The day your children fly away.

Every year, early February in Australia the media reports stories and images of mums and their children’s first reaction of going to school. The annual story goes about how hard it is for mums to let go, to intrust someone else with the care of their child. How parents are sad not to have their children home with them, their babies are growing up. But we don’t hear much about the other end of parenting. When our children start to gain independence, when parents need to loosen the reins and allow their children to go out into the world unsupervised by us, the ones who have protected and nurtured them to let them explore their world.

That for me was harder than seeing them off at their first day at school.

Kids are hard work, I don’t think any parent could deny that. But the love we have for them is indescribable. Harry died when my children were 2,5 and 9.

When death comes knocking at your door on some idle Tuesday afternoon.

For me as a sole parent, who had her children 7 days a week, 365 days of the year, Harry no longer alive to help with parenting responsibilities, no weekends off to dads or school holidays spent with dad as an average divorced couple do, it was exhausting. So much responsibility, so much taxiing around, shopping, cleaning, house maintenance, gardening, cooking to do. It was all me, and just me. No husband, no x-husband, I had a dead husband. I wasn’t a single parent I was a sole parent. I’m sure there are even divorcee’s who can relate where children have no contact or don’t know who their biological other parent is as well as a sole parent.

A working mother with the responsibilities of parenting, and for me, dealing with grief, when Archie my third child finally started school it was relief. I worked part time and had Wednesday and Thursdays off. I finally had some time to myself for 6 hours during the day before it all started again at 3:30pm when that school bell rung. Life was busy, to busy.

When Archie went to school I felt like I should of been sad like many of the other mothers. They’d be standing around the school yard at pick up time saying to other mothers how they cried driving home or saying good bye. Not me! I sighed a sigh of phew! Pangs of missing would come and go through the day, but as a whole I enjoyed my few hours a day on my Wednesday and Thursday that I had to myself.

There was no repetitive banana in Pajama’s on tv, no having to give the throff of my cuppacino to my child which was also the best part of a coffee for me. No tantrums. I now had peace. I could do grocery shopping without dragging a toddler along, I could relax if I’d had a sleepless night and recharge my batteries, I could do some self care, I could meet a friend and have an adult conversation without the, ‘when are we going ?, how much longer will we be here?’. There was no strapping children in and out of car seats or prams to fold and lift in and out of cars.

If I needed to run an errand, I got up, grabbed the keys and my handbag, walked out and shut the door. It was a simplicity of life I had lost becoming a parent and on the whole something I willingly forwent but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it was a nice feeling to have on those Wednesday and Thursday’s. My freedom days. My 6 hours each day, out of the 168 hours in my week, to myself where I wasn’t directly responsible for the welfare and safety of another human, 3 humans, 3 minors dependent on me. Children for their growth and development require schooling, that meant they went to a premises, a school, where between 9am and 3:30pm a team of educators took over responsibility for their care. It wasn’t a friend or family member doing me a favour, where I always had in the back of my mind that they were ‘helping’ me.

No, those hours at school were mandatory. That was the difference in mindset and why those 6 sweet hours on Wednesday and Thursday’s felt good. It was guilt free time out!

So why was it not like that at the other end. Why didn’t it feel a relief when I had the house to myself because they were all out somewhere 13 years later. No one tells you what that will feel like. It just happens and you are feeling emotions that are foreign and wonder, do other parents, other mothers feel like me. At 5 they go to school and at 18 they become unofficial adults.

Adults! At 17 and 11 months and 30 days you are still the parent with some authority. But the next day they turn 18 and it’s like some magical thing happens! They now are allowed to drive, vote, drink alcohol, enter casinos and night clubs. The clock ticks over midnight on their birthday and wella! They have all these new privileges & rights, that 5 minutes ago, half an hour ago, hours ago, a day ago, that they didn’t have.

A parent of children who have become young adults has been so much harder than that first day at school. You are no longer responsible for teaching the basic manners, respect, responsibility ensuring they are fed and attend school, their personal hygiene, and discipline the parenting role changes. You are more guiding them into young adulthood showing and explaining what’s right and reasonable, being a sounding board for them to work through their challenges. A safe person to fall back on when they stumble.

