Empty Nest Syndrome: saying goodbye

My daughter and I at High School graduation

Zoe and I
Zoe and I

They never tell you....

how hard it will be when they grow up and leave home, at least I didn't really hear them if they did tell me. I never heard anyone say that I would feel as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest and I might really think I may die of grief. (This coming from a single mother who had her own life and was living it.) Zoe had been distancing herself from me quite a bit in the last year of High School between work, boyfriend, school and friends. It was almost as if she were weaning herself off of me so that I wouldn't take it so hard.

My daughter Zoe had been talking about moving clear across the country for almost a year. Did I really believe she would do it? I'm not sure if I did or not. I guess I was hoping she would change her mind or find a school closer to home, who knows what else I hoped. All I know is I think I was in denial for that year. I just let her talk and was supportive helping her problem solve what she wanted to do if she chose such a route.

I didn't fill out a single form, file paperwork or apply for grants, Zoe did everything. She found a job and even managed to save up over 6 months rent so that she wouldn't have to panic, find work right away and could concentrate on school. She is very level headed like her mom and I am proud that she is that way, makes me worry just a little less. Zoe got her grant money, filled out papers over and over again even as they continued to lose them or make revisions that needed to be resent. She did all the work as I stood back and watched in amazement.

Part of me wanted to know that she really wanted to do this and see just how motivated she was to making such a dramatic decision to move. Moving from Tennessee to California would have been traumatic for someone who had never seen the world and luckily we had traveled a lot. We have been to foreign lands, seen other cultures, had lots of experiences that would prepare her for just such an adventure. I did my work preparing her as best as I could.

As time started ticking down for her to leave the grief started to over take me. I would cry at the drop of a hat. I cried in the car, cried over tv commercials, cried talking to friends. I cried so much I wondered if I could ever dry up and be empty of tears. I tried to not show her just how sad I was and that I was ok with her decision. The more I tried to stuff it the more it came out at inopportune moments. Finally I just had to be honest that it was killing me.

I'll never forget the conversations we had regarding her leaving. They were honest, raw and emotionally charged. I have never felt so vulnerable and cracked open as I was with my daughter on those days leading up to her moving. I remember one conversation where the two of us could not hold it together. We both just hugged and sobbed our hearts out. I truly felt mine was breaking and that I may never be the same again. I then gathered up my wits for her, became the adult and reassured her that I and everything would be just fine. How could I love anyone as much as I loved this person I gave birth to 19 years earlier?

I remember telling her "I don't know how to do this. I don't know how to say goodbye to you." It was the most honest statement I have ever made in my life. I had know idea how to let this beautiful child go out into the world where I couldn't protect her on a daily basis. Tears stream down my face even now remembering how raw I felt. We just sat and talked about how hard it was for both of us to make this next important step in our lives.

I told her everything I ever wanted to say to her. How proud I was that she had grown into a beautiful, talented, smart, funny, strong, independent woman. How she exceeded every imaginable expectation I ever had for a daughter. How I never would have imagined when I first was pregnant that this would have been the most life altering experience I will ever have and the most rewarding. I told her everything that was in my heart that I had every thought to tell her.

Part of me wanted to say these things because it felt as if I might never see her again. Obviously that's irrational but my brain and heart were not working properly. I truly felt as if I was going to die, not see her again and wanted to be sure not to leave one thing unsaid just in case. I know, overly dramatic but that was me on those days. I don't regret a single second and am glad I handled it the way I did.

After speaking to her boyfriend and his family they didn't get this opportunity and they regretted it. They wanted to do this and just couldn't. I didn't want to have a single regret and I don't. I said and continue to say everything I want to my child. I want her to hear everything and only wish I had parents who could have done as much. Guess that's the lesson learned is that I can be the better parent and actually parent my child to the best of my ability even during truly incredibly difficult times.

My advice to parents who will be starting this process of separation is "don't let a moment go by without talking to your child about this event. Don't let the fear keep you from saying exactly what you wished your parents had said to you. Don't pass up this opportunity to tell your child how very much they mean to you and how much they are truly loved." No regrets that's how I try to live my life. So glad I don't have them. Good luck parents, graduation comes soon.

Zoe at Makeup Designory

My child at school who I hardly recognize!
My child at school who I hardly recognize!

Comments 8 comments

gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

To karmicfilly: You are an excellent mother. You did a wonderful job instilling in your daughter the supreme importance of being independent. She is on her way. I applaud you immensely. Think about the children who hold on and on ad infinitum-the "children" who are still living with their parents at 35! The duty of parents is to raise children as to make them need you less and less.... Excellent hub.


karmicfilly profile image

karmicfilly 4 years ago from Franklin, TN Author

Thank you gm. I know I did a great job as hard as it was I swear I could teach a class on parenting. Being in the therapy field has helped so much since I am counseling others children on coping skills and how to be accountable. I am grateful I learned all I did to help me parent and that I waited to be a mature parent. All of these helped with my skills. Thanks for the comment, it's very much appreciated.


stacire profile image

stacire 4 years ago

As a left-the-nest-multiple-times young adult, your blog post reaches out to me. I am back at home after a year away, and before that several months away, and before that...

It kills me thinking of leaving my family when the potential distance looms its head, even though I do thrive in my own environment. I adore my parents and siblings and love being around them even if I think at times being at home does thwart my growth in the sense that I don't pursue opportunities or take care of myself to the extent that I did before, living alone.

I think there's a perfect balance for everyone; and I would love to be near my family yet in my own environment so that I can continue to grow and not fall back on being too dependent on them, and thus incapacitated in many things myself.

My year away was overseas, so it was extremely difficult to navigate that for a couple months, but after a few months of "dying" in my pain, I started to be content and joyful again. (It was going to be longer, so I was probably overly dramatic in my emotional response, but it was truly hard nevertheless.)

Could go into a whole entire blog entry on this, so I might just. :) Thanks for sharing your heart.


karmicfilly profile image

karmicfilly 4 years ago from Franklin, TN Author

Thanks for the note. I left home/state at 19 and never once returned or borrowed a dime. That was me and I didn't feel I had the option. Things change and if my daughter needed to come home for a while she would be welcome. I do agree though that your growth is being decreased by staying home. That it becomes comfortable and convenient for children to hang around too long. What would it take for you to be independent and live on your own? Would you need to be uncomfortable like getting crappy jobs to pay for it. That is growth. Not everything is easy and it takes just these experiences to build character and push us to grow. I had way too many crappy jobs and still do occassionally. I also am resiliant, persistant, independent, and resourceful. Just food for thought. Good luck to you.


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sopna557 4 years ago

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stacire profile image

stacire 4 years ago

Actually, I retract that conclusion about my situation, as I honestly feel I have a much different background than your daughter. Really, everybody's situations are different, and I'm sure differing cultural nuances alternate pros and cons in the same broader context.

I may not live on my own, but I'm extremely independent - I have started my own business, travel extensively wherever and whenever I like, and have as much life as I have had in the past living with flatmates. The only difference between having a similarly aged flatmate and a parent in the same house is that the latter is more mature and loves me for me. A killer combo.


karmicfilly profile image

karmicfilly 4 years ago from Franklin, TN Author

Stacire I am glad you are happy and it is working out for you. You sound like you have a nice full life and that's all we can hope for. I'm sure your parent/s are very proud.

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