The sacrifices we make as parents are impossible to quantify, but usually there is an immense emotional reward for all the efforts we make for our children, who give us purpose, a sense of belonging and love– at least until those teenage years hit.
Honestly, the past four years while my son was in high school, it has been my family and friends that have kept me sane. Unlike ever before it seemed none of my efforts were appreciated. It was as if I didn’t matter, and I felt like a second-class citizen in his presence. None of my advice seemed to matter, and certainly my feelings were rarely if ever considered in his daily choices. If I didn’t find a positive outlet, this situation would have taken a serious toll on me.
Luckily, I have good friends with children of the same age, and together we would commiserate. There is a line from The Adam Project that sums up the situation perfectly, “teenagers are the assassins of joy.” But when you start feeling this way, I urge you to go find your own happiness.
The past few years, I have found my own joy in the work that I do as an attorney with families, teaching students and young lawyers, while also being on the Board of a non-profit for women business owners. I’ve made sure even during COVID to visit family and friends, and stay engaged in activities that I enjoy, including golf, which allows me to unplug for 5 hours and disconnect from everything.
As my son went in one direction, I went in another, and my mantra became Radical Acceptance. To survive, I had to accept that I could not control his choices, only my reactions. Ultimately the toughest life lesson we have to teach our children is that we cannot always rescue them and let them suffer the consequences of their own actions.
We can still love our children from a far, and hope that they will reach out for guidance when needed, but there comes a point where we do need to let them adult and figure out life on their own. I’ve known this day was coming for quite some time, and as a result I admit I laid the groundwork early on to transition gracefully to my empty-nester status.
The key is to make sure that when your child launches (willingly or not) you have your own support network in place to fill that void. Make sure you are surrounded by people that care about you, make you feel important and respect your opinions. Have projects that you want to work on and challenge you. We all have so much more to contribute to this world than just our offspring.
Don’t wait until the year your child is launching to start to figure out what you want to do when they are gone. Mine was a four-year project in the making, because I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe you don’t need that much time, but I do believe the sooner you start, the better off you will be.
By Regina A. DeMeo