Question: What has life been like for you after the difficult child era is over?

Discussion in 'Parent Emeritus' started by recoveringenabler, Jul 20, 2012.

  1. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Amidst my elation about getting to the point of accepting my difficult child's life and letting go, my therapist told me to expect more grief. Good grief, more grief? Well, yesterday after speaking to my difficult child on the phone and both of us realizing that until she puts effort into her life and begins therapy, gets a job, starts the healing process, our connection needs to take a hiatus. It was poignant, but a necessary step in both of our healing. She now has all the tools to go forward and I need a break from all the drama of her life.

    This morning I awaken to a deep sadness. It feels as if this relentless preoccupation with my difficult child's life is over. I can't explain it other then that. In it's place is this emptiness, a very real feeling of something being over and a lot of space which used to be occupied with all the stuff of a difficult child life, and now there is nothing. In addition to that, my granddaughter left yesterday to go camping for a week. My schedule is absolutely free weeks in advance except for my own appointments. I took a nap yesterday afternoon (unheard of around here!) and read a great novel and went out to dinner with SO. Quiet, uneventful, calm and peaceful. And empty.

    I've gone through the empty nest stuff when my difficult child left home when she was 19, it's not that. After so much of my life being eaten up with the care of my mentally ill family, letting my difficult child go into her own life without me, feels like the final person to care for has finally left my care.

    There are those of you out there who have lived for awhile without any difficult child activity in your direct sphere.........I'm wondering if you might elaborate on what it was like for you when your life once again became your own. What were those stages of detachment, AFTER you were detached? We all know the ones before, I would like to know how it was for you when you finally did let go. How did your life change? What did you do with your time and energy? How did it impact your joy level and peace of mind? Did you go through a stage of sadness? If you would like to share them, I'd like to know your stories. Thank you.
  2. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    I'm still figuring all that out, RE, but here are my thoughts.

    The biggest thing for me has been learning who I am as a separate individual, apart from being a difficult child's mom. Not just who I am, but what I want for myself, out of life. Oh I know the answers to the easy parts of that: I want to do what I want to do, when and where I want to do it, and spend my own money on me, without having to take anyone else's drama or impending crisis into account. I'm doing that, for sure. I run two social groups via Meetup that keep me crazy busy. I'm seeing movies and concerts, going out to dinner, taking trips, etc. I've kinda thrown myself into a social life on overdrive. I have an incredibly fun and funny circle of close friends, which is the best part of all of it. I'm finding however, that all I've done really is create a diferent kind of chaos around myself. One I can control, and one that is fun, but isn't really addressing the question of 'what do I do now? ' except in a very superficial way (close friends aside). I'm not doing any 'nesting' around my house, even though there's plenty I could do: paint, new curtains, new furniture, organizing, etc. I just don't feel like doing it. I love down time at home, but I don't spend a lot of time there. I also don't feel like focusing on what I've always said I would do once all was done: write. I've yet to put my office back together.

    My therapist tells me that she thinks I'm not doing those things, and still feel unsettled, because part of me is 'waiting for Youngest to move back in.' She said I'm living as though the chaos could descend again any minute. I think she's right. After years, decades even, of living with the dread of another crisis around the bend, it's hard to relax. I don't trust the (relative) calm. It's like I'm waiting to be sure it's real.

    So, I'm still in a transition phase, I think. Don't get me wrong, I'm thoroughly enjoying my life socially, but something is still missing.. something isn't quite right, yet. Life is good, but not quite good enough. It's funny that as much as we hate the chaos of life with a difficult child, we grow so used to it that once it's gone, there's this big hole that's difficult to fill with 'normalcy.' We've adjusted our sense of 'normal' for so long that we have to redefine it, really. I'm getting there …. but think I'm going to have to push myself a bit. And luckily I have an awesome therapist who pushes me,too.
  3. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Wonderful response CrazyinVa, thank you! Gives me food for thought. In looking at your bio, I see that we both began our mothering years at about the same time, 22-23. As I ponder this new chapter of my life, I see that at that age many were leaving college and embarking on their new lives as adults. I recall at that point in my life I wanted to be an artist, I was drawing and painting all the time, it was such a pleasure and filled me with that creative spark. Life took me away on a very different ride at that point. The easel, the paints, the sketch pad disappeared into history and soon I was taking are of a toddler and my younger sister who was mentally unstable.

