They all have to leave, the children that is. We knew that, just as every parent knows that. But being forewarned was not necessarily being forearmed.
First, the children become teenagers. That is their first step on the way to flying up, up and away. In a way, becoming teenagers and leaving home are two sides of the same coin, an early and a later version of that inevitable movement towards independence and self-definition. There are two pages on this web site, that cover these topics, one on Teenagers with a capital T, and this one on moving away. But it’s not easy or simple to differentiate them. Each covers some aspects of the continuum. Each shows a part of the process.
Dennis Cruise used to say that two supposedly natural functions were completely unnatural, childbirth and teething. Well, I’d add another: the process of separating parent and child.
All three of these natural processes come with a lot of pain. Each of Marie-Hélène and I had been a somewhat troubled adolescent, and yet each of us was surprised, more than surprised, when our own adorable children turned into adolescents and turned on us. In retrospect, the troubles that arose weren’t even that major, most of the time, but we were still blown away by them.
How could they not remain terribly grateful after all that we had done for them! Wherever were they finding all these failings in such caring parents! We really did care so much for our little crew, both of us. What was prompting our children to lose sight of that?
The simple answer is growing up. When I look back and remember how crazy were my own attempts at becoming independent, I should have been better prepared for a little confusion in theirs.
How did our adolescents feel about all this? Each wanted his or her own life, lived according to rules that he or she was developing en route. Each needed support, but not so much that she or he felt stifled or overly restricted. It was always easier for us parents to support them in the direction which we wanted them to move in. What they wanted was support in the direction that they each wanted to move in. And often they didn’t really know what direction that was! All that each knew was that our direction was not for him or her.
They smoked cigarettes at one time or another, and drank like fish at one time or another. There were occasions when their eyes needed toothpicks to stay open, and others when we were called to collect one or other of them to bring them home. The whole house felt like a complete mess for weeks at a time, when it wasn’t really. There were occasional fights and their consequences, and periods when one or other could not seem to locate any shoes. Those were the days!!
If I’m honest, every step of the way toward letting the children go was really hard. I automatically call them children here when considering their leaving home. Yet none of them even started on the actual physical departure from home until they turned 18, and you can’t really call them children at that age.
I pushed back again and again as the symptoms of their growing need for independence appeared. Marie-Hélène did too, but less I think, except with Daphné. No, that’s not sure: you can look at these things in so many ways. If you look at it in terms of results, there wasn’t that much difference between us.
But I will admit to not understanding when they started never wanting to go to the movies with us. It bothered me when they stopped wanting to dine with us, except on special occasions. I didn’t like it when they disagreed with just about everything I said – “hey, wait a minute, guys,” I wanted to say, “I’m cool!” – and I just hated it when they occasionally treated me with something like contempt. Or at least that’s how I took it when one of them would virulently ignore something I was saying that was simply common sense.
Of course, the moving away itself was a stop and start process for all the four older children, except Tom.
After a period moving from one shared rental to another locally, Nick went back to live with his mom in Paris for the first half of 2007, returning for Tom’s High School graduation. He stayed with us for a couple of months, moved into a condo in town for about five months and then, disillusioned with a predatory roommate, moved back in with us again for another few months. He would rather have remained more consistently independent, I think, but the outside world had its challenges.
Daphné too moved out and in. Her moves out were at times (but not always) linked to steady boyfriends and her moves back were at times (but not always) linked to a breakup. She moved to an apartment in San Francisco across the street from her boyfriend’s in 2009, but then moved to Tahoe by herself when they broke up in 2010. Lake Tahoe has been her principal destination since she discovered the joys of skiing, and she has moved back and forth from the lake to home a couple of times.
Alban and Tom finished high school in 2007. Alban started soon after at Cabrillo, the local junior college, but did not show much inclination to spread his wings. Free housing with the parents had its attractions until, that is, he found other free housing, on a couch in a condo with a group of friends! I don’t think that I ever visited there when no-one was playing video games! Then he moved in a with a girlfriend, and back when they broke up.
Tom waited until the end of the year, so he wouldn’t miss Christmas 2007 at our place, and then flew back to live with his mum in Paris. Before leaving, he had told me that he was just going on vacation. He left his room in such a catastrophic state that I was sure that he would be back to clean it up: what you could call classic parental denial!!