Our children leaving for college caused change. It was the normal course of things and it was okay to feel confused, upset, and unsettled. We were a normal family.
By: Barbara Goldberg
Your stepkid is going to college. That was one way to get them out of the house. The best part was that they were leaving with no guilt attached. After all, this was the natural progression of life. Think of all the times we quietly dreaded that weekend transition when the stepkids moved in. The house was relatively quiet and then the tornado of offspring arrived. Your head was spinning as you adjusted to the clammer, noise and demands. Your spouse became a wimp who was so overjoyed with the arrival of the kids that he never saw the mess. He never heard any disparaging remarks that came from their mouths. He only felt his own joy.
When college came, they left one by one. The house became deathly quiet. Our youngest bio child complained that it was too quiet and he got too much of our attention. The transition to college life brought new challenges and opportunities to our divorced family. Surely, life would be changed.
“This will be great. We won’t have to communicate with the ex any more because the kids are grown.” Wrong.
Now, it was time to schedule parents’ weekends at each college, along with any other visitations. Prior to leaving, college payment negotiations had to happen and those discussions were never easy. Once the first child went to college, the pain lessened each time because there was a process in place. I watched the kids say very little but it had to be a frightening time. They were excited to be going to school, but I knew they feared the arguments between their parents. I felt bad for them. Helpless.
“Great! Now that we know how college is being paid, we’re good! Now, we don’t have to talk with the ex.” Wrong.
Guess what? Things continued to come up. Kids were asking for expenses that you could not anticipate. Spring break. Joining a sorority. A car. A new cell phone. Each request dictated another conversation between the bio-parents. College life looked a lot like when the kids were young. The only difference was that the requests were more expensive, which caused more emotion. Where do the kids stay when they come home for weekends or college breaks? Now, the kids had to make these decisions and created a college break calendars. You harbored fears that they would never come back.
“Hey! Child support has ended or lessened. We will be in better financial shape.” Wrong.
See paragraph above.
The bottom line was that college was another transition that created another cataclysmic event in our lives. College was change, which triggered a trip to insecurity land. Change shook egos to the core. It challenged your place in the world and released doubts and fears. Bio-parents secured their positions and wallowed in thoughts like:
“Will my child call me? Visit me?”
“Will my child call or visit me more than the other bio-parent?”
“Do they love me more than the other bio-parent?
“Will they stay with me on breaks?”
The kids were thinking:
“I just want to get away from all of this.”
“I love my parents, but this is a pain.”
And so it goes. Once the fear took over, irrational decisions often followed. We were back to the beginning. Disappointment loomed. When was this going to end?
I realized the ultimate answer. We were a normal family. Change was the normal course of things and it was okay to feel confused, upset, and unsettled. We were acting like humans. Our children leaving for college triggered that part of our brains called the lizard or reptilian brain. This brain center houses the lack and attack portion of our brain. Lizard brains were especially useful in caveman times when a lion was about to attack. It is still useful today. Have you ever gotten that creepy feeling when something doesn’t feel right?
Our lizard brains get triggered by events that look unfamiliar and, therefore, unsafe. Our children leaving for college signaled a feeling of lack. “Will the kids still love me?” The normal reaction is to attack. The better reaction is to realize that the lizard has been activated. Talk to your lizard brain and tell it to calm down. Dr. Martha Beck advises that you actually name your lizard brain so you can talk directly to it. This method of giving your lizard brain a name actually gives you some distance and you become a watcher rather than a participant in the drama.
Our stepfamily status exaggerated what we were all truly feeling and sent our lizard brains into orbit. All of us hated to see our children go. Mom, Dad and Stepmom missed the turmoil and we missed the laughter. Both households hated the new calmer routine where rooms were clean and dishes were washed. We were lonely and wanted the old days back. On this point, we all agreed.
About the Author:
Barbara Goldberg is a life coach who dedicates her practice to step families. “The Evil Stepmother Speaks” is the home for practical advice for step families who want to Love and Laugh. She has been a stepmother to 3 children who are now grown and one biological child. You can find classes and coach at her website. Tweet her at @StepMomSpeaks.