February 6, 2008

Adjusting To The "Empty Nest"

"There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings."

That quote by Hodding Carter served as my guide during my children's formative years. Parenting was hard yet rewarding work. Each developmental stage had its challenges and its joys. Today I find myself in the phase of parenting known as "the empty nest."

I knew that one day my children would fly away. I realized I would need to find ways to occupy my time when my children no longer needed a mommy. Through the years I made it a priority to have hobbies and interests apart from my children. I wasn't always able to indulge in them like I wanted to, due to lack of time and money. But I knew that one day, when the children were grown and on their own, I would be able to invest as much time and energy into my hobbies as I wanted to.During my daughter's senior year of high school, when she began the college application process, I felt compelled to pursue the graduate degree in counseling I had always dreamed of. That August, when my oldest child went away to college, I began graduate school. The time that used to be devoted to mothering my daughter was now filled with attending classes, reading and writing research papers.

The house was quieter and much cleaner "" my daughter had always left a trail of clothes, shoes and jewelry throughout the house "" but I still had one child under the roof. I convinced myself that the empty nest syndrome was a myth.

Last fall my second child left for college. The house was much quieter than I anticipated it would be. Even the family dog noticed things were different. She would sit by the front door for hours waiting for my son to come home. I was keeping myself busy with work and hobbies, yet moments of sadness would come over me and I would find myself sitting in their rooms, sobbing, remembering happier times.

I needed something to help me feel like I was still a part of their lives, yet I didn't want to be intrusive. A large portion of my workday is spent on my computer, researching and writing, so I suggested to my children that they occasionally instant-message me. I keep myself logged on to instant messenger through out the day, and it's always a pleasant surprise when a message pops up from one of my children. We may chat for only a few minutes, but it's been a great way for them to check in with me and a way for me to still feel connected to them.

As the weeks went by, I became more accustomed to the silence, and the feelings of sadness slowly began to dissipate. The dog moved from her perch by the front door to a chair near my work space. I noticed I wasn't going into their rooms as often. Instead of crying about the children they once were, I was smiling at the adults they had become. I could look in the mirror and tell myself that I had done a great job raising two independent young people.

My daughter is 22 and my son is 19. They’re spreading their wings to fly. It’s bittersweet for me. I adored them as babies. I struggled with them as teenagers. I’m proud of who they are. My role as a parent is changing but I am enjoying the adult relationships we are creating. My nest is not empty. The contents have simply changed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a soon to be father (5 wks). I don’t know what it is like yet to have children for several years in your home, and then all of a sudden have an empty home. I can understand were all of a sudden there is a lot of extra time. I can also understand were it could end up being lonely. I wonder in these satiations why people don’t take a few minutes to become involved and share their experiences with new and soon to be parents? It seems like not only a great way to add something else to your life but to somebody else’s as well.

My wife and I are apart of a number of online communities which to some extent encourage this type of interaction. Our favorite right now is OurBabySteps.com. We just have a lot of questions about what to expect, and how to handle it. For us, with no experience, its great to have people to learn from. It also seems to me like a great way share, remember, and fill extra time.