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  • Lori K Walters

Meeting the Loneliness of Parenting Young Adults

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

~ W.S. Merwin

This article is a little different from my usual writings. And somewhat vulnerable. What I want to say first is that I don’t have parenting all figured out. While I have wisdom and skills to offer, I also have my own share of parenting challenges. And sometimes the difficulties almost knock me over. I spent a weekend in Calgary visiting my kids (19,22) and, sitting alone in my hotel room, I started writing about loneliness. It’s one of the facets of parenting teens and young adults that isn’t often acknowledged. People say, Oh I miss my kids, but don’t necessarily speak to the depth of pain in their hearts. Very real pain, emptiness and longing… Some people feel it gradually, as their kids become more independent, more involved in sports and friendships, moving out, etc. Some of us experience it more like sudden shock waves. I felt it big time that weekend. What happened? Well, I arrived with expectations, particularly around how much time we would spend together. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to spend every minute together but I let them know ahead of time that this was important to me. Usually, I’m pretty content to just hang out but, for this visit, I was feeling the need to maximize our time together. Of course, it didn’t happen as I had hoped. They had errands, homework and workouts to do.

And in crept loneliness - a disappointed emptiness inside me. My shoulders sank and my body went cold and heavy.

Waves of feelings sloshed into my heart and my mind got busy - explaining, justifying, complaining and blaming. And here are some of the stories that my small self started to spin:

  1. They don’t love me anymore. If they loved me, they would be excited to see me and want to spend every possible minute with me while I’m here.

  2. They don’t actually like hanging out with me. (Can you hear the 6-year-old? No one likes me…)

  3. It’s over. I’m never going to feel that beautiful feeling of the three of us together again. There’s no point in visiting again.

  4. They’re so ungrateful. I paid for a plane ticket and a hotel room and they take me for granted. After all I do for them, they should give me their time for a few days.

  5. I’m pissed off. I told them what I wanted this weekend and they’re not giving it to me.

  6. I’ll show them and not come again. I’ll spend my time and money going somewhere else.

I’m not kidding. This is the kind of stuff that goes through my head when I’m not grounded in my sage self. I think I’m the victim. They are mistreating me. They… They…. What narratives run for you when your kids aren't there as much as you want them to be? What rationalizations do you use?

None of these are stories that I want to carry around with me. My first reaction was to bury myself in some work I'd brought along. But then I caught myself avoiding. So I took some gentle breaths, did some qigong and opened to that lonely feeling in my heart. Here’s what lay in that emptiness: ~ Grief about the end of those thousands of days of wonderful times together. Just us three, cozy, living and learning together in our happy home. It’s the end of an era and I miss that feeling. I was always satiated with that rhythm and harmony. Now there’s a blank space inside me craving that contentment. ~ A lost sense of belonging. The big changes for me in the last couple of years - leaving my community, pivoting my career, my nest emptying - have left me trying to find a way to feel settled. I often feel uprooted, like I don’t belong anywhere. And I realized that part of my motivation for this visit was to just be with my kids in order to feel a sense of Home. ~ A fear of being loved less lurks down there too. When I’m centered and connected to Life, I welcome the changes and love the way our relationships are evolving. But this fear comes up sometimes. My victim self calls it rejection but, really, I fear the emptiness of a life without them in it. How could I survive not being able to bask in their light? ~ A bit of resentment. It’s paradoxical because I truly love seeing them thriving in their new homes, jobs and relationships. And still, I resent the fact that it has t be this way, when it would be so much lovelier if we stayed in our happy bubble forever. Irrational, I know, to resent and resist reality, but there it is. ~ And, if I’m honest, I’m offended by their self-centeredness. Of course, they have things to do and I’m proud of them for setting their boundaries. And yet, I wish they were asking me if I’m free for lunch and if I want to go for a walk… My small self says: Is that too much to ask? Did I raise them to think so little of me? And then I remember my 19-yr-old self. Oh, right. All of these are my own issues, my own growth edges – nothing about who my kids are or what they do. These are my own stories and they arise from my deeper beliefs about myself. Beliefs like, I’m not worthy, I’m not lovable and I don’t matter. Decades of inner work have made me aware of the perspectives and tendencies that I came into the world with and that settled in as my way of seeing and defining myself. Layers and layers of constructed personality, projections, assumptions and attachments. Layers of inherited patterns and beliefs and imprints on my heart. And none of that is me. Not my real sacred, sage self. I am a beautiful soul. I am a wise mother. I am loved, esteemed and appreciated by my kids. My presence and voice matter and I make this world lighter and brighter. Self-reflection I invite you to take a little time this week to explore the loneliness you experience about your kids' growing independence. Go for a walk or write in your journal. What are the nuances of the emotions that comprise your loneliness? Is it an incoming wave or an earthquake? Do you fall into it or avoid it? What behaviors support you to experience loneliness? What does loneliness teach you about yourself?

I know that it takes time to learn how to be alone without being lonely. And once I do, I’m pretty sure it’ll be called Freedom.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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