OK, so maybe I’m not such a good mother.
I didn’t cry or sadly wave goodbye as my kids boarded the bus to camp.
I can’t even truthfully say I missed them all that much. It was four weeks until Visiting Day and four weeks later they’d be home.
When they went off to college, I was happy and excited for them. I spoke to them a couple of times a week and sometimes they’d come home from Manhattan, Philly, or Baltimore for Shabbos. I was proud that they were self-sufficient and doing well–in school and in life.
I had a harder time before college, when my kids went to Israel for their “gap year” after high school. It was the first real time they were leaving home; they would be very far away, I would not see them for months, and I was concerned for their safety. But they were ready. I knew that. And, pretty much, I was, too.
But, although I was more or less prepared for the fact that relationships change as children grow and become adults, I was concerned about how that evolution would play out.
I had the hardest time saying goodbye to my older son, the second of my children to study abroad. I worried that our relationship, always close because of our similar dispositions, temperaments, and interests, would grow to be less so. And since, as everybody says, sons are not daughters who tend to stay closer to the nest, I wondered if the relationship would become strained, fray, or remain strong. After he disappeared from view in the airport, I cried like a little girl.
When he went back to yeshiva for a second year, I told him how hard it had been to say goodbye the previous year, admitting my fear that we would grow distant. He smiled and said, “Ma, now you know that will never happen.” More than 15 years later, it hasn’t. It’s different, yes, but still close.
Someone I knew got so upset anticipating her daughter’s year in Israel that she got her neighbor, a psychiatrist, to give her meds to alleviate her depression. I asked her daughter why she thought her mother was having such a hard time. I’ll never forget her answer: “She’s going to miss my friends as much as she’ll miss me.” That mom needed more than meds. She needed help separating herself from her daughter and her daughter’s life.
Saying goodbye–separating from our children–takes a different toll on different people. But it’s important to think about why we are having a hard time and address those issues even as we pray for our kids’ safety and happiness. It’s normal to anticipate a changing relationship as our kids mature and leave our nest. It’s normal to miss them (or sometimes, not).
The best we can hope for is that we did a good enough job giving our children the tools to function in a challenging world and the knowledge that they will always have our full emotional support and love.
And it’s OK if they don’t miss us. Or, if they do.