Thoughts and feelings as we are about to move

Our move to Nova Scotia has been in the works for a few years. The initial phone call that started it all happened in the spring of 2021. Back then, we were thinking five years down the road, but once the seed was planted, Dad got started on all the work necessary to make that dream a reality. And gosh, it was a lot of work.

Subdividing the property, planning a new house, building a new house - my parents and my dad did all of that work. We were very much removed from this monumental effort being done on our behalf and for our family's future.

We are now immersed in the effort of our departure from Montreal and helping the kids step into new layers of their young adult independence. This has not been easy emotionally for me or them.

In the years leading up to this inflection point, I was focused on the anticipation of living in a beautiful place next to my parents and sharing life with them while entering a new stage of married and personal life. This move fulfills many dreams. In this heady hope, I hadn’t presaged the emotional stretching and sadness this time would bring me.

I am excited about this new stage, and Damien and I feel solid about this decision for our future and our family’s future. We’ve had a lot of time to think about it, to dream about the life that we want to live in Nova Scotia, and to plan the broad strokes for transitioning the kids toward their independence in this move.

The theory - thinking, dreaming, planning, and scheming - is one thing. How I feel about the reality of the transition is another, to say nothing of how the kids are feeling.

I am glad that I’ve developed a both/and awareness and acceptance years ago already. I don’t know how anyone can grow, develop, and change throughout the course of one’s life without both/and capacity.

It would be nice to think that my efforts cultivating a tolerance for complexity, emotional discomfort, nuance, and holding space for conflicting emotions and ideas have prepared me somehow for this time. But I’m not so sure.

Objectively, I am equipped for all this. I’m resourced on many levels, and I know I have the material, emotional, and relational fortitude for this unique time.

But being equipped and resourced doesn’t mean “feeling” any less. (I need to note that having intergenerational material resources makes this move possible, in that we can financially support our still-in-school kids while we move our lives somewhere else.)

My grief has surprised me. Concomitant with the grief - I’m not sure if one causes the other or if they arrive as a cohort - has come the worry and anxiety.

All of it is definitely related to the inevitable stress of the disruptions, transition, and deadlines that basically define a move. What is a move, if not a huge disruption to your life?

The intensity of this whirlpool of experience and emotion has released my ages-old, nebulous, and miasmic fear of failing my children and the more specific fear of the pain (for them and me) of the inevitable struggles, difficulties, and suffering of life.

How many years have I been telling myself I cannot protect my children from the world and from the absolute necessity of their own growth? Many years, I tell you!

You’d think after all this time, I would know the drill, that my mother’s heart would be steeled by knowledge, experience, and some measures of wisdom gained in these nearly 50 years of living and 25 years of parenting. That my heart is still so tender and tuned to my children’s state of being seems to be part of my constitution, part of the package of me. Maybe it’s just motherhood.

As my children have moved through the stages of childhood to adolescence to young adulthood (and will all eventually end up in full-on adulthood), I must continually practice releasing them into their own personhood. And releasing myself in the process.

There are difficulties in transitioning to greater young adult independence that I simply cannot shield or protect my children from. They must grow into their own strength and exercise the muscles of adulthood with all the freedom and responsibility that comes with that.

We are firmly behind our children. In our words and deeds, we have made it clear that no one will fall through the cracks in this family for lack of effort or commitment on our part to help them and that, as a family, we are bound to each other by familial bonds and an intentional and cultivated practice of belonging, acceptance, and sacrificial love.

That is all true, and young adults must grow into the responsibilities of adulthood. There is no way around this; no one can do it for you. I am so, so grateful that we can provide support and help for our kids as they do this.

But the work must be done by the kids themselves.

Parenting is all about iterating through the cycles of this process with our children, from the time they are little until they are grown.

We are the protectors, stewards, guides, mentors, and guardrails for our children during the season of their childhood. We are responsible for them. But the endgame of childhood is to grow into adulthood. Where statistically, we spend the majority of our years.

Childhood is its own time and has its own purposes, but its natural end is adulthood.

I can’t write about this without acknowledging context and individual constitution.

The cultural (economic, social, political) and ecological context plays a significant role in the launch of young adults. This context sets the conditions into which each new generation emerges upon reaching adulthood and influences the whole process in families and society.

What this means practically is that we don’t expect our children’s young adulthoods to look like our own.

Our family lives in a particular time, space, and place, which presents specific challenges (as well as advantages) for our kids as they launch into independence.

These cultural conditions change, yet adulthood following childhood is inexorable. This does not change. The timing and the runway length might change, but the endgame is still the same.

