Putting on a brave face ... Photo: Getty Images
Saying goodbye is hard to do. Looking at our sons’ faces as they passed through immigration was tough. They were traveling from Singapore to Australia for their summer break and I wouldn’t see them for close to two months. Our eldest daughter was about to head to South Africa for a school camp and then proceed to Australia for the holiday too. Because of the ‘older kid exodus’, I was about to depart with our younger children for a catch up with extended family, and so my husband and I would also be separated, although only for a few weeks. But these are the logistics of a large, blended, expat family, particularly in the middle of the year when the kids’ have such a long time off.
Understandably, I am sure my sons were not so sad, as their school holidays had just begun and I was not going to dampen their spirits with my sentimentality. But the time leading up to a goodbye can be hard. The anticipation of the separation combined with the expectation of those last hours and moments is delicate. I am sad, while they are excited; I am trying to put on a brave face and be happy for them, while they are trying to protect me by playing their trip down. Inevitably, time passes and they leave. Of course, I adjust and so do they, and thankfully my adjustment process is tempered by the fact that I have two young sons waiting for me at home whose needs will continue to demand my attention and energy while their siblings are gone. But this doesn’t take away from the loss I feel by their absence. In many ways, I want to by-pass the whole ‘goodbye’ ritual to avoid the emotional reaction it triggers in me.
However, this kind of letting go is not new and is a constant part of many families, particularly as children get older and develop greater independence. I have friends whose kids go to boarding school and they too are regularly confronted with the ‘goodbye’. I am sure my parents have felt it repeatedly over the years, and most recently when we left to live in Singapore. Likewise, parents who travel for work are constantly forced to adapt to periods of separation. Typically for me, I try to embrace the response it stimulates and I view it as ‘practice’ for when they eventually leave home. I also focus on the positives, as these periods of separation have an upside too, as Craig and I are left with only two kids, the house is significantly quieter, there is not as much running around after school and on weekends and it is an opportunity for us to do things that can be difficult with a larger party. In short, it is a time to slow down a bit and recharge before it starts up again.
Coming home can also be fraught with the unexpected. The initial homecoming is lovely and everyone is genuinely delighted to see each other. In particular, the young boys cannot contain their enthusiasm at their siblings’ return. Likewise, the older kids’ are thrilled to see them and us and enjoy returning to the familiar: their rooms, things and friends. But shifting places can be unsettling; consequently, I have discovered that accepting everyone needs time to adjust makes the whole transition easier. Sometimes it is easy to adapt, other times harder, and sometimes it affects one child or parent while not another. There is no way to predict how it will play out, but I have learnt to be open to the process, as life settles down pretty quickly and we continue on until the next time.