After college, or during college for some, most people go through life as bachelors.
This is quickly followed by the stage of being a father or a mother, when children dramatically make their debut into this world.
Then follows the tedious, but welcome, stage where parents lovingly raise their young children, starting with the sleepless nights which seem endless, as the infants mark their territory and declare that they can only be ignored at the parent’s peril. At this point, the thought of them ever leaving home is a non-issue. They slowly, but surely, however, learn how to do things on their own, for themselves.
Before long, the children grow into the teenagers, and they slowly start sending clear signs of wanting to be left alone. They want the parents to loosen the grip and give them some space. They can’t wait to be independent. The teenagers are at this stage busy developing networks and attachments with friends as they slowly inch away into a world of their own.
They then start leaving home, one after the other, and become independent, reason being they have joined a college which is far away from home, or they’ve graduated from college and have gotten themselves some employment, or they’ve gotten married, or some other venture.
When they leave, they dedicate more and more time to their work, friends and workmates. Unlike in the previous stages, the parent is no longer able to access them at will. It is a new world where the parent is only a welcome visitor and has no control anymore.
Then, when the last child leaves, parents are left with empty bedrooms. All children have left the nest and are comfortably eking an independent life. Just like birds, they have learnt to fly, they have flown the nest, and they have launched out into the world. Taking with them all the love and advice parents have filled them with over the years, but, worryingly, none of the wisdom or experience of the parents.
The parent remains at home, worried about how they’ll fare on out there on their own, whether they will take good care of themselves and properly manage their social life and their studies. The parent still sees them as too young to move away, especially those who have left to join college.
The ensuing transition sometimes takes time to sink in. But very soon, it begins to dawn that the separation is permanent and the parent is left with feelings of sadness, anxiety and loss. And this is true for both fathers and mothers. The sudden shift from the chaos that parents have been used to, to a deafening and palpable quiet does not make things any better.
But it need not be a period of loss of purpose for the parent. It’s not the end of the world.
It should be a time to take pride and celebrate having achieved the ultimate accomplishment as a parent, namely, to raise children, who have the desire to venture into the world on their own. The children have left, not to abandon the parent, but as an expression of a job well done, the job of letting them to grow up and preparing them to move into meaningful adult lives. It is a time to support the children because, just like the parent, the following few years are a learning period for them too. The children are learning to become independent, successful adults, and the parents are learning to become independent again without the children, the goal for both parent and child being to step into the future with courage and enthusiasm.
It should be a time to move out of the isolation parents got themselves into when raising the children. It should be a time for the parent to relish, and embrace, the opportunity that the new situation offers. It is a period that can be one of heightened excitement and renewed relationships. The extra time can be used to pursue new goals, without worrying about children, such as rediscovering the spouse, siblings, and friends. Parents now have the time, and most probably also the money, to hang out with friends, and even to focus on themselves.
For those who are still parenting young ones, start early to prepare for post-parenting years before they arrive: “Opportunity favors the prepared”, they say. Those toddlers and young ones will, soon and very soon, surely leave the nest. And the reason will be because you are a good parent who is doing what good parents are expected to do, namely, to prepare their children to eventually fly out of the nest safely, on their own.