Blog 101. Endings and Grief: A Parent May Have Mixed Feelings When Children Leave Home. Find Out Why.
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In 1957 the American social psychologist, Leon Festinger, developed a theory called cognitive dissonance. This explained the state of discomfort a person experiences – when he or she holds two conflicting beliefs.
This makes sense, as there are times when we all hold opposing beliefs during arguments or during tough times. However sometimes, these beliefs can turn into irrational feelings unless we address them and understand their origin.
And a good example of cognitive dissonance, are the feelings a parent or indeed a mother, may experience when her children begin to leave home.
A mother for example, may feel joy and happiness knowing that her children have reached a stage of independence and are about to leave home or even enter marriage. Yet at the same time – this moment can bring feelings of deep anxiety and abandonment.
She may suddenly begin to wonder and fear what may or may not come next in her life and this can sometimes cause a great deal of anxiety and fear. Her role may be changing and she may find the idea of this quite daunting.
As a result, she may even be tempted to hang on to her children – thereby instilling feelings of immense guilt within them for abandoning her. And this may make their journey feel awkward, especially at a time when they too may be struggling to find their own identity, in the adult world of daunting options and possibilities.
Unfortunately, some parents or mothers can make their feelings of abandonment very clear.
Some may consciously or unconsciously blackmail a child, or they may even use subliminal techniques to suggest a child stay at home. Consequently, some young adults may find it harder than others to leave home.
Although it must be ‘said’ that these days, the cost of renting and housing isn’t making leaving home any easier on kids. As a result, many find themselves in a difficult bind that can be quite frustrating and even annoying – especially as part of growing up is to find one’s wings in order to fly.
However the concern is really for the parent who finds it hard to let go.
And it IS hard, when a parent has spent so many years bringing up their children, to then – see them go and make lives for themselves elsewhere. And it IS hard to deal with change, to deal with what this new period means.
And it IS hard too, when suddenly there is less of the word ‘mummy’ or indeed the statement, ‘mummy I need or mummy I want’, being heard around the house any more.
First this realisation can cause grief, then acceptance, but eventually maybe joy too – as a parent sees their hard work pay off, and when they see their children become successful and make it in the adult world.
But dealing with change IS hard for most human beings, and dealing with such a mixed bag of emotions is only normal.
However over time, as a mother begins to settle into this new way of being, usually her new identity emerges. And often it’s also because soon a parent may even become a grandparent – and this can bring a new deeper joy filled with many new moments of happiness and fulfilment.
However the lesson for all parents is obvious: There’ll come a point when children become old enough to leave the parental home – and parents need to be prepared for this moment.
And then there is this question: If a parent has focused their whole life on bringing up their children, on one level this may be great for the children involved, but has it provided either the children or the parents with the necessary individual identity to function as independent beings once the kids leave? Because, when children leave the nest – they often leave an emptiness behind.
This emptiness needs to be filled, but in order to do this – it must not be forgotten that sometimes children can leave a large gap in some parent’s lives.
How to fill this gap is left up to each parent to work out. The trick however – is not to wait until it’s too late. Because then the answers may not come as quickly as they should or the feelings may become irrational and difficult to work though.
Often I have heard clients say that they lack confidence and feel they may have hidden behind their children for many years.
Learning to build or develop confidence can take time. And if this is you, and you are finding the transition between children leaving home and making a new life for yourself hard, then maybe it might be worth either speaking to a friend, finding a support group or maybe even seeing a therapist to help you overcome your fears so that a new you can emerge.
And yes, this process may take time but transitions are never easy. Often the harder it is, the more you may learn about yourself – and perhaps you may even learn just how strong you are without your kids. Fingers crossed.
© 2018 Deidré Wallace All rights reserved.
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