Unexpected Pain in Parenting

He stood tall and straight when he said it, eyes clear and meeting mine. So different from the past five years or more of hunched shoulders, eyes averted, mumbled words. I’ve been waiting so long to see him take control of his life, step out and take flight. So why did it feel like a stabbing wound when he told me that my house wasn’t home for him anymore, that our family fit uncomfortably, chafing when he spent too long with us. He needed to step out, build his own space, make his own family.

This has always been the endgame of parenting. I knew even when they were babes in arms that someday they would step away from the family I created and create a new one of their own. Children are supposed to want to do things differently than their parents did.
And yet. It is a rejection. I spent two decades building a house and a family. I put myself into it body and soul. I sacrificed so much for it. And one by one my children will tell me that they don’t want it anymore.

He was not mean when he said these things to me. He was trying to be the opposite. He chose his words carefully. It was a conversation about him and his bright plans for the future, a future he can finally see and that he wants to reach for. He was choosing to share this piece of his mind and heart with me. He didn’t have to. He could have just stepped out and away. But he wanted me to know that he loves his family, he always will. He wanted me to know that stepping away was about grabbing his own life. He wanted me to be a part of this shift in his focus. I am invited to participate in this transition, but only as an observer.

So strange to be crying with grief over exactly the thing that I spent months and years crying over because it wasn’t happening.

I finally understand the urge to corner young parents and tell them to enjoy their children while they’re young. But there isn’t any point in pressing this thought on unsuspecting parents who would likely only be frustrated that I don’t understand why they aren’t savoring the particular moment they are in. The hard truth is that even if you savor every moment of your child’s growing up years, you still end up grieving at some point, even if nothing goes wrong. The person a child is at 10 is different then who they were at 3. I watched every bit of the transition, but sometimes there comes a day when I suddenly realize that the three-year-old is gone and I miss that little person, even if they are sitting right next to me transformed into an older person. Sad if they’re failing to launch. Sad when they do launch. And feeling a bit ridiculous for falling into this cliche.

I did my best not to cry in front of my son. I had to go home and unpack why I was crying since it was not a simple case of hurt feelings. He hadn’t said or done anything wrong, the opposite in fact. Yet it caused me grief, which is mine to manage without imposing it on him or making him feel like he should choose differently. He needs room to fly without me in the way.