Remaining a home for children as they spread their wings

Remaining a home for children as they spread  their wings
A Parent’s Perspective


My eldest daughter is doing the Leaving Certificate this year. It’s been a different experience to the time my two sons did it. They were happy to sit back while I poured over the minutiae of the marking system guiding them in the direction of where best to focus their energies.

I have fond memories of the summer my second eldest son was sitting the exam. It was typical Leaving Cert weather, the sun splitting the trees, not a cloud in the sky and my husband and other children dispatched to the wilds of Connemara to facilitate the last minute study efforts. My unruffled, teenage son sat at the kitchen table happy to let me read out long screeds of English poetry notes while the strains of Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’ played in the background.

{{What could I say to my daughter as she enters this new and exciting phase of life?”

Fast forward several years and my daughter is a completely different creature. Being independent and highly organised, there’s no question of needing much assistance from a helicopter mother who can’t help hovering around, ever eager to lend a helping hand.

Is there a parent out there who doesn’t, in some small way, imagine that their adult children are still those stumbling, totally dependent toddlers who need their socks pulled up, their noses wiped and a warm spot in the security of a comforting lap? The good news is that those feisty, funny, sometimes infuriating and equally endearing young people still need us in ways that we don’t even realise.

What could I say to my daughter as she enters this new and exciting phase of life? What can any mother or father say that’s worth listening to? Sometimes adults can struggle to understand or be involved in their children’s worlds. When I was a child ‘woke’ was what you did in the morning and ‘lit’ was definitely something to do with fire or light. If we’re even speaking a different language, how do we communicate across the generations and keep that cosy intimacy that we shared when our children were small? Maybe it’s all about finding a language that’s common to all generations, a language of love.

I was fortunate to attend one of the sessions of the annual Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help which is held every year in a neighboring parish. The speaker on this particular evening was Johnny Murtagh, the legendary jockey, who had a very successful career, winning every major flat race possible as the main jockey for Aidan O’ Brien’s Coolmore Stud in Co. Tipperary.

He spoke passionately about how he had it all: the success, the fame, the great wins and adulation as well as a lovely wife and children, but he still felt something was missing.

People sometimes refer to death leaving ‘a hole in our hearts’ but there’s also what’s referred to as ‘a God-shaped hole’, that empty, hollow feeling we have when we don’t have God in our lives. Johnny Murtagh described it very well when he spoke of his struggles with alcohol, his lack of happiness no matter how many races he won.

Eventually, he reached an awful moment where he stared down from the tenth storey of a Dubai apartment block and wondered if everyone would be better off without him. He threw himself on his knees and begged God to help him. It was an epiphany and Johnny went on to change his life and his whole perspective. In his own words he came to see that life is about “gratitude not attitude”.

The message for our adult children is the same one that was shared at the Novena: focus on positivity and all that God has given you; see what you can do for those around you; constantly say: “Thanks, thanks, thanks” to God. Thanks for our lives, our families, our good health. Even when there’s negativity, turn it to positivity. Don’t worry about tomorrow; just focus on the good you can do today. As Johnny Murtagh said “Give faith a chance”, give God a chance.

The Leaving Cert will fade into the distant past. The results will come out and there’ll be highs and lows, happy faces and smiles, disappointments and tears.

Always have the expectation that they slot in family time.”

Our sons and daughters will stretch their wings, some ready to leave the nest, but our job as parents is still ongoing, probably even more important than it ever was. Keep them close with ongoing contact, conversations and chats. Keep giving advice even if it seems to be falling on deaf ears; they are listening and that ultra-confident exterior doesn’t fool us parents. We can still remember them wanting that light on when they were afraid of the dark.

Always have the expectation that they slot in family time. In my view, this is non-negotiable; life is never so busy that there isn’t time for a quick coffee with Mum or Dad or lunch with a sibling. Finally, don’t be quick to conclude that starting out on a new road means leaving Faith behind. There are numerous Faith-friendly activities connected to being in college or being in a new city. Just follow the Catholic pages on social media and a nudge in the right direction will help our young adults to make like-minded friends or even friends who could lead them back to the Church if they’ve strayed. And, when everything goes pear-shaped, as it inevitably does from time-to-time, be that cosy comfort place that they can, and always will, return to.