Expectations, Emotions, and Very Big Days

by | Aug 21, 2023 | Parenthood transitions | 10 comments

In today’s Gathering Gold episode, I offer some guidance to one of our Patrons, Olivia, who is worrying about being the center of attention on her wedding day and struggling with family expectations. One of the things I share is that when we grieve on the front end, we open up the space on the actual day and afterwards for love and joy to enter.

When I listened back to the episode, which we recorded months ago, I was struck by how relevant the words were for me today as we launch Everest into his first year of college.

Grieving on the front end? Yep. In some ways I’ve been grieving this departure from the minute he was born. I remember when he was a baby and I looked down at his precious face and thought, “In 18 years you’ll be moving away.”

I grieved when his first tooth came in. I grieved when he stopped nursing. I grieved at every birthday. I grieved when we had one year left with him at home.

And… I also celebrated. Grief fully grieved paves the way for joy, for they are sisters in the pocket of our hearts. Each milestone was a loss *and* a birth, a step away from childhood and a step toward more independence and adulthood.

For we do not raise our children to keep them close. We raise them so that they can bring their full selves and the light of their gifts into the world.

And here’s another secret that few people talk about: each time your child becomes more independent, you also reclaim a bit of your independence. Early motherhood is such a profound sacrifice of self, and it’s a breath of soul oxygen when we reclaim bits of self as our children get older.

So as we prepare to launch our son into the world, I’m also aware of the energy that will be returned to me. I have poured myself into him for 19 years. Some of that pouring will now shift direction and fill my own being.

However, I don’t think I would be able to tap into the renewal side of this transition had I not been grieving all along, and more intensely this past year.

To all the mamas of young kids out there: It’s going to be okay! Grieve along the way. Tend to your separate selfhood. And trust in the unfolding of life. The baby bird eventually grows too big for the nest. And then it’s time for them to fly.

If you follow the wisdom of grief, you, too, will be renewed and will find new and beautiful wings to launch you into the second half of life.

One more piece to add: One of the joys for me of being in a virtual community is receiving the wisdom of mothers who have gone before me. This comment on Instagram brought me so much light:

“My baby’s first year in college was last year. Her leaving left us with an empty nest. She leaves tomorrow for her second year. It’s still sad to see her sweet self go after a fulfilling and satisfying summer with her here. I have to say that it’s really amazing how their leaving transforms parents in ways you can never anticipate. It’s almost as miraculous as their birth.

“You and your youngest will have a beautiful, new and sweet relationship that would never be possible until the older one leaves. You and your husband will breathe easier in the new found spaciousness. It’s all so beautiful. The lead up to it is imbued with so much grief and anxiety. But I suspect that in a few weeks you’ll feel more whole than you feel now in a beautiful and strange way.

“Sending love to you and all us mamas making this transition. ❤️❤️❤️❤️”

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10 Comments

  1. Grieving on the front end is exactly what I’ve been doing lately, thank you so much for putting words to my experience!
    My kids are growing so much and it both breaks my heart and fills me with joy.
    Thank you Sheryl ❤️

    Reply
  2. Thank you Sheryl. I’m headed back to work after 9 months at home with my baby. I definitely needed to read this. What a great reminder that grief can also bring the birth of something new and wonderful.

    Reply
    • Sending hugs as you head back to work, Cassee. It’s a big transition.

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  3. Speaking as an HSP dad, and not taking anything away from moms, I also felt all of the grief and loss when my oldest left for college last year. It was a big adjustment that was full of challenge, learning, and growth producing After getting used to him again this summer he is off again in a week. My wife and I will miss him just as much but now also see the natural flow of life and how to meet it and our emotions fully.
    Thank you for your sharing

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you chimed in, Steve! Yes, this transition has been just as painful for my husband as it has for me, and I feel lucky that we’re going through it together. I wrote this more for mothers because most of the parenting questions on my site come from mothers, but of course it all applies to dads as well.

      Reply
  4. Sheryl, I used to joke (?) that my kids were lucky I let them go to kindergarten. Like you, every one of their new milestones was met with joy and accompanied by a flip side of sorrow .
    This is a saying I know all parents can relate to ..”there are two lasting bequests we can give our children, one is roots and the other is wings.”
    I found the letting go part so much more difficult.
    My son and daughter are 36 and 34 years old now with one having moved away to Colorado and the other marrying next month. I remember so well the grief I felt as they went away to collage and then moved out of our house. I thought I’d never move on. Still, at this point of my life I can attest to the joy of watching my kids move into their own lives and become talented and compassionate human beings . I , too have grown in many new ways. You
    Take heart, moms and dads- the best is yet to be.

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    • This brought tears, Mary. Thank you so much for sharing your journey, and your words of hope and wisdom.

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  5. Wow Sheryl this beautiful post has explained how I’ve felt most of my life, but from the perspective of the young person growing up. I had an overprotective mum and instead of looking forward to growing up & becoming independent I felt fear. Each new stage in my life……. moving schools, leaving school, starting work, changing jobs triggered what I’ve always called anxiety. Dating brought me doubts & stress as I knew it would lead to me making big decisions involving massive change. I was afraid to leave home if honest. I finally left at 29 & felt my parents were glad & relieved and that I could never go back. I lived with my now husband for decades before committing to marriage through what I learned from you was relationship anxiety. We bought our one & only house a year after I left home. Despite wanting to move house many times doubts stopped me. Have you ever come across anyone like me during your counselling? I’ve never understood myself at all & my life has been a massive struggle. I cant tell you how much your work has helped me in my darkest hours & I am so glad I found you a decade ago. Sending you love as you go thro the transition of Everest leaving the nest x

    Reply
    • Lynn: I’m so glad the post helped you make sense of your difficulty with change and growing up, and yes, what you’re describing is quite common. When a parent has a hard time letting go, it can make it difficult for the child to progress through the stages of life fluidly.

      Reply

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