Empty Nest

As of this Thursday afternoon, my nest will be empty.  My youngest heads off to the dorms to begin her freshman year of college, while my oldest moved to Seattle last month.  I suppose it’s logical that this is a time to reflect upon the parenting I’ve done in the last 22 years.

I feel fortunate that my husband and I have had excellent relationships with our kids.  Every time someone has wanted to commiserate with me on the difficulties of raising teenagers, I haven’t been able to reciprocate.  I thoroughly enjoyed my kids’ teenage years.  There was no door-slamming, no yelling, no tears as a result of conflicts at home.  The kids’ rooms were disaster areas, but I really didn’t mind.  There was some foot-dragging about household chores, but they got done without fighting and only a soupçon of attitude.

One theme I’ve heard from my peers has been a general sense that their children haven’t given them the respect they owe them, haven’t demonstrated love and concern the way they were expected to.  I have generally listened sympathetically and thanked my lucky stars.  But I’ve thought more deeply about that, simply because, as I lose my kids’ constant presence, I’ve thought more deeply about what their presence has meant to me.  I’ve come to appreciate even more what their love and respect have meant.

The more I thought about that, the more I realized I didn’t really “expect” these things.  I mean, I guess I did—I certainly hoped for them—but I didn’t think about them much, about what I expected love and respect to look like.  And I realize that perhaps that is why I appreciate them so much.  They have felt more like gifts freely given than like something paid because they are owed.

When someone tells me “Give me this,” I often give it, but then it isn’t a gift; it’s an obligation.  There is considerably less joy in the giving.  For me, there would be less joy in the receiving under those circumstances, which is, I suppose, why I demand very little from those I love, yet seem to receive in abundance.  Or perhaps I truly am just very lucky, and because they have been freely given, I have never had to ask.  That is a distinct possibility.

I know there is a danger of seeming self-congratulatory here.  That isn’t my intent.  Really, it’s just to float the possibility to other parents that, the less tightly they dictate what love and respect must look like, the more likely they are to see them in places they had previously missed.  Perhaps they won’t come in all the forms you want, but you will appreciate the ways they are shown because they are gifts, not payment due.

I know empty-nesters who are incredibly glad to see the kids and the conflict go.  They love their kids, no question, but they don’t miss the conflict.  I don’t envy them the overall experience, but I can tell you, having kids you get along with leave is just about the most bitter-sweet experience out there.  Every time I think (selfishly) how much I don’t want them to go, I remember how very much I want them to be happy, to find their passion, to live their lives, and they’re doing it, and it’s so exciting.  But I cry a lot anyway.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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7 Responses to Empty Nest

  1. Kristi says:

    I am another who is so incredibly fortunate to have a child who is thoughtful, caring and respectful to her parents as well as to those outside our family. It’s hard to let them go but since there isn’t the conflict and the animosity, we get to live those “getting started” years again through their eyes. And it’s okay to cry anyway. 🙂

  2. We had both kinds of kids, but leaving was always understood. They either went to college or work but they weren’t just hanging around home. The confrontations ended and all three are reasonably happy in their lives and taking decent care of themselves. It’s how it’s supposed to be, they need to become adults and we need to let them.

  3. JohnSherck says:

    I think you’re making an important point when you note that demanding something necessarily changes the character of the interaction. If you have to demand respect–much less love–it seems like you’re unlikely to receive exactly what you thought you wanted. You *might* get compliance and something that has similarities to respect or love, but it’s not going to be what you want.

    As parents, maybe we inevitably have to fall back at some points to “Because I’m your parent and I say so,” but it’s far from ideal (I’m excepting my wife and I, because our children are 3 1/2 and 1 1/2: we have to rely on “because I said so” more often because our girls aren’t even close to being reasonable creatures!).

    All of this applies to being a teacher, too. Demanding respect will generally get you bare compliance; earning respect by who you are and how you interact with your students is something quite different. Similarly, the more that students understand the logic behind rules, procedures, decisions, etc, the more likely they are–I think–to buy in. Assuming, of course, that there are good reasons behind them–but if there isn’t, then why are we as adults ready to die on the ramparts for those decisions or rules or procedures?

    • admin says:

      I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of the parallels to teaching, but you’re right. I explain the reasons behind every rule or top-down decision. The kids (my own and my students) may disagree, and I may pull rank and say “Because I said so,” rather than arguing what is, ultimately, an argument they are making out of immaturity or a lack of experience, but I always explain why. I want to model thinking for the kids I interact with, so they can make good choices when I’m not there telling them what to do.

  4. Daelyn Larché-Sigman says:

    I find being an empty-nester quite lonely. I miss my kids terribly. I know my situation is slightly different that most, since my 17 year old lost his 3 yr battle with cancer and a month later my 19 yr old went on to live his life an hour away, but still, it’s an empty nest and I am still adjusting. I know there ARE those who rejoice and think, “Whooo hoooo! We can go out to play anytime we want now!” But, my play time comes when my son makes his weekly trips home on Friday night. It doesn’t matter if I get to see him for 5 minutes or 5 hours, my heart is full again. Of course, I prefer the 5 hours.

    • admin says:

      Oh, Daelyn, your situation is so different than mine. While you’re dealing with the mixed feelings of a kid launched into the world the way he’s supposed to be, you’re also having to cope with such different grief for Austin. You are often in my thoughts.

      By the way, I saw you in The Reformers. Good for you speaking truth to power! And may you have continued success with Rollin’ Dreams.

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