Finding the Positive in Change

It was a back-to-school picnic and I was sharing a Tartan blanket with another mum. As we munched on the carrot sticks and houmous someone commented, “It’s almost like a New Year”. She was referring to the summer holidays drawing to a close and I could see what she meant; with the school holidays over and students preparing to journey back to their universities, this time of year heralds a significant change for some of us. For me, it is an unmarked ending, a full stop or at the very least; a punctuation mark in the year. However, unlike New Year there is no media fan-fare to acknowledge the shift, it just happens and the parents and children push on and hopefully adjust to the new schedule without further ado.

school kids

Sometimes, if one of our children is going to college or leaving home, it can be a more far reaching change with the loss of their daily presence in our lives. This time last year I found myself writing about the phenomena of the ‘Empty Nest’, it proved a popular subject.

For the school children, the new school year involves transitioning back into their role as pupil, reintegrating into friendship groups and getting down to some work (we hope). For me, I notice the house is quiet, devoid of laughter and squabbles and the distant chatter over social media. It’s a relief, juxtaposed with a little sadness, does that make sense? I’ve enjoyed not having to rush every morning, the general slowing of pace and the joy of having a family holiday together. I won’t however miss imponderables such as:

How much Nutella is okay for one teenager? Should I be more curious about the nutritious content of the consumables stashed under my eldest’s bed?

Can I get away with yet another twist on an old pasta dish without incurring a chorus of eyes rolled heavenwards?

Is it worth a confrontation to get each child to take their turn at loading and unloading the dishwasher or doing a little ironing? Sometimes they just do it, I could wait and see if it happens …

Do other parents punctuate their day taxi-ing teenagers around to limitless destinations for no particular reason other than to hang out with their mates? How much walking to the station or the town is too much walking?

Why is it that on the days I’m not working I don’t sleep in – something I’ve fantasized about before the holiday.

All these small dilemmas can now be put to one side and be replaced by something we all recognise (and let’s be honest most of us really like) our routine!

Responding to Change

We don’t have any choice about change, it’s a certainty of life and we’d be bored if nothing ever happened to stimulate us. However, many of us naturally favour a routine which allows us to feel secure and navigate life more easily – hence my relief at returning to it. What I notice, which is really positive, is the shaking down effect that the transition brings. It is subtle, but in stepping out of the routine for a while I seem able to tune-in to some changes I could make as I transition back into it? I’m taking a fresh view of my week and what I do, even though I didn’t stop working in the holidays, I can see that too with a fresh eye.

I have a little more time now, as my youngest is joining her siblings at senior school I won’t need to arrive at the gates at 3:30 pm every day. For thirteen years, whatever the weather, whichever continent we were living on and whatever else is happening, I’ve battled to find a parking space (in recent years one where I won’t risk a parking ticket) and the change hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Wow! Writing it down has helped and I feel a real opportunity opening up in my weekday routine. Flexibility, hmm, I love that word.

I’m not quite sure what I’ll do yet, but its good to just let the change settle over me. I’m also aware that I’m still acknowledging my children are growing up and they won’t need me so much. I notice I’m not required to get out of the car at the morning drop off, “Don’t do it Mum, its social suicide”. No more goodbye kisses for me then …

Change vs. routine, part of the ebb and flow of life that keeps us energised and encourages us to grow and change as individuals, as a nation even … Here in the UK we have been undergoing a process of referendum to allow people living in Scotland to decide if they still want to be part of the UK. It has imposed an opportunity for all of us in the UK to think about what devolution might mean for us individually and collectively; the impact on our culture and identity, not to mention the financial implications, many of which are uncertain.

Whether it is a matter of State or personal impact, what feels important, is to face your feelings and find the positives in any change. Ultimately to find our own place of acceptance is to navigate our way through.

Empty Nest?

Are you a paid up member of the “I hate change” club? If so, welcome to the majority – you are far from alone. The comments around losses I’ve encountered in the last few weeks reflect the fact that many of us dislike change.

