Seán Moncrieff: No matter how old they get, my kids will always be my babies
Part of the job of being a parent is letting them go. But I still wish it lasted a little longer
When I look at my grown-up kids, I don’t just see the adults. I still see them – just as vividly – when they were 15 or 12 or three. Photograph: iStock
By the age of 17, I’d moved to Dublin, and never lived full time with my parents again. I didn’t think of it as a big deal. Or more precisely, I never considered it might be a big deal for them. I couldn’t wait to get away, to fulfil a blurry vision I had of being independent and grown up; of having sex.
This happens far less nowadays. Apart from the sex. There’s a galaxy of studies and media think pieces about how we’ve raised an infantilised generation, one that can’t make up its mind about what it wants, so it stays at home instead. Some claim that the maturing process has mysteriously slowed down, that people in their 20s are still effectively kids, swaddled in a sense of entitlement that retards the process of growing up.
I’m not quite sure about this theory. I left home in my teens, but I was far from mature. When I look back, I’m astounded I’m still alive. Yet, I am regularly struck by how many of my peers have at least one grown-up child stuck in failure-to-launch mode. Admittedly, that’s anecdotal, and it’s dangerous to generalise about an entire generation. I also have friends whose children are sickeningly mature and independent.
I know parents who had to pull into the side of the road to cry after they had delivered their oldest daughter to college
But if there is a problem with infantilised offspring, then their parents – me, maybe even you – must bear some responsibility for that. Not just for the cosseting, for the constant anxiety about baba’s self-esteem, but perhaps also for a slight, almost unconscious reluctance to kick them out of the nest. Leaving home is a big life stage for them. But it’s a huge life stage for parents too.
I’ve written here before about moving house, and that’s happening right now. Today. But suddenly, so is everything else. Son number one is close to getting his own place. Daughter number two has finished the Leaving and will be heading to college, probably outside Dublin. And daughter number one, having flirted with three different third-level courses, has dramatically found her groove. It’s still a bit hush-hush, but it’s a grown-up project that effectively disproves everything I’ve written here. She’s 21. I couldn’t have done what she’s about to do when I was 21. No way. I was too stupid.
I’m gripped by conflicting emotions. I am toweringly proud of all of them. As a parent, it’s part of the job to get them off the books, especially when they enter their 20s. Yet I also wish it could have lasted just a bit longer. I know I’m not alone in this. I know parents who had to pull into the side of the road to cry after they had delivered their oldest daughter to college.
I have a big grown-up son, and I still occasionally want to put him on my lap and give him a cuddle. Except he’d probably break my arm if I did
Yet, grief at the kids leaving home is something parents might be reluctant to admit to: in case the kids stay. Because it’s not good for them. Because you don’t want to have to keep explaining to an adult about turning out lights. You want them to leave.
And you don’t.
For me, it’s not over yet. Far from it. Daughters three and four still have to be processed, but eventually, they’ll go too. And when they do, they may roll their eyes over Dad being teary. Not until they have their own children will they understand that time doesn’t move in a straight line.
When I look at my grown-up kids, I don’t just see the adults. I still see them – just as vividly – when they were 15 or 12 or three. I have a big grown-up son, and I still occasionally want to put him on my lap and give him a cuddle. Except he’d probably break my arm if I did. To me, their past selves are all jumbled up in the here and now. No matter how old they get, how far away they go, they’ll always be my babies.