The Empty Nest Syndrome
I totally “get” the empty nest syndrome – at least what it is and that I am moving into that season of life where my children are grown and relatively independent. But, I was not prepared for some of the feelings and issues that come with it! I really see things differently now that my daughter has one foot out the door with all of her stuff packed to move on her wedding day, and my son has a quiet-but-not-quite-empty bedroom.
My kids are experiencing all kinds of new beginnings with accompanying adjustments as their lives as adults are starting in earnest. But, I have begun the long-letting-go. There is an unexpected sense of grief even though I am happy at the same time. There also are lots of things no one ever tells you about becoming a parent of adult children. I guess I didn’t think about it because I have been there, though on the other side of things with my own parents!
One of those things is how confusing the shifting of roles can be – how often should I call, text or email? Should I look at their facebook, twitter or instagram accounts just to stay connected and informed with the day-to-day of their activities? After all, I have gone from making the meals, buying the deodorant, keeping the schedules and washing the clothes to wondering if they are eating or sleeping at all. Obviously I’ve been excited to see my kids strike out on their own. But, I’ve also been grieving over the reduction of my own role in their lives. So, I am working hard to hang back and let my kids make the first moves when it comes to communication. This is not easy. I love talking to them, looking in their eyes and hearing their voice even if it is only a few words.
Another thing that I am now realizing too late is how hard the absence of one child is on the siblings. Having a child go off to college changes the whole family dynamic (especially when dad is gone). Clayton used to feel it when Em was living in the dorm; when she came home on the weekends she was so busy with her friends that we never saw her. Now Emily feels the empty house and, since both eat at school, I have no one to cook for or eat with. I think my loneliness for family shows up most at mealtimes. I miss the community that comes with a shared meal and I am sad that it is never going to be the same again!
Also, I wish I had pushed harder to get some of the time we were all in the house together instead of allowing them the freedom to hang with their friends so much. Now I did realize that family time was precious and would soon become rare but I still wish I had managed that time differently now that I feel the emotions I feel. After all, the quiet company and support of loved ones make up the foundation on which any child’s future rests.
I have always known how important time with the family unit really is, but I now feel this sense of hurry as I think of all the things I want to do and share with Emily before she leaves to be married and all the things Clayton needs to know to be a kind, responsible adult. I’ve always had this magical image of the type of parent I wanted to be, but I never quite lived up to it. Jim was better at that more naturally than I. Nothing about parenting ever happens in a predictable fashion or as I imagined it — but nothing in life does either!
Bottom line is that my identity is defined by the various roles I play in life. The larger and more meaningful the role is, the more significance that role has in defining identity. I grieved the loss of being a wife, a minister, and a college professor. Even though the most defining role of my adult life was that of a wife, arguably, there are no other roles more important, time consuming, or meaningful than that of a parent. After Jim died I focused so much on the role of mom because I wanted so much to help my kids know their identity as part of our family. In doing so, however, I was blindsided by the empty nest.
The parenting role has become another loss to grieve that challenges my sense of identity. I always knew this phase would be hard. But I guess I never knew it would be this hard. A chapter has ended but another has begun. Life feels like a mystery novel since I have no idea how the chapter will read and I had not thought through how it would be without Jim. I was working so hard on keeping our family together after he died that this became a major plot twist!
So what I have learned as I have faced other losses is that life does not get better by “getting used to it”. I learned it is essential to “replace” or refocus those losses in life. So I refocused after Jim’s death on parenting and now I need to refocus again. Just not sure how that will look. Here I go again! 🙂