They can get in their car, drive to a friends house, and heavens above, drink as much alcohol as they want, go into the city on-their-own until 3am and get their-own-way-home! No dropping them off to a party at a friends house and picking them up at midnight anymore. No supervising an occassional one glass of alcohol at the dinner table or family function. No making sure they are safe by picking them up after a party so they aren’t travelling public transport in the dark. Why aren’t we crying at the front door as they leave our trusted care like when they go to school for the first time. Why is there no real talk as a community about this. I wasn’t crying as I said good bye but I was hoping they’d be ok, and worry until I knew they were home safely. Sleepless nights still happen when your children are adolescents and young adults. You sleep with a lightness, you wake intermittently and check your phone, and don’t really consciously go into a deep sleep until you know they are safe back in their beds.

My children growing up and leaving home has been harder than I had anticipated. Rupert growing up didn’t feel so bad. When he was a teenager he was always home. Our house was the house everyone came to. I’d go to bed and Ruperts friends would stay over until early hours of the morning playing Xbox. I never minded this . They were all good kids and at least I knew they were safe. If they got a bit rowdy I’d discretely text Rupert from my room saying you boys need to lower your voices, it’s late. If they weren’t at our place they were across the road or just up the street at each other’s houses. They didn’t seem to go out much. They loved playing sport during the day and just hanging out at each other’s places at night. They’d watch the footy, or soccer or play Xbox, table tennis or watch a movie on occasion. I still had Jane and Archie home. Rupert stayed at home until he married so that was easy. In fact the last six months I felt he was ready to leave home. He needed to be a man in his own home. At 27 and home he was starting to exert his views on me like I was his child and he was the man of the house. It was something that we handled tactfully but it was a natural progression getting married and leaving home.

Because we lived about a 20 minute drive to Janes school and area where her friends lived she also was either home or staying over at a girlfriends place. She had a boyfriend in year 11 and 12 and he would often come to our place or her to his.

Both Jane and Rupert only lived 20 minutes drive to the area where school and friends were but in the summer before Archie started year 8 we moved over to the other side of town. Ted and I bought a home together and school and friends for Archie was now a 40 minute drive away. For Archie public transport to school was about 2 hours each way but he didn’t want to change schools.

He would catch a tram to our local train station, a train to the city, swap trains at Southern Cross Station to a suburb on the other side of town to us, and then get a bus from there to school a few suburbs away. For 3 years he did this, each way, most days. In the December prior to his final senior year he turned 18 and got a car and license so that made the school trip easier. But then the cost of running a car, putting petrol in the car and toll fees for using the freeways added up.

Archie’s friends weren’t just a couple of streets away, or across the road, or the house up on the corner, they were far away for Archie as a result he was home a lot because it was to hard to get there. When Jane turned 18 and started going out, I missed her but I always had Archie there. Although teenagers naturally gravitate to their bedroom he was still home, still there. He became my one constant in amongst all the massive changes that happened in my life. He was a 16 week old baby when my mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and very ill, 16 months old when Harry his dad was diagnosed with brain cancer. In 2011 aged 14 we moved away from all my friends and family to a new suburb on the east side. From the day he was born he was with me pretty much 7 days a week bar the occasional sleepover at a friends. When his older siblings started spreading their wings, Archie my youngest child was with me at home. The one person who always was home. Sometimes more than Ted.

Because Archie was my one constant I developed this strong bond to him. I’m not sure that was reciprocated. I think Archie hated the fact he now lived so far from his friends and that for him the move drove a bit of a wedge between him and I. I think that’s why I felt a bond in some strange way . I felt for him. I knew he hated being so far from friends. It was hard when they could all just hang out at each other place but he could never go. I really felt for him because I knew he felt he was missing out and I worried he was lonely. I loved his presence but felt his pain which as a mum wasn’t easy. The move across town wasn’t easy for Archie. Jane and Rupert had cars and could easily drive to see friends from our old suburb. The distance still wasn’t ideal but doable. Archie was stuck at home at 939 Bungalow Rd. My love for Archie strengthened. I admired his determination to stay at his old school but worried about the toll this was taking on him. I admired he never really made me feel I had done the wrong thing dragging him away from his old school area and friends but I know he was impacted as a result of my deciding buy a house with Ted.