    It occurs to me that that was the last time I actually realistically thought about ME and what I want, taking the time to nurture whatever desires were within. I'm interested in your desire to write, since writing has replaced my desire to paint. All these years later I find myself wanting to create a sanctuary in our extra room, where I can quietly commit my thoughts to paper/laptop. Each time for the last 5 years that I put an 'office/sanctuary' together in my home, someone came in and needed that room. Now I have it back and it feels right to make it mine and use it as a place to create. Like the office you have on your list to 'put back together.' I found a great sofa with an ottoman which will be perfect. It's a small room too which adds to that cozy feeling of a sanctuary.

    I understand exactly what you are saying about life being 'not quite good enough' and the hole that's difficult to fill with normalcy, it's been a very long time between creative sparks..................I want that back now. I think I have to learn how to put all that focus back on myself and regain my internal strength which shows me where to put my next step. I've been ripped off course so many times I have to get my footing back. Perhaps that's the same transition you find yourself in. I have a very strong intention of finding a life of my own, I see the other side of the mountain now and understand the limits of time, not much left of it to waste!

    Thanks for your response, I so appreciate it!
  4. CrazyinVA

    CrazyinVA Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Yes, I married at 21 (pregnant), and had Oldest at 22. I went straight from my living with my parents and in college (in a sorority house, no less), to being married. I never got to live on my own, so in some ways this is the young adulthood/independence I never had. No wonder I don't act my age ;-)

    I'm excited about this "finding myself" business, I must admit. Scared, but excited.
  5. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure if I should comment at all; I'm still far from the point you are. My difficult child is still young and I'm not even that detached, nevertheless my difficult child era is over. But I have had my first taste of it. My difficult child has been living out of home close to year and a half and most of his crisis are someone else's headaches as my sig say. He doesn't bring most of his problems to me any more. And before he left he almost monopolized my time and thoughts, both with the difficult child issues and just being a sport (and music) parent. But he is not a start all, end all of my difficult child era. That began much earlier.

    I started my career as crisis manager before I could walk or talk. My parents were difficult children on their own right and nothing good ever came from them being in the same room (well, I do kind of enjoy existing and if I wouldn't exist world would be missing one rather awesome boy and another who is special in his own way.) "Mind the Baby", was a powerful tool in that household in those early days. And when I learned to talk and walk, I of course became much more efficient. My parents divorce didn't chance much, my mother was very good at making up crisis in her own, she didn't need my fathers help. And I was the one who got an honour to clear them up. I still remember when I was negotiating with her third husband about splitting the assets when I was 10. My mother thought I was depressingly small-minded, she didn't want anything from 'that monster' (if I remember correctly the guy wasn't too fond of my mom keeping few lovers in side) and would 'rather live in streets than accept anything from him.' I didn't. But anyway, my difficult child era has been long and difficult children have always been part of my life. While my mom has unfortunately passed away, my father lives (even though he is not much part of my life) and of course my difficult child is there.

    Some of the things I'm experiencing are common empty nest things, even if my difficult child would had been easy child he would had taken most of my time and attention. We have always split our kids hobbies and everything we need to do for them with my husband and after difficult child left most of the things I spent my time left with him and things I did for my easy child have very much ceased and I have found my self with lot of time to do my own things. I have done a lot of things I always thought I would love to do. I have certainly enjoyed that crisis are much fewer now. But I have also found myself bored.

    I'm much too young to just sit knitting and reading books. I have almost half of my life left (statically) and I feel very odd without my lifelong career in crisis management. It feels like nothing happens (I so hoped that for years, but...) Peace and quiet feel empty and boring. Just an idea of rest of my life waking up, running with dogs, going to work (I do enjoy it, but it's not a passion), coming home, cooking a dinner, taking dogs for the walk , reading, working on garden or something similar, watching tv, going to bed, just feels so boring and empty. I'm so used to unpredictable that I don't know how to live without it.

    I find it interesting both of you are thinking of using your time to self expression and art. That is something I too find myself thinking about at times. And though my father is somewhat successful artist, I don't have an artistic bone in me. I was an awful disappointment to my parents, while they sneered at anything middle class, they did give me very middle class art education, it was just something you had to do. And they really scorned my bourgeois attempts that told more about dutiful training than any talent. I of course have passed on that suffering and made my boys to sit through their piano lessons (well, not necessarily piano, but same anyway.)
  6. witzend

    witzend Well-Known Member

    Get yourself out to dinner and find something fun to do! Time's a wasting, and I guarantee you that you are giving more thought to her situation than she is.

