One of the hardest things for a parent to do is to let your child go off to fend for themselves in the big, open world. The first day of school is bad enough, but it’s a whole new level when they start their tertiary education and perhaps move away from home.
So what can you do to support them (and yourself) while still giving them the freedom to explore their new world?
Congratulate yourself (silently)
Firstly, acknowledge yourself for having got them this far. Without your support, whether that’s been physical, financial, emotional or some other kind, it’s unlikely they’d be studying further at all. Then celebrate with them, and know you’ve done your job by helping them to start claiming their independence.
Process your feelings
When your child leaves home, it may well feel like a loss, so do grieve if you need to. Try to do it in private though – the last thing you want is to make them feel guilty. If you do end up shedding tears in front of them, tell them it’s because you miss them already. It’s also natural to feel sad that they no longer need you to the same extent. Speak to an understanding friend or counsellor to help you process all of this.
Give them space
While you might be spending considerable time worrying about them, most likely they’re happily engaged in discovering their new world – not to mention what it means to be an adult in that world. If they don’t contact you as regularly as you’d like, don’t assume they no longer care. Let them be. Let them get hold of you in their own time, and don’t make a big deal about it.
Be there (but not)
One of the good things about your child moving away is that you no longer have to be the disciplinarian on a daily basis. Of course you may occasionally still need to crack the whip, but on the whole, they should be taking responsibility for themselves. That’s one less burden for you to carry, and it means you can start to build a new level of relationship with them, perhaps even something that’s closer to a friend than a parent. Let them know that you love them and you’re there for them, no matter how far away they are or what they’ve done. Then interfere as little as possible unless they ask for your advice or need a shoulder to cry on.
Trust what you taught them
Yes, they will make mistakes, but it’s only through making those mistakes (or watching their friends make them) that they will learn. If you’ve instilled a good core of values, teaching them what’s right and wrong and how to make good decisions for themselves, you’ve done as much as you can. Reassure them that you trust them, and it’s up to them to take it from there.
Make the most of your freedom
You may have other children still at home, but with each one going off to do their own thing, it frees up that little bit more time and space for yourself. Claim it. Remember what you used to love to do before nappies, then homework and afterschool activities came along, and go do that again. Or even find something new to explore – ongoing learning and following your passion are keys to keeping a sharp mind, no matter how old you are.
Congratulations to you too! You’ve done the best you can – now let them go, and enjoy a taste of freedom yourself.