Robert Neelly Bellah, an American sociologist, once said, “However painful the process of leaving home, for parents and for children, the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.”
This quote really resonated with me because this week my wife and I, along with two of our adult children, said goodbye to one of our two daughters who flew to Dublin, Ireland to attend Trinity College. Mr. Bellah is right, it is a painful process for both the parents and the child leaving home. I’ve watched my wife cry a few dozen times before our daughter left. I have to be honest, I’ve shed the occasional tear myself thinking about her leaving and while watching her leave. I’ve watched my daughter get emotional talking about saying goodbye to her many friends. It is indeed a painful process.
Our instincts as parents is to keep our children nearby so we can protect them and rescue them when in need. I’ve watched many parents do this as a school teacher during my 35 years of teaching, especially in recent years. We teachers called them ‘helicopter parents’ because they hover and swoop in to rescue their children when the children whimper or if there is any chance their children might fail at something. These parents never want their children to fail or feel bad. As a teacher, I found these parents difficult and inflexible. Even more, I saw the damage they did to their children. What is even more disturbing to me is this is a phenomenon occurring with adult children.
In a blog called, Parenting Grown Children: What Dr. Spock Forgot to Tell Us, has a really interesting blog post called, Letting Go. This article describes what helicopter parents of adult children looks like. It says,
“What does this look like? Millennials’ parents joining their adult children at interviews; parents calling managers to lobby for better reviews or higher raises. Or parents actually doing the work for their adult children – which all unravels when the employee doesn’t have the luxury of time to participate or complete a task.”
If parents are rescuing their adult children when they go off to college or get a job, then in a way those children really haven’t left home, even though they may physically live in their own places. These young people are still being protected by their parents just as they would be when they were living in their parent’s dwelling. Could this be what Robert Neelly Bellah meant when he said, “the really frightening thing for both would be the prospect of the child never leaving home.” I’m beginning to wonder if Mr. Bellah was referring to overprotective, meddlesome parents.
In the blog post I sited earlier, the author wrote,
“Many of us raised our children to be independent. Once they were adults, we wanted them to come to us for our advice, good counsel and, yes, the occasional handout. But in college, they would be on their own in dealing with professors and deans. In finding a job, we might prep them on how to put their best foot forward, but they would be on their own. Once on the job, they would figure out how to perform and to stand up for their rights and benefits.”
That is how we raised our children. I am so grateful to have a life partner who thought as I did. We wanted our children to be independent and be able to handle things on their own. We travelled with our children extensively so they would be able to confidently travel on their own. That is the reason our daughter was able to go half way around the world to attend graduate school. We gave her the confidence, knowledge and desire to do so. I am proud of that and I am even more proud of her. A friend recently reminded us of that. She told us that the reason our daughter is able to do this is because we raised her to be strong, brave and independent. She is a strong, brave woman and will be even a stronger woman because of this new adventure. Roy T. Bennett, author of The Light in the Heart, wrote, “It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.” She is able to step outside her comfort zone because of my wife and I. She did this once before when she flew to South Africa alone to volunteer at the age of 21.
Having said that, seeing your daughter trek across the ocean to live far, far away is not easy. I have a whole array of emotions as does my wife and our other two children. I was excited for my daughter, yet I was afraid because I would not be nearby to help her should she need help. I was a proud dad, because she was so strong, brave and independent, yet I had all the symptoms of Empty Nest Syndrome. Empty nest syndrome is when a parent has feelings of loneliness or sadness after children grow up and leave home. I was feeling sad. I was feeling lonely even though she just left. I felt so lonely, seeing her go through the airport security gates. I just wanted to give my little girl one more hug and tell her that I loved her one more time.
So many people, without really saying it, communicated to us with their body language and with words left unspoken, that they would not be able to let their child fly across the world to live. We could have expressed to our daughter our displeasure with the idea which would have influenced her decision, but we didn’t. You might be thinking, Why didn’t we? I think Terry Pratchett, an author from the United Kingdom answers that question best when he wrote, “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” How could any good parent prevent their child from having an experience of a lifetime? An experience where she will grow tenfold in her confidence and maturity. I know that this is part of our daughter’s journey and that she will return a better person.
I admire her. She inspires me. She inspired me when she bravely left for South Africa to volunteer. She inspires me even more now. She will make this world a better place because of what she will take from this experience. I’ll miss her, but love for a child should be unconditional. I love her no matter what, as does my wife, and that is why she is free to experience life. I can’t wait for her to share her experiences with us.