More and more this month I have taken calls from moms in distress because their rebellious child is now a rebellious adult that has chosen to leave the home. This is a BIG shift for us mamas. And it is one that leaves us feeling powerless, afraid, angry, and hurt... yet partially relieved in some cases. Questions arise on what parenting to an independent child looks like. "How much do I still do for my son and what is fair to expect in return?" " I feel like she hates me and only calls to use me when she needs something." It is so hard, Mama. I know it is.
Losing an adult child to their independence when they are healthy, employed or in college, and are emotionally and behaviorally stable is a lot easier. We moms may feel some anxiety and loneliness, but we have the assurance that our fledgling is going to fly despite perhaps a few initial stumbles. If this describes you, Mama, you've done well as has your child.
If this doesn't describe your empty-nest experience, it isn't necessarily your fault. We can raise our children with as much love and stability as possible and our child can still fall victim to a lot of difficulties in life and within their body. Assigning blame to any one event or person doesn't do you any good as you move forward. This doesn't absolve anyone from responsibility for the things that need to be owned, rather just doesn't serve purpose as we aim to be what we need to be to our child moving forward.
I remember when my first child had to leave the home. She wasn't in a good place but didn't want to follow the basic rules we had set before her. She left. I was terrified yet sure she no longer belonged in our home. I was so angry that she couldn't accept 5 basic rules that we had identified as the things we had to have in order for her to stay. When she left, she was just as angry. She wanted to "be an adult and do what she wanted". I had no problems with her sentiment, only that she couldn't do just anything and live in our home. We have our own self-respect that needs to remain intact, as well as younger children that needed to be shielded from the "wild" that their sister brought.
It took time to re-establish understanding. We let space come between us so that both her heart and ours could be softened. In time, we had to be ok with letting her make poor decisions and fail. She wasn't looking for us to teach her or advise her (and wouldn't have listened if we did), but rather just to give her unconditional love. I had to learn that... what unconditional love looks like for someone you love so much that you desire to protect them from themselves... It was and continues to be so difficult. The good news is, that with the boundaries we put in place long ago, and leaning on the grace of God for direction in how to love our daughter, she now comes to us FOR ADVISE. She is able to take responsibility for her part of the damage in our past relationship and allows us to be a source of encouragement and strength as she works on being her best self. It took years to get to this place. It is an answer to prayers I nearly gave up on. How did we get here?
Jason and I together identified basic rules needed for an adult child to remain in our home when our children graduated from high school.
1) We must be treated with respect.
2) Pick up after yourself.
3) No drugs, alcohol, or sleepovers with the opposite sex
4) Must be working toward educational or independent living goals
5) Need to know ahead of time if you don't plan on coming home at night so I don't worry when you're missing
Most of our adult kids did fine with these. But for our daughter, when the rules continued to be broken, we knew we had to ask her to leave. She said at the time that we were "kicking her out". I assure you, she made the choice by her unwillingness to live by our rules, and she was the one making the choice to leave. She had no where to go. That was HARD. We gave her a few weeks notice that she would need to find a place to live and in her stubbornness, she chose not to. The day before the move-out date, when questioned about what she had lined up, she had done nothing. This was exactly as I had anticipated. She really didn't think we would follow through. I handed her a list of women's shelters... and my heart sank as she raged at me in anger and fear. "You would let your child be homeless?" was yelled from the top of her lungs. My heart sank. I knew it was what I had to do, not what I wanted to do.
That day led to much distance between my daughter and I. I get it. She was angry and lost but also completely unwilling to take instruction or change her ways. I let my daughter have space, as hard as it was. No interaction was better than any ugly interaction. She would sometimes call just to spill anger on me. I would ask her to speak with respect and if she didn't, I would hang up.
Anytime she reached out, I would respond. If I didn't hear from her for a week or so, I would send a little GIF or saying to her so she knew she was on my heart. I had to face the realities that my daughter was virtually homeless, wasn't sober, was with a scary crowd, wasn't keeping a job, and had no one left to lean on. It was devastating.
I tried to force help on her. She called from a McDonald's one night saying she just wanted to die. I asked her if she was ready and willing to go into a treatment program. She agreed.It turned out that she didn't want the couch-hopping life she was living but she also didn't want reform or a treatment program. We walked a very hard few months with her while a spot opened up at a fantastic program in the Midwest. Four days after her arrival, she fled.
We had been played. And it was ok with us. Our goal was and continues to be to love her right where she is at without judgement. She is her own worse critic, the things she tells herself are far worse than anything the world has told her. She doesn't need to hear it from us. She needs to know she is LOVED and that she can make mistakes but still be our daughter.
When she wanted to come around the younger siblings and home again we made it very clear that sober, safe people were allowed around. No exceptions would be made. It meant enough to her to comply.
In a year's time since she started visiting the family again, she is sober with very little exception. She has leaned on our encouragement to find and maintain employment. She has gotten a driver's license and a car. She has lived in an apartment with a roommate and just got into her first apartment on her own. She is a success story and we have gotten to be a part of her success. It warms my heart is ways only a mom in my shoes can understand.
I had to let go completely and let her fall. I knew it meant really bad things would come to her and yet SHE WAS CHOOSING that. I couldn't save her from herself if she wasn't willing to put on the life jacket, right?
When I learned to not just let her go, but let go of the judgement, I got an honest relationship with her. She no longer felt like she had to hide from us in order to receive the love she longed for so deeply. And through it all, we have our daughter back and better than ever.
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