Friday, December 9, 2016

When adult kids go other-home: what worked for me

Four people and a cat on a couch
who mean the world to me.
Here is a holiday moment you'll understand if you're the parent of grown children.
Your kids, all living independently this year, file in for the holidays, and you have a fantastic time. You're struck by new awe over who they've become. You smile to see how they enjoy each other more all the time. It hits you that even if they are dissimilar people, they have their independence and confidence in common. Their bond is strong. 
You didn't see quite this much of that last year. 
They leave, and while you put the house back together, you reflect on sweet holiday moments that you'll store like fancy dishes in your brain attic. The sky turns gray, snow flies, and you're nostalgic, but not exactly the way you used to be, because this time they didn't leave to go back to work or school, they left to go other-home. 
You didn't see that last year at all because you were still paying tuition. 
You have to be careful with nostalgia. It's healthy until it becomes engrossing, the way a Facebook newsfeed is interesting until everyone seems to have a more interesting life, even if you wouldn't recognize many of the "everyones" if you tripped over them.
You also have to be careful with nostalgia because right after it makes you feel grateful for where you are, it can evolve into melancholy, that icy patch of knowing something is over that you kind of wish you could do again, or do better, or just wish might have lasted longer. 
You might have seen that this year.
I'll share an attitude adjustment that worked for me after I had my own spills on that patch. 
Knowing that we like to see things in life as true or false, better or worse, good or bad, it helps to remember that most things can all be true but not at the same time.  

It is true that you raised children to become successful, loving adults who are making unique and precious contributions to the world. It's probably also true that after you did that, you found your next life where you come first again and don't have to remember to pick up hot sauce on your way home.    
And, it's true that as you consider the life that grew within and beyond the walls of your home, and all you gave of your heart, you will have trouble picturing anything as vitalizing or affirming.
Melancholy is a bummer.

Melancholy is useful.

But not at the same time.

Trying to drive away post-holiday blues when post-holiday blues are trying to be useful can fail because in your brain attic, there is only one chair.  If your hopeful future tries to sit there while your adult children are wheeling their luggage to the door and making you sad, your melancholy present will push it off and you'll be left there on the floor saying, "Oh my God. I'll never do anything as meaningful again," which is not true at all.
It worked for me to remember that awareness of  things that are over can be the first move toward visualizing a "next" future, if for no other reason than to get off your own nerves. Even if the picture of that future looks like a swirly watercolor and not yet a horse or apple tree or house in a field, it is in this state of need that we open to possibilities which require our qualities as a human being more than our skills as a person. 
And melancholy, if it doesn't drag on, can be a bench at the bend, where you don't just remember how life was before, but feel it again, to make sure your memories live as well.

The only thing better than being surrounded by children you've raised to be happy and healthy and who love you unabashedly is nothing. And the only thing worse than having a nostalgia hangover that you didn't see coming is failing to allow it the time it needs to wane on its own and set you free again. 
Both are true.

I saw that this year.





14 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this. My kids are still small, but I find myself thinking about this already. It is a kind of anticipatory melancholia, and there is also the thrill of thinking about a life that will (mostly ) be mine again. I am sure that it will be a mixture just like the one you described.

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    1. It's strange I think because you feel like you've handled the whole kids-out-of-the-house thing, and you have, and still there's that "already?" kind of feeling. Thank you.

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  2. My husband reminds me that we taught our children to be independent and so there's no point complaining that they've made their way in the world and don't need us unless it suits them. Most of the time this is fine by me - but there are moments when my heart hurts - often around Christmas with all the juggling of everyone's time and not automatically being allotted prime position any more.

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    1. Perfectly said. Just because you did your job doesn't mean you don't still remember those days with some pangs.

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  3. OMG this is so true. Having them around is the most wonderful part of a Holiday but having them leave is the worst. I have to fight the tendency of missing them even they are right in front of me. I need to lick my wounds privately.

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    1. Someone said: "I miss them most while they're here." I got that, it's impossible not to remember earlier years (we forget the bad parts) when we'd have them forever.

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  4. This is so beautiful. Thank you. I needed to read this.

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  5. Thank you! As a new empty nester - ugh - I'm still floundering a bit. Soon my 4 young adult college/grad school students will be home. I'm looking forward to it, yet dreading it and you've let me see that whatever I feel is ok. They are doing great in their other-homes and I just need to get my footing to do fine in this home!

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    1. I just shared with my friend Sharon Greenthal, it's a weird mixed feeling to see them go, but a week later, you're back in the world of you, and it's a good place that you've earned. All the feels are perfectly right, they just hit at the same time during the holidays :)

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  6. Made me cry just reading it, because I know for sure that this will happen to me this coming holidays. But thank you for making us see that it's not the end of the world. I wish though that sometimes days are sunny and not mostly dark and dreary.

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    1. As the kids say: feel the feels They're all there for some constructive reason, I think. I think we may be more apt to feel the "reality" of grown kids when they're all doing well.

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  7. OK. I'm crying just a little. I've felt this tug - when I vacuumed his room after he'd taken everything out of it for good and after every "visit" home - I lose another piece of me. But, you're right. I found the piece of me that I didn't have before he burst into my life. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Lois, thank you. "The piece of me that I didn't have before he burst into my life." Well put.

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