Breaking stride: breaking up, and breaking through distance

If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you already know that I have entered my part-time parenting years. My own child, Chris, is grown, a year out of university, and living on his own on the opposite coast, and my stepchildren, Tall Girl (13) and The Boy (8), are with their dad and me twice a week and every other weekend.

You might think this makes the job easier. What it does make easier is making time for yourself and your relationship, since it’s kind of built in to the schedule. On the other hand, it has challenges that full-time parents might not think about.

In the case of the Eldest (formerly the Only, at least for me), I have an actual adult on my hands, and that makes things different too. It would make it different even if we lived near each other, but 3000 miles and three time zones compounds it. I think one thing doesn’t change, though, no matter how old or far away your kids are; when they are hurting, you hurt for them. And if you feel at a loss about how to help them deal with the hurting, you hurt for yourself too. I do, anyway.

Chris graduated from university a year ago, moved to another city, and found a great job within about a month – he started it on his 23rd birthday. He learned this past week that he’s getting a new position with a pretty significant raise. He should be feeling very good about his life right now.

He moved to Washington, DC after graduation largely because the girl he’d been having a long-distance relationship with for several months lived there. They ended up living and working in the same neighborhoods, so they were able to see much more of each other. They seemed to be making the transition from long-distance to local fairly well, but now I have to wonder whether they had trouble finding the balance between maintaining individuality and bonding as a couple, because they are officially not a couple anymore. A few weeks ago, they had a conversation that took him by surprise, but led him to expect that the end might be near; as of this past weekend, it has arrived, and he’s really not feeling that great about his life right now after all.

Both his stepfather and I have been involved in breakups that felt sudden, and eventually came to understand that they really weren’t – there are usually indicators, and Chris will probably see this too after awhile. He’s a couple of years younger than his now-former girlfriend, and although in many ways he’s far more mature than many guys his age, in your mid-twenties that’s still a significant difference, especially since she’s older. We met her over the holidays, and I liked her; I am very sorry that this happened, but on the other hand I didn’t expect him to be ready to settle in for the long haul yet, so I can’t say I never thought it might happen.

But even knowing all that, I worry about him. I know he has to – and am confident he will – find his own way to deal with and come back from this, but being his mom, I wish he didn’t have to. I wish I could make it better. Then again, if I could, and did, fix it for him, he wouldn’t grow from the experience, and in the big picture that’s what matters. At the same time, breakups suck, and who really wants that experience? I wish there were things I could do for him. I wish I were there with him, or he was here with us. I wish he were little again, and his hurts were easier to fix. I wish I weren’t feeling so hurting and helpless about it myself. I am not big on either giving unasked-for advice or spouting platitudes, and unfortunately those are the two things that most readily come to mind in dealing with this.

Chris has always had a tendency toward moodiness and wallowing, and he’s really on his own right now, which is a big reason I’m so worried. I’m worried because I’ve been there. But I have to remind myself at times like these that, as close as our relationship is, he’s not me. He’s not necessarily going to go through the same process that I did, and I need to be careful about my own tendency to project. He’s more social and outgoing than I am, and that will help him a lot in the coming days and weeks. He’s fortunate to be living in a city with a big population of young professionals like himself, so I hope that when he starts to get out and about, he’ll be able to make connections fairly easily. And yet, once he does, I worry that he’ll jump into another relationship just to avoid being “single.” On the other hand, I worry that he’ll choose not to be social – that he’ll hole up in his apartment and be a hermit except for when he’s at work; evidently, most of my worries are at the extremes.

I come from a half-Italian, food=comforting=love background, which usually gives me at least one good coping mechanism to fall back on – cooking. (It also offers a related, not-so-good strategy – eating – but when I’m extremely stressed I can’t eat, so ideally it evens out.) I spent Saturday afternoon baking a batch of chocolate-chip cookies – the ones with the secret ingredient – in order to send some off to DC at the beginning of the week. I know they won’t solve anything in the big picture, but they’ll make us both feel a little better.

Even having been a parent for nearly 24 years, there are still “firsts” that come up – they’re bigger and sometimes unexpected, though, and can throw you off your stride. They can certainly throw your kids off their stride. But if we’ve done a decent job overall, they’ll find their footing again, hopefully sooner rather than later, and with or without our help. I know that when I feel that Chris is in his stride again, I’ll find it just a little easier to stay in my own.

One sign of movement toward his getting on his feet, or at least keeping busy: he and James are blogging again, with new posts about baseball and way, way pre-season college football.

(This is my rather unexpected response to this week’s “Hump Day Hmm” from Julie Pippert, “Walking Out of Stride.”)

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  1. As someone who had to go through an entire process to simply put her kindergartner on a bus for a field trip—but could not let go enough to not go on the field trip, albeit in a car that trailed the bus since parents weren’t allowed on the bus—it is so intriguing to me to hear of parent sin your shoes, letting adult children fly off into their own lives.

    It also make me think about whose story this is, anyway. You mentioned not projecting, and well, that’s got to be a challenge. I’m so used to this being my story, and right now their story is still mostly my story, although I see the change coming in small doses.

    I guess that’s it, eh, we grow into it, parents and children alike.

    neat post.

  2. Julie P – I think in some ways, it’s a question for all of us who blog about our families (even once in a while): whose story is it? Not projecting is definitely a challenge, although it’s gotten a little easier over time (and it’s probably helped that I had a boy and not a girl – different perspectives).

    I’ve always believed that the main goal of parenting is preparing the kids to live their own lives, and preparing ourselves for it to happen. I think this is why adolescence exists – it definitely helps the process, on both sides. 🙂

    we be toys – He got the cookies today, but I told him not to eat any until after dinner :-).

  3. wheelsonthebus – Part of what makes it difficult right now is being so far away. But we’re checking in every day, and it’s all one day at a time…and these days, 3000 miles isn’t as far as it used to be.

  4. Thanks for writing about this, Florinda. Our parenting challenges don’t end when our kids “grow up” do they?