A client asked me the other day, “As my children are beginning their lives, how do I take myself back and deal with the loss?” The first step is to recognize that you cannot get around the loss; the first thing you have to do is experience the loss, feel the sadness and mourn the changing reality.
This is something that women in particular need to be attentive to. They commonly ignore their lives and make children their whole focus (which is wonderful) but it is important to maintain a sense of personal identity with things, skills and activities that remind them of who they are. A lot of time when the kids go, many women feel like they are losing their whole identity. It’s not good for kids to be that central to the focus. It makes the children narcissistic and overly self-important little beings when they are the center of all that focus.
Personally, I see ‘mother’ as less of a doing role and more of a resource role, as somewhere the kids can go when they need it. In my view, when we make it such an involved role, it’s damaging to the children and it’s damaging to the mother as well because she does not really see her life as anything but being a servant or even subservient to children.
Honestly, I would compare this “loss and sorrow” to withdrawal from addiction. You are sad when the kids leave because you have not fully developed your own focus. It’s like you know something is no longer healthy for you and no longer part of your world and the only way to really go through recovery is to experience the loss of it. If you try to hang on to it, then you will not be satisfied. So, you really just have to take the loss and ask yourself what you want your life to be about now.
I recommend to every mother that in the first years they are everything to the child, and the ultimate practice of motherhood is to skillfully, gradually and artfully extract yourself over time. Let your children have more and more of their own lives so at the transition to their autonomy it is like there is no transition for them or for you.