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How it feels when your teen moves out of home

How it feels when your teen moves out of home

Gulp. Last summer, big changes happened on the mum-front for me. I now know how it feels when your teen moves out of home! Gulp again! And breeeeathe.

Yup, my eldest, Max, moved onto campus at a university an hour down the coast. It’s the most surreal thing. To be a parent of an… adult? I hesitate to use the word.

Like all milestones when your kids are older, the moment when your teen moves out of home will feel so different depending on your kid. For instance, Max is independent and capable out there in the world. He’s been ‘doing his own thing’ for some time now.

BUT… he’s not even remotely house trained, despite my very best efforts for the better part of almost two decades. He won’t cook a meal, change his bed linen or even brush his teeth without me nagging him incessantly.

So, for Max, my worries are more ‘sustenance/hygiene/good flatmate’-based, as opposed to ‘catch a bus/get a job’-based. You know what I mean?

That said, there are emotions that I am 100 per cent sure belong to all of us in this moment:

  • surprise
  • sadness
  • pride
  • relief
  • worry
  • sadness
  • sadness
  • sadness

No one likes change, least of all a mother. When your teen moves out of home, it’s really hard to let go and let them get on with it. I’ve always struggled with that part of parenting anyway. The ‘you can’t live it for them‘ part. I so want to live it for them – to protect them from all the niggles and concerns and heartaches. Wouldn’t that be so nice?

When your teen moves out of home - driving away

The day Max moved out – his car shooting off down the road with neither honk nor pause – I honestly mostly felt relief. He had been champing at the bit to go all through year 12 and was thus, ahem,  tricky to live with. For all the difficulties, there hasn’t been a year in his life that went as fast for me as year 12 did. I mean, we blink when they’re five and suddenly they’re sitting their final high school exams, right?

So, here we are, around six months in and everything is fine. He likes his uni course, hates his flatmates, loves his new friends and beer and probably still doesn’t brush his teeth. (Guess what – I don’t have to worry about the teeth anymore! Yippee! Those teeth have left the building and are now 100 per cent his responsibility. Everything is!)

Of course, I still do his washing when he lugs it back home. And I’ve been known to slip him some extra cash to ‘buy yourself something nice’, but other than that, he really is getting it done. He’s responsible, having a good time and, most importantly, he knows what happens next.  I honestly don’t think we can ask any more of our parenting. We done good.

As for me, it’s been, ahem, tricky. For a start, Max has been an excellent singer-songwriter ever since he first picked up the guitar during lockdown (I cannot recommend a hobby for a teen enough). So, for the past couple of years his music has been the constant soundtrack to my days. It is so strange being at home without the strum and murmur of him composing. It used to drift around our house and street as constant as the weather and I am a little lost without it.

My neighbour just last week: “I miss Max’s playing so much – his music gave me a reason to put a bounce to my step as I walked past your house.”

I miss my son's guitar playing, the soundtrack to my life

That’s Max in a nutshell, really. So many people have stopped me to ask about him. He’s a big unit in every regard and people warm to him. I miss that big, charismatic, oxygen-stealing presence like I suspect I would miss my left arm. My son, the oxygen thief.

On the other hand, I know my girls are rather grateful that he’s left the building. They love him and all, but he’s a lot. He’s one of three, but sucked up an easy 60 per cent plus of his parents’ energy. There’s so much more mum to go around for the girls these days.

Mostly, I am simply getting used to parenting from afar. Still, always and forever his mum, but so untethered now. Parenting the child who isn’t there is a case of feeling my way into the ‘walk on’ cameo role I now play in his life. There, but not there. Important, but not strictly in it.

Max, for his part, has been more than generous with helping me find my way. He still tells me things, keeps me up on the goss. He understands that when your kid moves away they take all their friends with them. Kids I used to see every week I’ve only seen once or twice over the months. I miss them all, those rowdy, partying teens who’ve been part of our life for years (there’s a corner of our couch where a mate always ended up after a big night out that will always be known as “Jack’s Corner”). Max is kind in the way he still fills me in on their shenanigans and brings home new friends to fill the unfillable gaps as well.

And a warning: there is no one more dismissive of their childhood than a teen freshly moved to a new town. The scorn thrown at our home, our suburb, the school, the people… you can imagine. He’ll come around, of course, but first we have to wade through the waist-high know-it-all derision – and that’s unexpectedly hard. I try not to engage – as has been my strategy for parenting this one since he was about seven.

Through all of this first six months I know one thing to my very core: our kids are merely on loan to us. We get to love them, know them, teach them, and grow them, but eventually, we have to return them to themselves.

With a bit of luck we will have treated them well enough that they voluntarily decide to stick around, loving us hard for always.

Feature image by Zac Durant;  car by Hareez Hussaini; guitar by Polina Kuzovkova