Learning to Say Goodbye to your Children is an Overrated Skill

The following article was originally published on GrownandFlown.com.

I scoffed at the parents, briefcases in hand, dressed smartly, waving furiously and tearing up at the “Goodbye Window.” I donned an ensemble of sweats, maybe even the t-shirt I’d slept in, and a hat and down jacket long enough to cover the entire mess. My eldest son was three and a half and I’d drop him each morning in the ‘green room,’ his younger siblings in tow. Sometimes literally drop him.

I had no time for drawn out goodbyes, for melodrama, for prolonging this chore. My baby was fussing, and my milk was letting down and if I got out of there quickly, I might be able to nurse her, tuck her in her crib and cajole my toddler into a  morning nap or ‘quiet time’, or at least render him a zombie in front of a Thomas the Tank Engine video. I made a bee-line out of the nursery school’s front yard, dreaming of forty-five minutes more sleep before needing to return for pick-up.

Looking back, I see that I put an inordinately high value on my children’s independence. Like they were baby sea turtles and I was their biggest cheerleader, rooting them along from the hole in which they hatched, across a treacherous, sandy beach to breaking waves where they might swim off haphazardly, as if once their tiny bodies submerged, crossed some invisible goal line, I’d be relieved of all this mothering. I might be able to sleep again. I even believed, during those first foggy years, the goal line was as attainable as the nursery school’s threshold.

I learned to say goodbye to my children, time after time.

I would witness other prolonged goodbye rituals after the nursery school, at the bus stop when they went off to elementary school, for example. I snickered morning after morning as one particular father jumped up and down, trying to glimpse his daughter through the bus window, waving goodbye, blowing kisses. (BTW he turned out to be a serial killer, but I’ll save that for another article.)  Anyway, I had a dog that needed walking, and dirty dishes and a pile of laundry back at home waiting…

When my children became bar and bat mitzvah, I glowed with pride as the doctrine came down, “You are no longer children, you are responsible adults in the eyes of God.” Could I also operate under that assumption?  Probably not until they received their drivers licenses, but soon! Very soon!

I’d deliver them to boarding schools in the fall, and after every break, telling myself all these million goodbyes were character building, were necessary if they were ever to stand on their own, if they were ever to succeed, to compete.  Later, there’d be college dorms where I carried boxes up flights of stairs, but I’d stopped making their beds and putting their clothes away, thinking You are old enough to put your shirts on hangers. Besides, I was double-parked.

They now have jobs and apartments of their own. They come home for holidays, and after a few weeks of over-flowing joy and bustling activity, they are gone again. My house is way too large without them. My refrigerator is empty. And I wonder why exactly I tried so hard to master the art of goodbye. What exactly were the benefits of that skill?

I will say it now, scream it, even. Saying goodbye sucks. Maybe it’s deep-seeded in our species’ survival instinct – a mother’s instinct to make her wobbly-kneed youngsters sturdy, nudging them off into the forest to hunt and forage on their own. Survival of the fittest and all that. But it is a mother’s last pain to endure, watching her children leave.

However, I can be patient. Someday grandchildren will arrive. I will go visit them, and they will have to kick me out.

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