Letting go of your adult children is no easy feat



It was a Christmas beyond expectation. My youngest son was home, after more than two years, from New York and brought his girlfriend to meet us. A lovely young woman with fine etiquette, good conversation and a great ability to make herself at home with us and win over our hearts. The, let’s face it, pain of not having my other son and his family with us was greatly lessened by the presence of my only daughter, with her husband and my second, of three, grand-daughters, a truly wondrous child who turns one this week.

It was that kind of cozy Christmas with log fires and a bounty of food and collection of candles casting dancing shadows on the walls, and lighting up the smiles of my happy, and thankful, family. Thankful we had survived another year with Covid. The end of 2021 marked our second year of living with the coronavirus. We began last year anticipating the vaccine roll out, and a post-Covid economic recovery, but we ended it in the midst of a worrying contagious variant and an economy hit by inflation. But I remain hopeful.

What I did not find easy was that between the unexpected joyful Christmas and the New Year, my daughter and family took off for a holiday in Kerry and my son and his girlfriend flew back to New York. Overnight a house — a home — that had been full of baby babble and adult chatter of Christmases pasts fell silent. And I found myself once more alone. Once more, having to let them go.

Look, I helped raise them, fed them, taught them I would like to think, but now, the past decade and more, I find myself time after time having to let them go. And, to be honest, I am not good at that.
My ‘children’ are adults, have been for some considerable time, but the over and over again ‘letting go’ never gets any easier. My psychologist friend from Magherafelt says it’s normal to feel this way. Sad even. But, as hard as it may be, letting go is the right – and healthy — thing for all concerned.

“We’re mammals,” he tells me, stuffing his face with the last of the turkey sandwiches and a bottle of some fancy IPA. “Even though we wear clothing and carry mobile phones, like every other mammal parent we need to raise offspring who can fend for themselves out in the world without us.”

And looking at me, his mouth full, mumbles: “Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our job as parents is actually to put ourselves out of a job.”
I know I am not alone in feeling that my three grown-up children no longer need me. Call me a sentimental old fool if you wish but letting go has never come easy to me, despite doing it over and over again. “But they still need you,” pipes up my psychologist friend. “Instead of being their micromanager, your role is now one of mentor or a support network. You long ago took shook off your training role. And Christmas can be a daft time for bringing up memories and all that malarkey.

“You letting go allows the adult in them the chance to manage their own bumps and bruises. As the parent, though, you are always there waiting on the sidelines to help, if necessary, but the role has long since changed from providing security and protection to, let’s call it, empathic support.”

“Hmm,” I say, though his obvious, common sense doesn’t necessarily make me feel any better.

Perhaps I am being sentimental because that cocoon of festive-induced stupor between Christmas and the New Year throws up many moments for reflection — which is not necessarily always good for the soul.
I find myself at my most reflective.

Though each year brings its own surprises — and who knows what this new year will bring — in some ways, the more things change, the more things stay the same, particularly at this stage in my own life, each year having a familiar feel to it, like growing into an old, well-worn favourite overcoat.

When you’re young, it’s hard to envisage getting old. Now, another year — and another Christmas — gone, I am here, or at best, heading there.
If I still had the kids around, if I didn’t have to keep letting go, over and over again, I imagine I wouldn’t feel redundant.

Am I being selfish in thinking so?

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