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When children fly the coop

When children fly the coop

an extract from Tania Steyn’s Story

Our 19 year old son recently left home for a career in the army. He had always wanted to enrol since as long as we can remember. Even though we were aware of his looming Australian enlistment, we were unprepared for the long goodbye and the gaping hole his absence left. We realised that it wouldn’t be long before our daughter too left school and spread her wings.

I have always been an avid reader, daily devouring countless blogs, posts, newspapers, magazines and books. I was fascinated to find little reference to the experiences of other parents in similar situations, and it seldom seemed to be a topic of conversation in our social circle. I found that although I accepted the significance of this developmental phase to adulthood, my heart wasn’t adequately prepared for the pain of child separation.

When I left home as a teenager I was so focused and excited about life’s adventures that I never for a moment considered the possibility that my parents might be concerned about my future, or grieve my moving away. As a young girl I didn’t dwell on compulsory military training for boys, and thought that they looked rather dapper in their army uniforms.

Following my son’s departure, I realised what every mother in South Africa must have been through. Talking to my husband and spending time with friends over countless barbeques didn’t alleviate my sorrow, but merely gave me a more realistic glimpse of life in the army as such.

A new perspective on our collective experiences as parents dawned on me. We are born, grow up, fall in love, have children of our own, raise them with as much love and wisdom possible and then, as is natural, allow them to find their own way.

The separation seems more gradual when a child stays at home while studying or working. Everyone involved then has time to adjust to the new balance of the parent-child relationship and to prepare for the transition.

Putting events into perspective, I know now how tough our migration must have been for our families. My husband and I were almost 40 when we decided to move to Australia. We left behind our parents, brothers and sisters, extended families and friends, as all of migrating families generally do, to pursue our dreams of a better life in another country.

We spent time thinking about the move and the impact thereof on those we hold dear, but being focused on the future and everything that needed to be done, we again didn’t fully comprehend the feeling of loss our parents endured. Adrenalin helped us face the enormity of the task at hand. Reality only kicked in after the relocation was complete and things quietened down. Then, for us, the grieving process commenced.

Everybody is likely to experience the migration process differently – some people take it in their stride, while others spend years on an emotional roller coaster before they feel happy and content in their adoptive country.

If your children are still living at home, try somehow to prepare for the day when they will leave as ‘empty nest syndrome’ is part of the journey of all our lives. Instil on your children that they are unconditionally loved and always welcome back home.

Tania Steyn and her family moved from Pretoria to Melbourne in 2008. She combines her background in occupational therapy, career development and counselling to help others through immigration, midlife, and on how to become mindful. For more information, have a look at her website:


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