When children leave home
Dealing with kids leaving home can be tricky.india Updated: May 12, 2010 10:45 IST
Like most of our friends, we have children who will struggle to be able to move out when they start work or college. What young person nowadays can afford to buy a flat or even rent? And how will they get jobs when businesses are closing every day? Just when we'll feel like easing up on the career pedal and spending more time reading and pottering, we face the alarming prospect of subsidising Lawrence and Lydia, now 12 and 11, well into their 20s.
Other parents warn of not just financial devastation but domestic devastation. We must prepare ourselves for nights interrupted by the front door banging as they come in at all hours, trails of clothes along the landings, and hordes of their mates descending on the place like locusts the minute we go out. We won't dare protest too much because then they'll drift away and expose themselves to drugs, alcopops and Pot Noodles.
Children used to live at home until they married, except that they married younger. There were no gap years, let alone gap decades.
My husband, Peter, and I are guiltily aware that though we know they must move out, one day, we don't really want our children to leave.
We love spending time with them, and long for weekends and holidays when we can hang out with them more.
But is it better for them that we care so much? They get the praise and support that earlier generations often did without. They are listened to; which is good, up to a point. But somewhere along the line we, the grown-ups, have rather lost the ability to live our lives for ourselves, to let them live theirs and, crucially, to know the difference. And the more we rely on their company now, the harder it is, surely, when they do finally go.
My friend Janet deeply missed her girls – now 19 and 21 – when they went off to university. I fear she's right and, as she says, having a professional life is no vaccine. Peter and I also have friends, work, other things to do. And we're not pushover parents either; we've said no, over the years, to bouncy castles and a giant toy leopard.
Seeing my children on the cusp of adolescence and the beginning of autonomy, I sometimes feel my past is going to grab me round the neck and make me ruin it all.
My fears stem partly from having experienced the harm that over-involved parents can do. My mother didn't see me as an extension of herself, but my father did. And there was not a single aspect of my life in which he was not involved. He was one of the first helicopter parents.
Recently, Lawrence and I went out for coffee together, which brought back memories of my father – not the controlling side, but the amusing, charismatic, life-affirming side. I still miss him, and realised that something very positive has survived: the appreciation I feel, as he did, for the amazing individuals that my kids are. I wasn't going to have children; I thought I'd only mess them up. So the family life I have now is quite miraculous. The way to experience a miracle is not to think about it too hard.