Specifically, a number of friends are experiencing the departure of a child to college or university (and yes I know they are not strictly speaking children, but it still feels like they are). Cries of “I’m lost without them” resound in the heads of parents at this time of year. Hasty goodbyes in cramped, strange smelling spaces are combined with squished kisses somewhere between the eye socket and hair line and mum’s look away to hide moist eyes. Last minute pleas include, “Don’t forget to eat” and “When shall we speak?” Returning home the house can seem eerily different and empty of the energy and presence you took for granted. VARIOUS

Have you experienced a young family member moving out? If so you may be struggling to reconcile how your most treasured offspring will survive in that featureless, one room or noisy ‘halls of residence’. Those with a half full ‘nest’ may find the remaining siblings notice the difference too as the dynamics of the family experience a seismic shift. For better or worse, everyone feels the losses along with the pull to accept, adjust and adapt.

Most subtle are the emotional changes; for example, one friend noticed her youngest son had pacified and distracted with humour, when things got tense at home; she wasn’t aware of this until he’d left. Most of us have a role in the family system, maybe the yeller has departed; who will ‘carry the can’ and voice the family’s anger now? This could be a positive outcome of course, when a sibling and parent are alike they sometimes clash and it can be a relief when one of them has gone. That’s not easy to admit to anyone let alone yourself.

Parents usually find it challenging when their kids leave home for the first time because it is a big deal, and many changes require many adjustments. When the transition includes moving cities, or even countries, it is HUGE for the student too and in your heart you know it could be very tough for them. Speaking as a parent, I’d say that can be scary … I know expats who’ve ended up with themselves on one continent and two offspring at colleges in two others! What a lot to handle practically and emotionally.

Meanwhile, my friend Roz (a cup half full kind of gal) has just dropped her eldest son off to live in Bath, where he will begin three years of college life. She sees the positives; excited for him and his new life-style. With two other children in her care, she feels the positive impact on the domestic scene. Let’s face it when the first one goes there is the prospect of less washing, cleaning, ironing, arguments, not to mention one less tummy to fill. Roz sees a future filled with opportunities for her son and engages with the changes in her life like a pro surfer riding the breakers.

It’s not always easy to be philosophical though, most of the mothers I’ve spoken to have known for years their child will leave, and yet when they do actually go, it’s still a wrench. When an only child or the last one departs, those mums (and dads) know they had a role and now it’s gone forever.

Perhaps you too are experiencing another kind of change, but feel it came along too quickly or you could be adjusting to a sudden turn of events; one of life’s ‘curved balls’.

Regrets

Accepting it is the end of an era is key when you consider your son or daughter’s childhood is now over. This knowledge can come with a sense of regret. How do we get past those nagging thoughts? I wish I had spent more time with them, listened more, and disciplined them more and so on.  It is not for me to provide absolution, but I believe there is no such thing as the perfect parent; we are always going to get something wrong, as ours did for us. Most parents try their best with the personal resources they have available to them at the time, emotional and financial.  As Alexander Pope wrote in 1711, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

Time

Give yourself time to grieve the loss before putting yourself under pressure to move on. Keep in mind that releasing emotions is an important component of any healing process. It may help to focus on any positives about the new situation, even if you have to dig deep to identify them.

Positives

When young adults leave home you can take credit for having raised your child in such a way they are now ready to go out into the world without your daily intervention. You have reached the goal of every parent – well done you!

We never stop being a parent and maybe the relationship will benefit from some distance.

If you have more time at your disposal, try focusing on how you would like to use it. Perhaps you can take up a new hobby or with the new found freedom in your schedule, you could at less feel less pressurised. It may help to recall the days when your children were very young and you longed for a few hours off!

Communication with College Kids

Agree with your offspring how you wish to communicate; email, text, phone or skype etc, and get ready to respect their new found privacy and space. Many parents are alarmed at how little they hear from their son or daughter and worry that something is wrong. Although it is important to check-in that everything is okay, don’t expect daily contact, they are starting a new life and will be busy.

Take heart, your son or daughter may turn out to be one of the ‘Boomerang’ generation; nowadays sixty percent of kids move back home eventually – best not to convert their den to a guest room just yet!

Do you have any experience or ideas that you could share? Please go ahead and comment.

Other blog posts about college leavers

Wordgeyser.com – Collegebound Kids Twitter @Wordgeyser

HuffingtonPost.com – Starting College: A Guide for Parents 2013 Twitter @ HuffPostParents

PsychologyToday.com – Letting Go of College Kids Twitter @PsychToday

For information and sharing on parenting matters, check out:

ExpatChild.com Twitter @ExpatChild

Mumsnet.com Twitter @mumsnettowers ‘By parents for parents’

Book

The Global Nomad’s Guide to UniversityTransition’ by Tina L Quick