Two years ago we lost our family dog Bruno to old age. People sometimes ask my husband and me if and when we’re getting another dog. Honestly, I’m not sure I could go through that kind of loss again. Looking back, however, I can say it was worth the pain of losing him to have had those 14 years with Bruno as part of the family. This year, I’m faced with a different kind of loss, but it begs a similar question: Would we do it all again, knowing the pain we feel when our kids grow up and leave?
All three of my kids were born within less than four years. Our lives were a crazy flurry of landmark occasions: first solid food, first steps, christenings, potty independence, first day of school, one event after another after another. At some point, everyone could feed and bathe themselves, and we found our family groove. Fabulous! But just when I thought we had it all figured out, here we go again: college testing, applications, financial aid forms, campus visits, one after another after another.
Now here we are. More than 22 years since that first labor pain and our oldest daughter has graduated from college and is moving to the West Coast. My second daughter has spent the summer living and working near campus three hours from home. My son is leaving for his freshman year of college in a couple of weeks. Even though I have gotten used to not seeing everyone all the time, this seems different. Watching my daughter and her boyfriend plan their journey from Ohio to California, I am struck by the realization that she really won’t live here anymore. It hurts, and it’s going to happen again: one after another after another. This thought leads me to another question: Why do we have kids in the first place?
Once, after a particularly stressful day when I was trying to schedule more than I could possibly do, my husband sat down next to me and said, “Try to remember that they’re just passing through.” At the time, I thought he was being cold and maybe just a little jealous that I had so little time for him. The thing is, he was right, and not only was he right, it happened really fast. We work so hard to get our children to adulthood. Our lives revolve around our responsibility as parents, and we do it all so that they will be able to leave. So why do we put ourselves through it? Do the rewards really outweigh the financial and emotional costs? So here’s my last question: Would we be happier if we had never had children?
What if I had spent these last 22 years without children: working, traveling, hanging out with friends, exercising regularly, spending money on myself, etc.? I know one thing. I would not be feeling the pain I do now as I watch them leave. What I don’t know is if I would be feeling the pain of regret for never having had them. So maybe this is the part where I’m supposed to talk about how nothing is worth giving up the first time you hear “mommy” or the pride of watching your child graduate with honors. To be honest, I’m not really sure. One thing I am sure of is that I love my children endlessly and with every part of me. That’s what makes this so hard.
Would I do it again? Ask me again next summer.