Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The pain when children fly the nest

There's an interesting article from New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik over on the BBC website, about kids leaving home. He ponders:

'What I wonder about is why we love our children so asymmetrically, so entirely, knowing that the very best we can hope for is that they will feel about us as we feel about our own parents: that slightly aggrieved mixture of affection, pity, tolerance and forgiveness, with a final soupcon - if we live long enough - of sorrow for our falling away, stumbling and shattered, from the vigour that once was ours.'

Very familiar!

Why is this?

Parental love, I think, is infinite. I mean this in the most prosaic possible way. Not infinitely good, or infinitely ennobling, or infinitely beautiful. Just infinite. Often, infinitely boring. Occasionally, infinitely exasperating. To other people, always infinitely dull - unless, of course, it involves their own children, when it becomes infinitely necessary.
The parental emotion is as simple as a learning to count and as strange as discovering that the series of numbers, the counting, never ends. Our children seem, at least, to travel for light years. We think their suitcases contain the cosmos. Though our story is ending, their story, we choose to think - we can't think otherwise - will go on forever.

When we have children, we introduce infinities into all of our emotional equations. Nothing ever adds up quite the same again. 

It's a lovely and honest piece. I have a good few years left before my own pack their suitcases, and I think it will be the biggest adaptation I've had to make in my life… probably bigger than having children in the first place. But I wouldn't say I'm 100% dreading it… I imagine it won't be an end, it will just be a big change. I think I'll judge whether I've been a success as a Dad largely on whether the relationship with my boys survives and grows, e.g. still meeting up regularly for a pint and the football, much as Dads I admire tend to do. I also realise that's a big ask, as it relies not only on how they change, but how I change as well.

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