Grace, centre, with two of her children. Mira, 18, right, just moved out of the family home and into a student dorm for her first year of university.
Back to school can be an exciting yet troubling time for all. New and returning students suddenly have a lot to manage, but what about the families who go through a major life change as a result? We spoke to Grace, a single mom from Vaughan, Ontario who helped her eldest move out at the beginning of this month.
1. Get a soundproof room and scream it out (physically or metaphorically)
Grace states simply:
“I’m dealing with loss. My daughter doesn’t live with me anymore.”
This feeling of loss causes a roller coaster of emotions. It’s important to recognize this, and forgive ourselves when we have a hard time managing.
Grace, who works full-time in SEIU Healthcare’s organizing department, used to manage her household of 4 with the help of 18-year-old Mira. Now that Mira’s moved out for university, she is adjusting to the reality of being a single mom without another adult in the house. Plus, the other kids are also dealing with the recent change.
“It’s okay to scream and shout at each other once in a while. Then sit and hug it out. You’re not a bad mom if you do that.” Grace also recommends a few sessions with a punching bag at your local gym.
2. Ask for help
Parents may suddenly find themselves with a lot more work once an older child moves out. Putting aside one’s pride and reaching out for help can be one of the smartest things to do for good mental health during a life change.
“The best advice I got was to lean on people and allow them to help me because I was not created to do everything on my own,” says Grace.
She gave the example of asking her neighbours to help take care of the younger kids when Grace had to go to work and Mira to a job interview, just before school started up again. They spent the day with the neighbouring family, happily swimming and playing.
“I felt so safe knowing there was a security net.”
3. Go with the flow
When school starts and the family unit changes, there is a lot going at once and it is difficult to process it all in a calm manner.
Grace recommends taking it easy and trying to not let things get on your nerves at home, for example around cleanliness, while everyone adjusts to the new living situation.
Perhaps things that normally are considered important for running the household can be temporarily downgraded in the name of sanity.
4. Focus on new routines
That being said, with a new living situation generally comes a need to develop new routines. Grace says that focusing on this has really helped her feel grounded while dealing with her sense of loss.
She has made time to bond more with the other kids, and looks for new ways to do things at home. Her youngest, 5, now helps tidy up after he plays, for instance. Her 13-year-old helps make lunches at night.
5. Keep in touch
When someone moves out after many years together, the whole household faces the change and each person deals in their own way. Keeping in touch using modern technology is a good way to figure out how to manage the new relationships that will emerge after a young adult moves away for school.
Even though the sense of loss is there, there is also opportunity. Grace points out that Mira and her 13-year-old daughter used to fight a lot at home. “Now, they miss each other,” she says.
Collectively, using some of these tricks and pointers, the family will adjust to the new way they do things—just as all new students must create new ways of doing things for themselves.