It impacted in the sense he was displaced from all he new. A complete new area away from all the familiar things that gave him comfort. People told me that kids move all the time, they are resilient don’t worry, but I did. You know your child and know when they aren’t happy. The move was also a time when peer group pressure was at its peak and fitting in was important. Feeling included and when you can’t just hang out with your mates it’s hard to build on the connection. Archie said to me after he left school. It was hard because girls go out and meet at cafes, mates just hang out at each other’s places. They’d go to the local cinemas and local footy matches but most of all would be at each other’s homes.

It was to far on the weekend to get public transport to friends homes, and the last thing he felt like doing after going to and from school all week. It was too far for me to be driving him on a regular basis. Really it didn’t work. I looked into schools in our new area but Archie wanted to stay where his friends were. In hindsight I question if I did the right thing there. Whether forcing him to go to a new local school would of been the better option then and long term. Maybe he would of made new friends in our new area. That I will now never know.

I felt terrible enough taking the children away from their ‘side of town’ away from friends and I thought we could make the distance school thing work but in hindsight it didn’t despite joining local sporting teams in our new area and having a casual job at Mac Donald’s and exposure to young kids in our new area.

When Archie turned 19 and leaving senior school years behind he was rarely home. He constantly drove over to his friends homes near his school. Archie fleeing the nest at 18,19 was the hardest of all three.

I grieved. My constant companion had gone. He would be gone for days at a time staying at friends or his girlfriends. He spent as much time as he could over the other side of town where he felt familiar and comfortable. In the area he’d grown up in most of his life and where he had gone to school.

Jane was still living at home but also coming and going as young adult children do. Going to university, out with friends, her part time job, into the state library to study for hours on end. This she had been doing for 4 years whilst Archie was still under the age of 18. That golden number. The number that sets them free from the apron strings.

It was so hard letting go of Archie. He was my last, my baby. That’s when I felt it. Not on his first day of school. Now at 19 I would miss him so much, I would worry about him. Where he was, who he was with, where he was eating, was he ok, was he safe. He wasn’t as good a communicator of his whereabouts as Rupert and Jane had been.

He would often been gone for a week at a time. Everyday I would text him and ask where he was, was he ok, where was he sleeping the night and he would always text me back, saying he was good and sleeping at whoever’s place but that was it. I think he felt resentment for having moved away from his friends and once he could be where he wanted to be he was. And where he wanted to be wasn’t home. He had wings and could fly. His abscence was worrying.

I had sought advice from a professional who had said it was best to let him go. Give him space. As a mother this was so hard. For me it was heartbreaking. And for twelve months this was the way it played out. There’s a saying, If you love something let it go and if it’s wants it will return. I had to let Archie fly, to have the freedom he needed. An aunt said during this difficult time for me in a metaphorical sense, ‘leave the door open’. ‘He knows he has a safe haven to come to if he needs it.’ And in time that’s what he did. After 12 months of staying at other people’s homes because he couldn’t afford the road tolls or petrol to be making daily trips across to the other side of the city he had spent more nights away from home than in his own bed. But after 12 months more and more he started to come home to his own bed and spend time at home. He wanted to be home. He had started an apprenticeship was earning money so could afford the travel more and he came home to his safe haven. Home, a place where he could be himself and was comfortable. He was coming home to a place he knew he was loved, and now is like most other young adults who like Jane come and went.

It was a wave that as a family we all rode. We were all concerned about Archie and his overall welfare.

In this 12 months or Archie’s year of spreading his wings, Janes boyfriend from interstate moved in. After a couple of years it was time for Harley to move into his own apartment and with that Jane left as well.

Jane moving out of home was one of the hardest emotional times of my life. The circumstances behind it made it all the more difficult. Ted not coping with having Harley and Jane living at our home, he liked them there was no issue there, but felt he was co-habitating with a couple and wasn’t coping with that. He felt it was time Harley moved out, but I knew that meant Jane would follow.

She was still at university studying law full time and working full time in a law firm. She and Harley most likely would of moved out within the next 18 months but their departure was premature to how she and I had envisaged. Teds discomfort with the living arrangements was being felt by everyone and something needed to change. It was a very difficult time for me, more difficult than anyone will ever know. I came from a very different value system than Ted on this issue and we were butting heads. Jane now 25 and Harley 29 started looking for apartments. Jane phoned me on a Monday and I picked her up from work and we went to view a very nice apartment in an eastern suburb 30 minute drive from our home.

