Has your child moved out? The day your son or daughter leaves home is a day you dream of or a day you dread. You know it means the beginning of a new life chapter. It also means the end of a chapter. This means you will be dealing with grief as you say goodbye to the way things were.
Dealing with grief when a child leaves home is as important for you as it is for your child.
As you celebrate you child’s freedom you may mourn you own lost sense of purpose. Your feelings of excitement will be mixed with sadness as you accept your new reality.
It’s natural to question why you can’t just be happy when your child leaves home. It’s natural to question why you can’t seem to get on with your day or your life. It’s normal to be hit with unexpected sadness, uncertainty and a sense of loss.
No one prepared you for the conflicting thoughts and emotions you are experiencing. Everyone focused on how great it would be and how happy you would be. Now the day has come and you don’t know what to do with your time freedom. You are feeling kind of sad. You are more normal than you feel right now.
Grief is the normal and natural response to loss of any familiar pattern or behavior. Your routine has changed, your daily connection with your child has changed, at some level your responsibilities have changed. There’s a void in your schedule and in your heart. You aren’t sure how to fill it.
It may or may not be the physical separation that is the hardest part for you. You might struggle to adjust to a new routine. There will be the undeniable truth of your child’s absence at the dinner table. Your biggest challenge might be accepting you don’t know where they are and what they are doing throughout the day.
Whatever it is for you, it’s important to acknowledge all of things you’ve lost when your child moved out. It’s helpful to write these things down. It’s easier to deal with the things you can see. Random thoughts left floating in the mind cause additional stress.
Try it now. Make a list of all the things you feel you’ve lost and all of the mixed emotions you are feeling now.
When you are dealing with change and grief it is important to give voice to your feelings. Don’t keep them bottled up. Imagine a pot of potatoes with a lid sitting on the stove. Everything is fine until the pot gets too hot. The stress of life will heat up your emotional loss post and your feelings will escape in unpredictable and messy ways.
The benefit to sharing your feelings openly is you create the safe space for your child to do the same. As excited as they may have been to move out and start their own life, they will be experiencing conflicting thoughts and feelings as well.
A word of caution. You don’t want to pass the weight of your own grief on to your child. It’s ok to tell your child that you miss them. Make sure you don’t make them responsible for your sadness and pain. You don’t want to compromise your child’s happiness and independence. You need to take care of yourself and role model healthy ways for your child to deal with their own grief.
You child will be excited and a bit fearful at the same time. They will feel unsettled, like they’ve lost their footing. They will long for their old bed, a home cooked meal and time with old friends. You can help them acknowledge the losses and give voice to their feelings.
The benefit to this type of sharing is you show your child how to feel their way through the many life events and losses they are destined to experience. In the long term you create trust and make it safe for your child to openly share their feelings. This leads to lifelong health and happiness.
Of course you want to give your child the space they need to be independent. You want them to enjoy their new life. Your child might pull back as they adjust to their new reality.
It is normal for your child to withdraw when they don’t understand why they feel so emotional. Your child might be afraid to admit they are scared or feel lost. Staying in touch and finding out how they are feeling is healthy and wise.
Done right, you can create the space for your child to open up and share as much or as little as they want. Keeping the lines of communication open is a healthy way to put your mind at ease and support your child in their own transition. Just don’t overdo it. Talk to your child about the way you will communicate (text, email, phone) and how often. Let your child have a say in how this will work. Respect their boundaries and make sure that they know you are there for them.
You have more time and freedom than you have had in years. It’s important to consciously choose how you spend your time and where you invest your energy. Friends and family might tell you to keep busy. They might encourage you to distract yourself so you don’t think about your child’s absence or feel the pain.
Society will tell you that retail therapy or a glass of wine are the keys to filling the void in your heart. This is at best a distraction. The pain will always be there until you deal with it.
Whatever you do, don’t allow yourself to slip into unhealthy habits by unconsciously avoiding your feeling with food, drugs, alcohol, shopping or social media. If you find yourself doing these thing, STOP. You might feel better in the moment. I guarantee you will feel worse if these things become your long term coping strategy.
There are better ways to fill you time. Choose things that bring you joy. Go for a walk, visit with a friend, get a massage, read a book, find a hobby.
Is avoiding your feelings your way of dealing with grief? Unfortunately, that’s not going to work.
The key to lifting the weight of grief is to acknowledge the sadness you are feeling. Accept you are having a normal response to a major life event. When you acknowledge the sadness you feel you will find the energy to move through this experience with more grace and ease.
If you are struggling with your child leaving home you are not alone. You’ll find more information about grief and loss coaching here. I specialize in helping people navigate the emotions of grief so they can bring more love, joy and happiness into their life. If this speaks to you we should talk. You can call me at 403-671-8511.