I don’t subscribe to an individualistic notion of a successful “launch.” Humans need each other, and we depend on our connections and relationships to make our way in the world. We remain dependent creatures all our lives, to varying degrees (depending on our constitutions and abilities) and in varying relationships (with partners, spouses, friends, and family). I.e., we are always dependent to some degree and in different capacities on others. There is no true “independence", we are interdependent beings, yet we must grow into our adult roles and responsibilities.

One of the goals of adulthood is to maximize your contributions to the whole by operating to the best of your abilities.

Adulthood is when we are working to fulfill our capacity as a “dependor” - someone others depend upon. Each of us has different capabilities in this regard and can offer various kinds of dependor contributions (we are not equal in skill, talent, energy, ability, resources, etc.). But adulthood is when our contributions to the whole and our support for the group (our partnerships, households, families, communities, society) operate to the maximum of those capacities.

The journey of adulthood is becoming someone on whom others can depend, sometimes mutually, but often sacrificially.

Becoming a parent seems to be the surest way to create the conditions for this growth, though other relationships will provide plenty of opportunities for this to develop. (Though it’s easier to opt-out in ways that are not possible in good parenting.)

This is what all of my children are moving towards and stepping into at this stage of their lives. Of course, it’s a journey, and one steadily grows in one’s “dependor” capacities, and everyone needs support from others as they work to fulfill their own potential.

This is hard work. This is adulting.

But knowing all this doesn’t assuage my grief about moving away from them. Their independence-growing is imminent and necessary in a way that would be softened and stretched out if we weren’t leaving the city.

Over the last 24 years, our family has made multiple big moves: Alberta to NJ (2000), NJ to Maine (2002), Maine to the Gaspe (2011), and the Gaspe to Montreal (2015).

We’ve always moved for the opportunities, adventures, and experiences afforded in the new place we were going to, for how that place would help us achieve the goals we prioritized at that time. None of these moves were random; you don’t make such moves without intention, though some had a lengthier lead time than others.

Similarly to our past moves, we have very clear intentions for this big change, and we’re anticipating the good things about this next stage of our lives: the growth and comfort of an empty-nest marriage, living surrounded by natural beauty, deepening our relationship with my parents, becoming a part of a community, and, very importantly, building more security, caretaking, and resiliency capacity for our family.

In every other move, the people that are my heart outside my body, which is to say, my children, always came with me. Obviously, they were dependent children.

As long as the five of us were together, I felt whole.

This time, we are not all together. And the grief I feel at leaving them is quite profound.

I’ve never felt this kind of sadness pre-move before. I’ve felt the stress of deadlines and the discomfort of upheaval. I’ve felt tired in all the work of it. I’ve felt excitement, anticipation, and hope. But in all our moves I did not feel this sadness.

Even in that first move when we left our families of origin, the place of my own birth and upbringing, and my extensive extended family who were my community, I was not sad. I was just so excited to be on this grand life adventure with my husband and baby. Everything I was most invested in - marriage and motherhood - was right at hand.

So, this sadness I’m feeling now is surprising to me, it’s a new moving emotion. It feels silly that I wasn’t expecting it given everything I’ve just said about my relationship with my kids and everything I’ve said over the many years of writing this blog. The kids are my heart.

But our life path is not their young adult life path. They have their own lives (school, work/careers, partners, friends, and communities) and life trajectories. Our trajectory is not theirs, and their trajectories are not ours.

God willing, and with everything in me, I will make the effort to ensure that our trajectories do not pull us relationally away from each other. But it’s entirely plausible that those trajectories will physically distance us for some time, maybe a long time. It’s also possible the trajectories will pull us into a closer physical orbit in the future. Many things are possible.

I am grieving leaving my kids. And although I have nothing to compare it to, I don’t think I would feel the same grief if they were the ones leaving.

There are so many factors that influence where we live and why we live there, where we settle, and how long we settle. My own life story and my movement east through countries, states, and provinces could not have been foreseen. Given this hindsight, where our family story goes from here is full of potential.

I’ve experienced enough to know that you can’t know or imagine all the good possibilities awaiting. We live into those possibilities with our connections and risks, courageous attempts, failures, and course corrections.

All of this awaits my children and me, and that is very hopeful. But the uncertainty of it all and the loss I feel at the parting are also scary and sad.

The sadness is not the end of the story, though it accompanies the end of this chapter and is the tone for the end of this post.

There will be many more joyful and satisfactory stories to tell.

They all belong.

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