It was a brand new, modern, naturally well lit apartment, close to transport and amenities. It was perfect for them! I felt at ease, she would be living somewhere safe and still on my side of town which meant so much to me.

Rupert and Sofia bought a property on the other side of town where they grew up and Sofia’s mother and father lives. The right property became available and they bought when marrying and currently renovating. It’s going to look amazing! It’s hard having Rupert and Sofia on the northwest side. It’s not on my way home from work and both work full time and have their own busy lives with full weekends.

Jane and Harley decided to apply for the apartment and were accepted. She had informed me they would sign the lease the next morning.

Having been so strongly bonded to Jane, being my only daughter, her moving out before her or I were really ready for it, emotionally tore me apart. Ted works long hours and in many ways Jane, Harley and Archie were company for me. Light banter in the kitchen, movement in the house, someone coming and going through the day. I was hanging on to this last chance of having Jane my daughter at home. For me, once your child leaves home, leaves the nest and flys away to her independent adult life something is taken, something goes. For 25 years I had been her parent caring for her as my daughter.

Moving out I knew would give her an independence and growth as a person and she would also lose an innocence. An innocence that even if she was to come home would never be the same. As parents our role is to make ourselves redundant. Our children should leave the nest. That’s the natural order. This was happening 18 months sooner than I was mentally prepared for. No one ever wants to feel their child is leaving before they wanted to. I knew she would be ok, she had a full time job. Harley is a good man and she’s a capable 25 year old young woman. The whole issue in this scenario was all about the timing. We had been pushed into a situation before Jane or I was quite ready.

I worried if I would be lonely without their presence and would she now in the rental property be able to ever save for her own property and would this premature move disadvantage her for life. Would staying at home until she had a graduate position in a law firm given her time to get financially on her feet. She had relayed had she stayed another 18 months, 2 years she would most likely used any savings to travel to Europe in celebration of completing her Masters of Law. So realistically she still wouldn’t have saved for a property as I was hoping. Even in 2 years time she would of entered the rental market. This eased my mind as a mother knowing if she moved out now or in 2 years her intention was never to save for a property of her own, so moving out now or 2 years would see the same outcome of entering the rental market. As a parent it’s comforting to see our children financially independant and the buyer of a home. Something that’s theirs, an asset to build on. I have had to accept that the y-generation think very different about what my generation would describe the normal course of becoming an adult was.

I was raised to get my qualification, save hard and buy property, get married and have children and a mortgage. Holidays came later. But the younger generations have their own value systems now. Renting is not seen the same way as it was in my young adult days.

So the morning after looking at this lovely apartment with Jane, I went to work. I was out doing my job in the community and at 11am Jane called me. I was parked on the side of the road. She said they’d signed the lease and they were moving in next week. I was so pleased they had been accepted for this lovely unit. The ground floor 1 bedroom with a study and sunny courtyard apartment they wanted out of 4 others available for rent within the same complex. The interest from other prospective renters was high but they had acted swiftly and could now call this theirs.

I was happy for her but as I hung up, an overwhelming emotion hit me. The two years of tension of Teds disapproval of Jane and Harley cohabitation in our home and the angst it had caused leading up to Jane moving out of home and now the finality of it hit me like a tidal wave. My daughter, my companion, my child who I brought into this world and raised and gave me such comfort when her father left this world was moving out of home.

What was my new normal going to be like. The unknown feeling of the empty house. Archie was still living at home, coming and going as 20 year old boys do.

It felt a feeling of loss and it was all consuming in that moment. That Ted and his desire to have Harley move into his own place had meant my daughter followed. That it was the catalyst to her leaving. And now she was going. And an innocence in our relationship would be gone forever. An innocence that exists when a mother has raised a daughter and protected her from harm. A daughter who had not only become a fine young adult but a friend. We are close and talk so easily with each other. We have similar tastes and enjoy similar movies and places. A daughter that loved her mother back unconditionally as I did her and admired her mum.

I sat in my car in a quiet suburban side street and the tears came. I sobbed. It wasn’t a tear rising and rolling down my face, it was a flood of tears. I couldn’t control my tears and the emotional pain poured out of me, my hands on the top of the steering wheel cushioning my forehead as my head came forward and my body went limp, jolting as I sobbed. I felt defeated as I let out all the pain that had led to this moment. For 2 years I mediated between Ted and Jane, at times my anxiety over this immense. A mother who had unconditional love for her daughter and also love for her partner. I was living the life of a blended family. I’m sure had Harry been alive I would never been in this situation. Ted will never understands or know how emotionally tormenting this situation was for me. And right now, it had all bubbled to the surface and the emotional impact running out down my face.

