tl;dr – I miss my son.
My son is twenty-one in February next year and that’s given me time to reflect on the last couple of years of parenting. The short version is that since he turned eighteen, it’s been the hardest years of my life as a mother. Because it’s all about the letting go. And that’s exceptionally difficult when you love someone as much as your child. Is it too over-dramatic to say that what I’m going through is a kind of grief process?
I don’t think it is. It’s what it feels like.
From the start, he was more than just my son. He was a fascinating, funny and sweet person in his own right from day one. We are friends as much as relatives. All these years, and we have never had any problem relating to one another, or talking to one another, or showing affection, or saying ‘I love you’. I am proud of the relationship we developed over the years. I am proud of the young man he’s become. I am proud of the messages I get from people complimenting him and saying what a nice person he is.
I love him every bit as much now as I did the day he showed up two months early and threw my world into chaos – and extremely sharp relief. I had never had anything to do with babies. I wasn’t remotely maternal. But here was this little life, hanging by a thread the day he was born, only to turn around, stick two metaphorical fingers up at the universe and make an exceptional recovery.
I remember looking at him, this little bundle in an incubator, made extremely pink by the additional oxygen he was getting, and with a covering of downy fuzz like he was a little peach. I remember looking at him – and bear in mind that I didn’t actually see him until a good 12 hours after he was born – and thinking ‘what do I actually do with this person now he’s here?’
I remember, when he was about six months old, failing to remember my life without him in it.
I remember, when he started secondary school, that he was moving further outside my circle of influence and I remember how I was scared of that.
My life has been irrevocably altered by his presence in it. How can it not be? I put my life on hold for eighteen years and the focus of everything became him. From those early, long-forgotten sleepless nights where I watched more news programmes than before or since through to the tears the day I left him at university, everything has been about him. And now I feel like part of me has been cut away, leaving this groping, seeking tendril that has nothing to hold onto.
How do you do it? How do you let go? How do you perform the act of separation and make it clean and painless, or is it always going to hurt? When he doesn’t get in touch for several days and you try to ignore it, or when he’s feeling poorly, or has an injury that might require surgery, how do you take that step back and acknowledge that he’s a grown-up? That he has to deal with life on his own terms? How do you weigh independence against thoughtlessness? Should you even try?
Me and his dad, plus his step-parents on both sides, have done a great job of equipping him to live in the real world and that’s a good thing. But the price you pay for raising a successful individual to adulthood, without them having exploded or caught fire in the interim is a high one.
Perhaps it gets easier, but right now, I find that every day is hard. Every day I miss him. Even writing this, the ache of separation is making me tear up.
One day, he was there. The next day, he wasn’t. But there’s an echo of him everywhere.
We have children because we want continuation, a perpetuation of our species and perhaps even of ourselves. I see in him a lot of my own traits (not all of which are good!) and I have felt honoured to share in the shaping of him as a person. But you don’t think about it at the time. You don’t think about the fact that one day, they don’t actually need you any more. Oh, they don’t stop loving you, of that I’m sure, but they survive from day to day without you always there.
These last three years have been immensely stressful. Between him going off to university, my husband’s complicated surgical situation and even losing a beloved pet, I’ve been shouldering a lot. Everyone tells me that I should now take a step back and concentrate on myself. Trust me, that’s easier said than done.
Because I’ve forgotten who that person is.
There is so much guidance and advice available to people when they have children. There should be more guidance available to parents who have to let go.
Being a parent is the most wonderful of things. It’s also one of the toughest.