Who Am I When My Kids Leave Me?
It’s coming. Too soon, to be honest. My kids are going to leave me. To do life. And while I know I will always be an important part of their lives, soon they will not be with me. In our house. Together.
I’ve thought a lot about what that time will be like when it inevitably arrives. And I’m scared. Because I am not sure I know who I am without my kids. I know I will still be a father, but I don’t know how I will feel about myself when they no longer sit down for dinner with me every night. When I don’t have them to care for. It haunts me. Who will I be when my kids leave me?
On Adjusting to Mid-Life
I can’t ignore it. It’s here. I’m probably beyond mid-life since I’m 47. But mid-life to me is when my kids leave me. When I need to learn to be a new version of me. Not just for my own good, but for my kids. I have to give them the freedom to grow up. To enjoy a gap year. To go to college. Without me always asking them where they are and what they are doing. But it’s not going to be easy.
I’ve written before that the hardest part of parenting is letting go, but this isn’t about letting go. It’s about what I will be when I am able to let go. Who I will be. How I will adjust to life on my own. With no one else in my house besides my dog. Even he probably wants to go to college to see what I do without him. Maybe.
It’s interesting to note that when you look up quotes for mid-life, they are all about having a mid-life crisis. And I am not going to have one of those. Because I can accept where I am in life. And where I’ve been. I just don’t know where I am going. Geographically, I know where I am going. I just don’t know what I am going to do when I get there. Without them.
Who Will I Take Care of When They Leave Me?
That’s the question I ask myself a lot. And it’s weird because the only people I like to take care of are my kids. In relationships, I am not a good caretaker for another adult. Yes, I am caring person, but I have trouble applying the same nurturing principles to an adult as I do to my own children. Because I assume they can do that for themselves. Or because I don’t know how to do it because I am so used to doing it for my kids.
But soon my kids won’t need me. At least not as regularly as they do now. And I don’t want them to. Because I want them to be self-sufficient and capable, which I know they will be. Of course I want to feel necessary, but the best credit to my parenting would be if they are able to leave me and thrive. I will know the job I’ve done when this time comes.
But I know the answer to the question now. Who will I take care of when they leave me? The answer is me. I will take care of myself for the first time in a long time. Not that I don’t take care of myself now, but in the past I wasn’t very good at it. My therapist once asked me, when my kids were both still little, what I liked to do for fun. Every answer I could come up with was about my kids. I know she would tell me that soon it will be my turn.
On Becoming a New Me
I won’t be the same. I can’t be. Because my life revolves around my children now. Every plan is secondary to their needs. Every thought is secondary to them. And if I don’t start to adjust to the upcoming change now, I will sink into unchained melancholy without them. I also don’t want them to feel the burden of leaving me. As parents sometimes we put this burden on our children unknowingly by saying things like, “I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” We are just expressing love, but to them it could be something that binds them.
I have to accept that they have reached this stage. My son is a senior and my daughter a sophomore, in high school. The new me is on the horizon because he has to be. It’s not possible to continue as the old me. I have to accept that I can enjoy my life without my kids with me.
For some this may be easy. Some may be planning the exit party. But for many, the upcoming departure is a sense of deep sadness. The reduction of the greatest thing we do in life - parent. That’s what it is for me. Wondering how much I will worry when they are away. Traveling. At college. With friends. At parties. I honestly don’t know how my parents ever slept.
If I truly want to put my children first, which I have always done, I have to start becoming the new me now. I have to start allowing them the freedom to fail. I have to show them that I am capable of developing my own life. Or else they will worry about me. And they definitely do not need to worry about me. I will be sad, but I will be fine.
But Who am I When My Kids Leave Me?
I’m still me. I’m still the father that never wanted to be anything more. I’m still the person that they can call at any hour of the night. I’m still the person they can rely on, no matter what, to have their back and support them. I’m still the rock in their lives. I’m still a flawed human. One who can admit this now. I really don’t who I will be when my kids leave me.
But I do know I have done the work to place myself in the right spot to excel as an empty nester. I want my kids to be free to explore their dreams. I want my kids to be free to find their true path. But I have to acknowledge that I need to want the same for myself. I think I’ve found my true path in this creative freedom, but there is more to come. They have their lives that will unfold. But so do I.
Mid-life isn’t time to hit the pause button. It isn’t time to wallow in an empty home. It isn’t time to obsess over their every move. It’s time to look inward. And to act. To do things that make me happy. To do things that keep me busy. To live. To love. To be free. Just like them.