At exactly the same time I recieved Jane’s call, my dad was in theatre undergoing a serious vascular operation to try to save his diseased leg and Rupert was also in surgery undergoing an operation. I knew I was in no state to continue on with my working day. I phoned my boss explained my situation and went to see my a family friend I call my Aunty. She comforted me until I could compose myself and then I went home. I never told Ted or my children how that phone call had affected me. To me it felt like an enormous loss, a permanent loss, something that could never be undone. Ted has pushed this point and won and now it was happening and couldn’t be undone. The lease was signed. No more mediating, negotiating for them to stay. It was the end of my daughter living at home in a capacity of me raising and nurturing her as I had done since her conception and taking her first breath.

What would our new relationship look like, what would our new normal be, would I feel lonely without them there. Over the two years I had grown a great fondness for Harley. I enjoyed his company, he was helpful and well mannered and polite. His calm nature was easy to be around and dry sense of humour. And his knowledge of technology helpful! He saved me many a time in my moments of computer navigation frustrations. They both loved the dogs and could be relied upon to take care of them when we were away. How would our new lives look.

When Rupert moved out he became his own person who moulded into a life with his wife. They say you lose your sons when they marry and for me this has been my experience. I know Rupert loves me and if I asked him would do anything for me. He’s a wonderful son who I’m extremely proud of but he is Sofia’s husband and she now is the most important female in his life as she should be. Females naturally gravitate to their mothers. Men don’t seem to need their mothers the same way a daughter and mother need each other.

I have missed Rupert since moving out due to our lack of contact as a result of life’s busyness, and now Jane also was flying away and leaving the nest. Initially when Jane moved out for the first 2 weeks we caught up in person every few days. I think we both needed that.

When Jane was looking for an apartment I said please stay on my side of town. The fact she has and I can call in on my way home has been fabulous. I so wish Rupert and Sofia were able to have secured a property that I also could drop passed on my way home but I’m blessed they are still close enough that we can still stay in touch. Jane and Harley have been happy for me to have a key so I feel welcome anytime. Jane, Harley and I keep in regular contact. They FaceTime with me to say hello to the dogs and take care of them at their place when Ted and I have gone away.

I was worried I would miss them but surprisingly I don’t. I have adjusted better than I thought. The fact Jane is happy makes me happy. Rupert and Sofia are also happy and as a parent that’s the most important thing, your children’s happiness. It has worked out well with the new apartment and both Harley and Jane have settled in and enjoying living there. That means a lot to me. Harley gives me a big cuddle when he see’s me and often texts after I left saying it was nice seeing me which I think is lovely.

I’m very lucky that Sofia is also warm and welcoming if I visit. I miss them probably more than Jane and Harley because I don’t see or hear from them as often.

But that’s what happens when your children leave the nest and fly away. They are living independent lives. I’ve raised them well. So far for Jane and Rupert I’ve done my job. I am ‘redundant’. They are thriving and coping in society as adults. My main role of raising them to be good humans is done and I’m proud of them and who they are continuing to grow into. They are financially independent of me and dealing with all that life is throwing their way. The door will always remain open for all of our children as their safe haven should they need it.

I am now enjoying, and I sincerely mean it when I say enjoying my own space in the house. It’s nice not having the kitchen and bathroom constantly used and untidy. It’s nice having the quietness during the day with my dogs at my side and looking forward to Ted walking in the door at the end of the day. I’m not at all lonely which I was worried I may be. I easily occupy myself and time. Children as young adults particularly in their 20’s co-exhist in the home with you. They basically are living independent lives under your roof. I think on reflection as parents we have done some of the hard work of letting go before they fly from our nest onto creating their own nests.

The amount of conversing since leaving is pretty much as it was living at home and that’s one the most important parts of the relationship. We still regularly talk and see each other. Our relationships are as strong as ever, just different. I’m quite content and that’s a nice feeling. I have realised anticipation and the immediate acceptance was worse than the actual letting go. My kids are thriving and that’s beautiful.

I’m happy in my new normal.

Love Lucy x

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