but had trouble finding people who would truly just listen. Instead, when I did share about my feelings of grief, most people were not at all supportive and even looked at me strangely and said with a judgmental tone, "Aren't you happy for her?", "Isn't her going to college a good thing?", "I couldn't wait til mine left." I walked away from most of these interactions feeling unheard, frustrated, and feeling that that there was something wrong with me.  After all there are commercials on TV showing parents pretending to be sad when the kids leave home and then jumping for joy and throwing parties. So what was wrong with me? Why couldn't I only feel happy and thrilled at this wonderful opportunity for Carly? I guess I wasn't supposed to be sad or at the very least I wasn't supposed to talk about it.

So I stopped telling others how I felt. I also vowed to become a better comforter of others when they shared with me any sadness or pain in their lives. I also wanted to teach others how to really listen to their friends, loved ones and co-workers when they shared anything emotional.  I would remind them not to try to fix it or to be so quick to offer advice. Just listen and try to understand. It isn't hard to really listen, but it is a skill that we would all benefit from practicing.  I wish that listening was taught in school. Our relationships would improve immensely.

Grief is not only due to a death or divorce, but grief can come from any type of separation, ending or change in our lives. I found myself comparing my loss to other's losses. As a grief counselor, I warn folks not to do this. I shamed myself when I thought of all of those I know who have lost a child through death and knew that this loss could not even come close. Minimizing my loss though didn't help. My grief felt like an ending. It was the beginning of the end of my experience of being the kind of mom as I had been for the past 17 years. It was the beginning of my children becoming independent and not needing me in the same way as they had before. I know that is what is supposed to happen and all about giving our children roots and wings, but knowing that didn't make if feel any better.

I loved having all of my kids home and around. I don't think that will ever change. I am one who wishes there could be a law that if family gets along then our siblings have to return to live in the same town so that cousins can live near each other. I know quite a few families in Springfield whose children are all in this town and the cousins even go to school together and grandparents are able to be very involved in thier day to day lives.  It is wonderful to see.  I can appreciate that as my younger brother lives in Illinois and we only see his family once a year. I wish that young adult children could get jobs that were close by their family and at the very least live in the same state. However I know that with today's economy that doesn't always happen. One woman told me "Today you are lucky if your kids live in the same country as you since quite a few of them get jobs in far away places." Her son works in China. I immediately thought of my first cousin who lives in Amsterdam with his family. We miss him so much.

Then I started to wonder about other parents. Weren't they sad as well?  How can we live with our children for 17, 18 or 19 years and then drop them off at college without us experiencing any feelings of grief? I came up with many ideas: Maybe some didn't really like being with their kids.  Maybe some were denying their true feelings of sadness or just pretended they were "fine".  Maybe some were truly anxious to get back to their own lives that didn't involve their children as much. Whatever it was, I wanted to find the other parents who felt like me. I was on a mission. I even ran a workshop in town four years ago called: They're Excited About Going Away to College, But What About Us?  About ten moms attended the workshop and it was great to share with each other.

Over the past four years I have spoken with many moms and dads who have shared their own grief with me about their children leaving home. Often with couples, it is one parent who expresses sadness more than the other. Some confide to me that it is their own spouse who "shamed them" about their feelings of grief, especially if the dad was grieving.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a Navy Seal dad at a Long Island AAU basketball tournament, who shared with me that of all the experiences he has had in his life, including that of a Seal, nothing was as hard as dropping his oldest daughter off to college last year and saying goodbye. He told me how he cried the whole drive back. He has five children and is already grieving about his second child who is a high school senior who will be going away next year. I felt such a sense of validation from this kind father's honest sharing. It helped me to feel better about my own feelings. Sometimes just talking to others who feel similarly to the way we feel can help enormously. We don't feel so alone and we feel a bit more "normal".

Anyway, if you are a parent who has a child going away to college and you feel sad, find people who will listen to you and show comfort. Allow yourself to feel the grief. Don't talk yourself out of how you feel. Find support on Facebook as many parents I see lately doing. "Pack lots of tissues" one mom said in a post to another who shared that they were on their way to college.

