midlife, parenting, personal growth

Learning to Embrace The Big Shut Out

Learning to Let Go - The Big Shut Out

One of the hardest things about our kids growing up and becoming independent is learning to let go and embracing The Big Shut Out.

It’s not easy to go from being intimately involved in (and even responsible for) their every need for at least their first decade, to having to get in line for a moment with them when they are teens.

As they mature and start to make decisions for themselves, we instinctually back away, a little bit at a time, to give them space to learn and to make choices of their own.

With those little steps back, we lose parental control, and over time the natural byproduct is less involvement in their lives.

By the time they’re high-schoolers, they’re spending most of their days away from us.

Don’t start crying yet – save it because it gets worse!

The long school day, after school activities, sports, clubs and on top of that, the time they spend with friends. It all gradually cuts into the moments we get with them.

Before we know it, the days of being able to see first-hand what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, what they’re eating, and who they’re hanging with, begin to slowly disappear.

Our interest in the details of their day is not out of nosiness or judgement, it’s because we love the sh*t out of them and we care.

We’re interested in their lives. We still feel incredibly responsible for their safety and well-being (although I don’t think that ever ends).

We miss them. Just their simple presence around the house. Seeing their faces, watching them with their friends, hearing the stories they tell, or even just the comfort of knowing they are lying safe and sound in their beds under our roof.

When we get a chance to look up from the blur of parenting and daily life  – our kids are learning to drive.

Sheesh. If we didn’t get gray hair worrying about their safety and well-being before they drove, now we go into worry-overdrive (no pun intended!). Not because we don’t trust them or their driving skills (what driving skills?!), but because we are all too aware of all of the dangers. And especially of all that can happen when we’re not there with them.

Then they leave for college or to pursue some other form of relative independence – out from under our roof. We are proud of them and excited for their new journey.

If we weren’t already sensing it, this is really when we can really feel the cold wind of The Big Shut Out hitting, big-time.

The Big Shut Out is that achy feeling that although our world still revolves around them, their world definitely doesn’t revolve around us.

It’s the “empty nest” – the recognition that they’re now living more of their lives away from us than with us.

Even if they text or call frequently, we aren’t physically with them to sense how they feel, to see how they’re really doing, to know that they’re making smart choices. We can’t fully assess their well-being, which is what we mothers are all about.

They aren’t shutting us out to be mean or hurtful.

It’s a normal part of their journey into adulthood. On some level, they’ve been shutting us out (and rolling their eyes while internally saying, Yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah I KNOW Mom) for months or maybe even years already.

No matter how normal, natural and even anticipated The Big Shut Out is…it still hurts.

It hurts because underneath it all, the hard to swallow fact is that they don’t love us the same way we love them.

Sorry. But it’s true. (Ok, now you can cry.)

Think about it:  You love your own mother (hopefully). You appreciate her and you want only good things for her – good health, financial independence, happiness, etc…

BUT. You don’t think about your mom as frequently as you think about your kids. Not even nearly.

I adore my mother and I’m so thankful to have her, but I admit (with some shame) that I sometimes roll my eyes when her phone number comes up on my caller ID. Never in a million lifetimes do I, or would I, roll my eyes if the caller ID number is one of my kids. Simple as that.

It’s not that our kids don’t love us or don’t want to share their lives with us; it’s simply the no-hard-feelings-mom natural progression of them moving into their own lives. The good old circle of life! Hard to believe our lives have come to that part of the circle already – weren’t they in diapers just a few months ago?

Learning to let go is painful at times, maybe even makes us feel a little lost…but we want it that way – don’t we?

The alternative would be unhealthy and quite frankly, as dreamy as it sounds to some of us who are missing our kids right now, it would be weird.

So how do we embrace the Big Shut Out?

First – acknowledge it.

Instead of going the passive aggressive route (I’ve done it) with our kids, accept it as a normal transition. Take your cranky teary self to your friends for support (as I do).

Second – give yourself a break.

It’s ok to feel hurt, rejected, lost, neglected, sad… Most parents need some time adjust.  There are a few who kick their heels in joy the moment the kids leave, but most of us feel some level of loss surrounding their absence.

Third – be careful not to throw around guilt.

Our kids are not responsible for our happiness. They have a ton of responsibilities on their plates as they too adjust to the transition, whether at college or elsewhere, and the separation can be hard on them also (even if they don’t tell you so).

Letting them know that we’re feeling left out of their lives and would love a little more connection is ok. It helps to explain that our interest in their lives away from us isn’t out of wanting to snoop, it’s just that we miss their faces and we need to see and hear for ourselves that they are doing ok.

The more honest and non-guilting we are about expressing this – the better the communication becomes and less harsh The Big Shut Out feels.

It all seems like a big bummer, but really it’s not.

Let’s remind ourselves that when they were born, we knew they wouldn’t be on our laps in the rocking chair when they were forty, right?

This is what we all worked so hard for them to achieve: independence!

There is also comfort in knowing that at all points around the circle – we are not alone.

For every new mother holding her baby for the first time there are mothers like us learning to let go.

Keep in mind that the Big Shut Out is also a cue to us mamas.

A signal that it may be high time to re-focus all of that extra emotion and energy on ourselves.

After all, we deserve some celebration that our kids are managing, and perhaps even thriving, without us!

Cheers to that! — Marlene

If you’re feeling this post, you might also enjoy reading The Crushing Pressure on Teens to Measure Up and The Anxiety of Waiting for College Acceptances.

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Learning to Let Go - The Big Shut Out

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