    Life after they are gone is really nice. You get to be the person that you are. You get to know your SO. You get to learn all of the things that you enjoy and whether you still have the energy left to enjoy them. This is especially important. I promise you that there will come a time in your life - and it's sooner than you think - that you will not be able to take up a new hobby.

    You had today to cry for what isn't going to be. Dry your tears and get out there and find your good thing. Like Auntie Mame said, "Life's a banquet and most suckers are starving to death."
  7. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    I wish I could post positively. Sorry. I started this path in 1966 and even though I have detached from some of the difficult child's I am still impacted by the choices of the next direction. I will soon be 72 and I now have a terminal disease. Is that enough to leave them all behind and move on for my remaining years. Darn it. I'm trying but I am not a role model for placing my needs first. I'm still trying. DDD
  8. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Suzir, I understand what you are saying, in the absence of lifelong'crisis management' a life without that intensity feels odd, strange,empty, with that sense of something missing, not quite what we want. I think that's what CrazyinVa and I are in the process of moving through, to let go of that and move into a whole new era. I believe that the emptiness is part of the healing, the boredom a reaction to the lack of drama. I think it's a stage of this process, one can't move out of that kind of high drama into normal reality without a few bumps and some time to get used to what you (I) may never have known before. Like CrazyinVa I'm a little scared and a lot excited about the possibilities.
  9. 1905

    1905 Well-Known Member

    For all of us who have spent so many years with half a broken heart, while walking on eggshells wondering what's next- something was always next-my advice is live the life you've imagined. You deserve it. It's awkward because you're not used to it. You will appreciate every moment you have doing what you like, more so than others without difficult child's. Go out to dinner. Have a cocktail at dusk by a firepit. Read. I know you'll be smiling more. Plan a day to go to another town with your SO. I know it's like we forgot how to relax, it comes back to you.
  10. Hound dog

    Hound dog Nana's are Beautiful

    In answer to your question, peaceful.

    With Travis there was acceptance (which was difficult in it's own right after so many years pushing him to be all he can be). With Nichole, it was just peace. We're closer than we've ever been, and since we've always been very close that is saying something. Even with Katie, although she is very much still a difficult's peace as well. I can be concerned on one level, sort of a detached concern if you know what I mean, but it's just not my problem to worry about and keep me up at night.

    My adjustment to both Nichole and Travis came without me quite realizing it because I had so much other non difficult child things going on at the time I just didn't have a lot of time to dwell on it. Katie's was sort of different......but I've been somewhat detached from that situation for years, I just decided to step the rest of the way back. If she can't figure it out at her age, she's certainly not going to let me take her by the hand and show her. It gets a little stickier when grandkids are involved, but eventually you come to realize that not every child is meant to have a storybook childhood, and that ultimately, their parents are responsible. I can not like it, not agree with it, but it is what it is.

    For me the adjustment was mainly learning to step down out of the advocacy role and make them do it for themselves. That's quite a deal when you've been a warrior mom for so many many years.
  11. hearts and roses

    hearts and roses Mind Reader

    I have to echo what Witz and Hound have said.

    I know that feeling you describe, something is missing, not quite what comes next for you.

    This is your time. Part of what you've worked so hard for all these years was to help your difficult child develop an ability to advocate for him/herself and be motivated to make something of their lives. At a certain point, it truly is up to them to take the reins of their own life and future...and then you a able to turn the focus onto yourself. For me, I went back to college, I took up crocheting, I had to relearn how to spend time alone with H again (which honestly was difficult).

    Your relationship with your child(red) will evolve as they begin to make and live with their own choices and you with yours. I'm very close with both my girls but each in a different way. I think with difficult child, we know one another better, understand and accept one another better. With easy child, there are conditions on our relationship. She has higher expectations of me as a mom and a friend and she tends to think she is perfect a lot of the time. difficult child can acknowledge when she is wrong much more easily nowadays whereas easy child, not so much, lol. But you evolve as a parent and learn to accept them as they are and not allow them to be the center of your world, which after 18-22 years is quite refreshing.

    Initially I think mine were so surprised that I had created a social life for myself...that I met my BFF for coffee or went out for dinner with another friend. When H and I are headed out for an evening, we sometimes will toy with the idea of asking one or both girls to join us but then usually decide, "Nah" and enjoy the moments on our own.

