My daughter has left home before. She went to live in Sweden 18 months ago and has never looked back. She has fully embraced the hygge inducing Scandi lifestyle.
To say it was difficult when she left is a complete understatement. I felt bereft. Devastated. In mourning for the joyous life I had shared with my only daughter that had now come to an end. We had her when we were young, she has been with us forever, it seems. While a new and thrilling chapter was opening up before her, one was closing on me.
But I learned to cope. As we do. She lives in a very safe environment, has made some brilliant, loving friends, has a great job and, only being a 2hr plane ride away, we see each other every chance we can get. We talk on the phone lots. Skype is a godsend.
She is enjoying a life of fikka (coffee, cake and a chat – every day), crispbread, crazy warehouse parties, wandering in deep woods and learning a new language. She wants to stay forever and I don’t blame her, Sweden is an amazing country. They just seem to get life ‘right’.
I had just made peace with the fact that she probably won’t live in the UK again, when she told me she was going travelling. For 6 months.
She came back home to the UK for a week’s visit to say goodbye before flying off to Thailand. She asked her dad to help cut off her dreadlocks the night before she left, ceremoniously clipping them off and casting them away: a new woman was emerging. She was looking for change, growth and new experience. She shaved her head and rocks the new look with huge earrings. I admire her bravery and ability to change a part of her identity so quickly and drastically without hardly batting an eyelid. As I watched in wonder, soaking up the last minutes with this gutsy, spirited being I had created, I swallowed the ever-growing lump in my throat and kept back the tears. And I kept a dreadlock. Don’t judge me.
I should feel ok with her travelling. She lives away: she is independent and knows how to look after herself. What have I got to worry about? I’ll tell you…snakes, tropical diseases, predatory men, drowning in the sea, drink spiking, terrible food poising, falling out with friends and being left alone, falling coconuts, losing her passport and wallet, sharks, poisonous spiders, coming off a moped, train crashes, plane crashes…you get my drift. I think I need help.
We are very close, she keeps in touch and she wants to share her adventures with us. She frequently texts recalling tales of 5.30 am yoga classes on the beach, cacao ceremonies, cockroaches and lizards in the bamboo hut on the beach she is sharing with her travelling companions, midnight swims with bioluminescent plankton, dancing round fires with didgeridoo playing men wearing sequined skin-tight onesies, partying on the beach until the sun rises. She has only been away three weeks and has had so many life changing experiences already that I am sure she will be a brand-new woman when she returns home. A woman that has blossomed, discovered herself and embraced life to its fullest. To be honest, I am rather envious.
So, if your precious, not-so-little-anymore, ones are about to take off here’s my guide to coping.
- Research – I found that after Googling and YouTubing the countries she was going to I was much placated. Just knowing what the places look like provides a sense of familiarity and makes the distance seem a little less vast. Plus, it’s nice to get excited about where they are.
- Get involved with their preparations as much as possible before they go (without bordering on becoming a ‘smother’, of course. I know, it’s a fine line!) We bought Amelia the backpack of her choosing – it is a comfort to know that she has something sturdy and strong to keep her possessions in: her home is on her back for 6 months. We also got her a torch, bug repellent etc. Stuff that she needed and simultaneously made me feel useful in fulfilling my mum duties.
- Arrange a specific time to keep in touch – We asked our daughter to send us a text every Friday if she can, that way, we would be able to remain calm throughout the week, knowing that we would hear from her soon. We would also know when to worry if we hadn’t heard from her by the designated day. So far, everywhere she has been there has been WIFI and we have had texts and photos almost daily.
- Know that they will make friends – I was very relieved when she told me she was travelling in a group of 4. However, they are now a group of 5 after hooking up with a girl that was travelling alone (the lord only knows how her parents must be coping!!). They have made lots of friends from all over the world. So, if your child is off on their own, remember that the travelling community is a very friendly one, and everyone wants to have a great experience. They will look out for each other.
- Don’t panic – if you receive a phone call from them in the middle of the night, like we did yesterday at 3am. I shot bolt upright when my mobile rang: in a split-second panic exploded though my veins like a lightning bolt and crazy thoughts of disasters rushed through my head. When I answered the phone she laughed and apologised for calling me at such an unearthly hour from her hammock overlooking the beach with a hangover. She had forgotten the time difference.
- Be realistic – I need to keep reminding myself to do this. Yes, terrible things can happen, but they can happen anywhere. Thousands and thousands of young people go travelling every year, and all come back relatively unscathed.
- Download snapchat or another app that shows their location. Even if they are not getting in touch directly with you, you can still see where in the world they are.
- Remember – the first day is the worst. Saying goodbye is emotionally exhausting. Everyday it gets a little easier and you get used to them not being around. I promise.
- Arrange to meet up if you can, we are planning on meeting her at the end of her trip in Sri Lanka or India. We get to be excited about a trip and have a part of the experience with her.
- Congratulate yourself for making such an amazing, brave human and giving them wings to fly, and look forward to them coming home with countless tales of the most amazing adventures.
Captures by Jeffrey Mackintosh