It really does get easier, although I will confess that each year she packed up and left I cried. One time Carly said, "Mom, I am a senior at college. We have been through this many times. Why do you still cry when I leave?" "I don't know", I sniffled, "I just miss you."  I guess it's love or neurosis, but that is who I am. I know I will cry when my younger ones leave the nest as well, but at least they all know how I get, so it won't be a surprise to them. Who knows maybe it makes them realize just how much they are loved. I hope so.

 

"Listening is a high art of loving. Ask yourself," When is the last time I really listened to my child? My parent? My brother or sister? When someone is ready to share, three magic words amplify your connection, and they are, "Tell me more." ~ Rev. Mary Manin Morrissey

Take care of yourself,

Lisa

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

jsmv2 July 01, 2014 at 11:24 PM
I am with you on the hope for the magic trick, but I think the reason I am so grief stricken is that I know in my heart that there is no escape from the feelings of loss that come with kids moving out. My oldest is going off to college in California in 6 weeks; we live in New England. Ever since he accepted the admission offer, I have been dragging about. I cried daily at first, but now I am busy getting him ready. Still I am sad and feel isolated with these feelings. My extended family members don't want to hear about it, and my husband is so sad he cannot talk about it. I have a wonderful daughter who will enter high school in the fall, so I am not going to be an empty-nester. Still, the dynamic of the family will be changed. My daughter adores her big brother and he her; the joy of seeing them love each other and play together when they were younger and share laughs now that they are older has been heavenly. For sure I will miss being the mom the most. But I will also miss being around one of the most wonderfully interesting, kind and witty people I have ever known and will ever know. When he was born my sister told me that I was just beginning the process of letting go--that the whole of raising children was just an exercise in training and release (she had already raised her children--I'm an "older" mother). She was right! But this is one of the biggest letting-go's. I'm sad! Thank you for this forum.
Debbie Shaw Flick July 02, 2014 at 05:24 PM
We just dropped our 3rd child off at college this past Monday. His older brother and sister didn't go away to college, but my oldest son left home 10 months ago, not on good terms, and my daughter went into Americorps 5 month ago. We still have 2 in high school. In 10 months time frame we went from 5 kids at home, to 2. This child who left was the one most emotionally in touch with me, if I was OK, then he was OK. He knows how to make me laugh. I am proud of my kids, and happy for them, I am just tired of saying good-bye. I couldn't even look at my son the other day, I just hugged him, to walk away. No one ever told me that Labor would last a lifetime!!
Kirk July 08, 2014 at 06:33 PM
I am glad I found this article/forum. It hasn't helped ease any of the pain, but it has let me know that there are other men out there who are feeling the same things, or close to the same things I am. I dropped my oldest daughter off at the airport on Sunday to head off to college. People have been asking me for some time if I was going to be good when she left, and I was like “Yea! This is an exciting time.” It never hit me till I got home from the airport, just how much I already miss her. I am a mess. One of the things that I keep beating myself up for are the times when I could have been a better Dad. I know none of us are perfect, but there are times that I am not proud of, when I was not the Dad that I planned on being when I first held her. I wrote her a letter yesterday, maybe it wasn’t the best idea? But I felt like I wanted to tell her some things, and a letter was better than an email or text. It reminded me of when I was in College and the Army getting letters and how much I enjoyed them. I hope to continue to write her at least once a week, and maybe send some care packages with cookies ;). Again none of this will make up for anything I feel I have missed or screwed up. I love her so much, and I miss her tremendously. .
Melinda Mims Buell July 20, 2014 at 10:28 AM
This is exactly how I am feeling. Thank you-I needed to read this!
Elizabeth July 21, 2014 at 04:37 PM
Thank you all for your heart felt comments. I'm praying and trusting God to give me peace and help me face my fears and anxieties. Since my daughter left, earlier than expected to college, I've experienced loss as that of a sudden death. I'm not very strong and I am grieving every day. I have the faith that with time it will get easier to face the reality that she's an adult now.

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