Learning to Love from Afar

Having an adult child spells freedom at multiple levels, but then freedom from familiar lovable emotions also creates that yawning gap.
Representational image of parenting.
Representational image of parenting.

For me, the toughest part of parenting has been knowing when to leave.

I saw it coming and kept reminding myself that being an urban, savvy mom, it wouldn’t hit me so hard: The flying away of the fledgling. My oldest left for her college over a fortnight ago as the campus opened up finally. Mixed feelings poured in as we zipped up the essentials. Of course, I have a dear friend who is researching the empty nest syndrome for her book and alerted me in her own ways of possible emotions, but hey! that didn’t apply to me, or so I told myself rather smugly.

With reason enough. I have always been working, am a compulsive writer, and most importantly, have a second edition in a 12-year-old. I just didn’t think it would hit me this hard, like a truck in the face, despite having work, a second kid, and being mentally prepared for the transition. But then, nothing preps you —don’t I remember those misleading, hoax videos during my pre-natal classes, of cootchie-cooing newbie moms, while I struggled with twin geysers, sore points and sleepless nights post-delivery later?

Back to the present. I was convinced that the flight from the coop wouldn’t leave me feeling hollow. I could handle this. But clearly, mathematics overrules the emotional brunt. The goodbye on the campus was a sudden stab, clobbering and choking my throat in a Bollywoodesque fashion, and as I fumbled and bumbled with words (!) and realised I didn’t want to let her go.

From a tween growing into a kidult (peppered with many “I hate you mom” splutters and slamming doors), it has been a tempestuous ride with my warrior princess. I chronicled the tantrums and hugs of my firstborn in an as-they-grow column for a child magazine I was associated with then.

Now, while there are no wet towels sprawled on the bed post-bath, the almirah is tidy, no one has flicked my mascara in 20 days, and the hair iron is lying quietly in the drawer, there is a hole in my heart. It is a sort of niggling vacuum that broods slowly, somewhere in the recesses, and dances to life each time I take a bite of her favourite food or wear the fragrance she gifted me on my last birthday.

The apartment is much quieter with no outbursts or loud music, giddy galloping down the corridor by the duo, hair tugging, bawls and bangs over who’ll use the bathroom first, fighting over the changed Netflix password or Wi-fi whimpers, and no squealing and dissolving into gurgles of laughter. As journalists, we are trained to write through cacophony, as I have done easily over the years. Yet now the pin-drop silence, as my relatively cool junior goes to school, gnaws at multiple levels.

It is a bittersweet transition, that of a halfway empty nester, as I do have second innings left in the parenthood game. Having an adult child spells freedom at multiple levels, but then freedom from familiar lovable emotions also creates that yawning gap. God redeems himself in many ways I tell myself, laughing and playing foosball and watching movies in a family of three now. This is mommy training part two. Grappling with tacit revelations and prepping for a re-run a few more years down the line. Meanwhile, I am unlearning and relearning. It is called learning to love from afar.

Shilpi Madan


Mumbai-based journalist and editor

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