The Difficult Dance of A Child Moving Out, Moving On, Moving Up to Adulthood

Fall is a tough time for any parent of a teen (let's face it, all four seasons are tough for most parents of teens! ; )   But for those whose children will head off to college - or a job elsewhere - or the military - August is a rough month.  We try to brace ourselves for the onset of loneliness, of missing our 'baby,' of having to live with not knowing if they're home by midnight, by 2am, even by 6am!  We have to let go of all of our protective tendencies and inclinations.  We share stories of "did you cry when you dropped them off at college?"  (My answer: I had to pull the car over, it wasn't safe for me to drive, and I called my mom).

But guess who else is having a rough time of it:  the teen or 20-something who's about to leave home, some for the first time. Teens are surely not going to say "gosh, mom/dad, I am definitely going to miss you and your sound advice and loving concern"!  And while our offspring have a glimpse of freedom, of having no one remind them of bed time, or healthy eating choices, of the (vast?) difference between what is cool and what is wise, they also realize that they are leaving security, leaving the 'known' and leaving the one place where even when they're being a jerk, they are still truly loved and cherished.  As a result of these conflicting emotions there are some rather hard to figure and hard to deal with behaviors.

For those of us with kids who spent time in foster care, who had trauma in their formative years, the fear of separation, as well as the desire to flee the parental bonds (strictures? clinging vines?), cause what I believe are even greater swings back and forth.  Many former foster children have attachment issues, they want to be close but as they get close, it's truly frightening, as they risk another hurt, another person they trust proving that they shouldn't trust.  So closeness is scary.  What else is scary?  Leaving home - even if you're not sure it's home, even if it may take you a decade to trust that your adoptive home and family are yours (and you theirs) forEVER, the security of a good placement is hard to give up for the unknown.  Children who grew up in care had years of 'this is home, we're you're family, wait - you misbehaved/we changed our minds so we're not your family' and then, abruptly, a new home to adjust to.  We've all heard the expression 'better the devil you know...' - well kids in care had to face the devil they didn't know all too many times, a scary proposition regardless of how nice the new foster family was.  So going to college is all of that fear, plus "am I smart enough?" and "can I do this?" and "will my adoptive home be there for me when I get back?"   Not easy.

So what can we as parents do to ease this?  For me, the lesson has been to just roll with it and know 'this too shall pass.'  My child tends to challenge me much more, question my judgment, see little value in things I say, and need more time alone as our separation approaches.  No amount of 'zen' prevents my feelings from initially being hurt when I get get a rude response, a rebuff, or a cavalier "not sure when I'll be home next."  But I remind myself that those things are ways of saying "I'll miss you and I'm trying to prove that I won't," they are part of a protective mechanism that was learned during more than a dozen placement changes in childhood.  My child needs to say those things but I don't need to react to them.  And then the mood will pass and the weeks til departure will pass (all too quickly), and we will be hugging goodbye the day before classes begin and I will.....cry my eyes out once again, and pull the car over and pull myself together, missing my child already.

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