    Take your time about building this new life for yourself. Reflect on what you enjoyed before difficult child and see if you're still interested. Think about something you've always been interested in but never had time...check it out. Eventually, you will learn to love the freedom that comes with being an adult without the constraints of parenting!
  12. Nomad

    Nomad Guest

    I went through all sorts of HARD stages. There was, and at times...still is... a big sense of loss and a sense of grief. But those times are very limited now. Our difficult child is still in our life...but at a DISTANCE. She has a good heart. I have largely, if not completely, detached. We have set boundaries and keep them.

    What has life been like? It has been good. I always wanted to get a graduate degree, and I did! A handful of my closest friends went to the graduation and one of them cooked a big dinner for all of us. I have done other interesting and fun things as well. I am more relaxed and it is getting better every day. And I have also learned to set boundaries and limits...a very important/crucial/difficult life lesson. I'm stronger, happier, wiser and grateful for all of my genuine and kind friends and all of the positive and good experiences I have been able to enjoy. :) Sending good thoughts your way.
  13. recoveringenabler

    recoveringenabler Well-Known Member Staff Member

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful responses, I appreciate it and they're all very helpful. I had my therapist lead codependency support group last night and I talked about this issue of the 'post difficult child time.' I thought it interesting that the therapist said, "now the REAL work begins." I have to say, I bristled at that given all the hard work that I've done going through the detaching and accepting phases, but I kept an open mind to her and listened to what was said.

    It makes sense to me that after years, or decades of waiting for the other shoe to drop, walking on eggshells, being on high alert, holding the never ending vigil, one doesn't just drop that overnight. I am in the midst of all of that, I have times where I don't think of her and times when I feel real sadness of how her life has turned out. I think, as Nomad said, the grief and loss diminish over time and become less, I can already feel that happening day by day. I don't want to bury the feelings so they surface in other weird ways, I want to express them and walk through them to the other side. And, my role as caregiver, rescuer, enabler, whatever you want to call what I was, is over now. It's kind of like a retirement from a full time job! I have time, I have energy, and I have ideas, I'm just not in a position right now to act on anything. Feels a bit like that hallway I've heard mentioned in groups, where you close one door and before another opens, you're in that long hallway of options.

    I've set good, strong boundaries with my difficult child. I've detached as much as I can and accepted the simple truth of just what is. I think in that acceptance is where the grief is too, the knowledge that there isn't anything I can really do about it, whatever my daughter does from this point on is ALL up to her. I have no more part in it. I am training my brain to just not go down those paths it's so used to speeding along on. The care of her is up to her, I am OUT of the loop now. It's not only external time that I have more of, but my thoughts, so used to being about her, are now being programed into different realms. So, in addition to the obvious changes, much goes on internally to refocus my attention. I read once that "what you focus on expands" and I was hyper-focused on my difficult child and those thoughts sure did expand! So, now my focus is on me, granddaughter, SO, where to go from here, travel, just the day to day stuff of life.

    I also had that weird episode on Sunday with the overdose of Albuterol in the woods which left me with a sense of the fragility of life. Then the Colorado tragedy, which involves a kid likely suffering from a mental illness (like so many in my family, including my daughter) and the sense of not only the fragility but the preciousness of life looms large for me right now. I'm reading the book, The Power of Now, which is wonderful and speaks to staying in the present moment, not the past, not the future, right here now. That practice is helping me a lot right now.

    I appreciate what you said Nomad, "all sorts of hard stages." I understand that better today. This is a whole new landscape, not simply let go and then there's peace and singing show tunes, but a transition of rather epic proportions, something I hadn't really anticipated, but am clearly in the middle of right now.

    SO, granddaughter and I are heading out to Kauai on Tuesday, it ends up being really perfect timing to just relax and BE. It should be a fun experience for all of us and I'm so looking forward to it.

    It's a process. It took awhile for me to get into the difficult child game of life and it may take a little while to get out of it too. It's also healing my own codependency, not just in relationship to my difficult child, but my relationship to life in general and the changes now of acceptance of self, love of self, redefining self care and what selfishness really is.

    I'm still interested in your thoughts, memories, how it all looked to you and what your 'bumps' along the way were, your experience is helpful and reassuring to me. Thanks for your support, as always, I am so grateful to all of you.......