My firstborn is spending a couple of weeks at home before her own house is ready in a neighboring state. There are articles and studies about family life stages and the “launching” of adult children. Having four of ten leave the nest so far, I see that the launching path is different for each. Having a special needs child and a teen who has struggled for years with depression and poor choices supports that further.
There are as many different parental reactions to child-launching as there are personalities and temperaments. Literature tends to suggest that those who were nurtured better as children are more successful at navigating the adult world, and become better nurturers. There are, of course, exceptions and outliers. One of the best mothers I know is a friend whose parents were addicts and who was raised in foster care. She is amazing, and now has five biological boys, three adopted children, and helps to encourage families to foster children in need. Though fifteen years younger than I am, she has been an inspiration since I met her.
I did a quick literature search, wanting to see if there was any science on the reaction of mothers to children growing up. There was not much. I really thought I might find a term which was used for the study of how children are nurtured by mothers. Nope; just “mothering.” Today it would be more politically correct to call it parenting. I just really thought there would be some word with an “ology” after it.
I thought about my own experiences with two step-daughters and eight biological children. I have learned a lot through them. In reference back to my oldest biological daughter who is staying with us, I realize that I have learned so much through her, from pregnancy and infancy to toddlerhood, from school through adolescence into adulthood. She worked hard and got into college. I am not a “helicopter-parent” as I have never had enough energy or selflessness to be one. I probably did visit her more than average when she was at college, since she was only 5 minutes away. Maybe it meant something when after college she clearly wanted to live 500 miles away from home for a year, and then 2500 miles away for another. All this time I have, naturally, missed her. I miss our married daughters with children, also. Photos and videos help.
We have photos of our children around the house as most parents do. I look at some from when they were very little and my heart aches. Is that weird? Why is it? They are happy and successful and we had wonderful years when together. One of my friends says that she does not look back in the past at all as a mother, “No, not at all.” She’ll also say that she did not grow up with the feeling as strongly as I had of wanting to be a mother, as though it is the greatest thing to accomplish in life. Maybe that is it.
Again, each person is different. I write and self-disclose because perhaps someone who thinks as I do on this topic might not feel alone. There are others like us! Of course I can only write from the perspective of a Mom, and one of a very large family, at that. In my heart the images of each of my children, even if they are adults now, are wrapped up in a composite of each that includes their younger selves.
I look back on my own childhood: did my mother feel this way about me? Without my own experience of motherhood I would not have a concept of what I really was to her. I did not consider at any time while growing up that my Mom might feel about me as I feel now about my children. I could not, because only a mother could. She was a good Mom and a caring person. This is of course a huge factor on which my positive feelings are predicated.
My own experience with motherhood was positive. I loved it. Utter joy, aside from the sleep deprivation. I find it interesting that I feel as though the life experiences of each child became a part of me; yet all the while, they were separating from me in the natural way that humans are meant to. They became their own persons, but I still have all of the memories of their lives. My life was indelibly imprinted by each. There is evidence in my physical body, but even more profoundly in my soul.
As in my own recollection of adolescence, my children learn who they are, and they are not concerned with how their parent views their experiences. It is their natural time to question, as every parent of a teen knows. In time the child must separate into a healthy adult, even if their experience is wrought with mistakes, problems or illness. Their pain and suffering cannot help but be felt by the mother. Perhaps this is especially so for those of us mothers who are feelers or who are empathetic. We surely must be in a subset of our own.
Letting go does not mean that we no longer care, nor that we stop hurting for them or missing them; rather, we let go in spite of it. Inevitably, all love will involve some type of pain. We bring them into the world through our physical pain, and we feel emotional pain with every skinned knee, bullying word, failed college entry, and for some even run-ins with the law, or substances. When a child separates in a negative or estranged way, sometimes all that is left for the parent to do is pray. In truth, it is the greatest thing we can do. Prayer does change the world. It most certainly heals the one who is praying.
I am thrilled that my daughter is visiting, and that she is happy and successful. At the same time I have a son who is struggling, and that is very hard. I pray for those Moms and parents with children who have addictions and mental illness. It is a huge cross to bear for the one suffering, and for those who love them. I pray that they will do what is needed to stay healthy and to heal. There is still joy to be had. There continues on in our souls the indelible imprint of the child we love, who we gave birth to or adopted lovingly, who we cared for and taught, who we sang to and comforted, who made us laugh. Those memories are real, and though they may feel bittersweet, remember the sweet.