To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour. A robin redbreast in a cage Puts all heaven in a rage. - William Blake
I was feeling sad myself this week as our summer inhabitant/Office administrator left to go back to school. Gabe, #6 and baby of the clan came home for the first time since he left for college three years ago, to work a “real” job for our business. It was a win-win for us because we hadn’t accomplished much in the line of paperwork organization since our beloved Hannah had to stay in California when we moved.
Yes, three years ago we watched #6 fly the coop and we flew shortly after. Son #1 is now the master of the home we raised our children in so he is the one that gets the returning siblings for holidays, events and a warm place to land, making our empty nest syndrome a different challenge altogether.
Moms and Dads all over the world are saying goodbye to their kids as they start out on journeys of their own. The empty nest syndrome is alive and flourishing, and like other syndromes, until you come down with a big case of your own, you may not understand the effect it has on you today, and in the future. It really never goes away. But it can be managed.
The definition of a syndrome is this: A group of identifying signs and symptoms…
Empty nest syndrome according to Wikipedia is: a feeling of grief and loneliness parents or guardians may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.
As I’m writing this, Hannah, our fore mentioned Office Manager, is celebrating the birth of her second son. It was announced in a mass text. I ended up in a conversation with her aunt, a recipient of the same announcement. She was in a bittersweet place; celebrating the birth of her newest nephew at the same time her only child is off to college. The bitter-sweetness was not lost on me.
One only says so much in a text, especially a group text, but I was thinking how much I’d love to wrap my arms around Hannah and tell her to savor the moment; remember back to when she was holding her little cousin for the very first time. Have not the years between then and the day of this son’s birth gone by far too quickly? Is there any way to help new mothers understand the preciousness of every single moment of their children’s lives?
They go away - yet they don’t. Most of the time they come home with laundry in hand and find their way to the fridge before making chaos of their old bedroom within seconds. Heaven forbid if we try to make the room into Dad’s man-cave, a craft room or a guest room.
For the weekend or holiday break, things seem back to normal. I catch myself prompting my returnees with their schedule, asking if they’ve done their laundry, and other little automatic “Mommy must do’s. In other words, I comfortably fall into my old routine of mothering. Then as they pack to leave, I’m hit smack over the head with a 2x4 with the knowledge that when they are away from me, they don’t need the mothering. That may not be 100% true. Let’s just say, if they need the mothering, I don’t know about it and the kid is still breathing and their socks may be rigid with dirt, but it’s a matter of “out of sight out of mind” at that point.
I try to remember that the formative years are just that. My job is to prepare the children for independent living and success. I’ve tried to keep in mind that “mothering” isn’t always the best thing to do while the kids are with me. Letting a kid fail at the small things in order to suffer some minor consequences enables the child to change their behaviors and learn responsibility. I know, I know, if you are a helicopter Mom, you must think I’m a loser. Let’s put it this way. Part of that training was not just for the child. It was for me too. Without the small increments of letting go, I could be the mom that the College Football coach is banning from the games because I didn’t get the memo that at the age of 18 my son is considered an adult and the coach is now his mentor, teacher, dad and god (little “g” intended.) Smothering a child while they are home is bad enough, but hovering when they are 18 or over says little about them and “TOO MUCH” about the parent.
Letting go of your child is a show of respect for the adult you helped to raise. Holding on is not about their inability to be that adult but the parents lack of confidence in the job they have done as teachers. That doesn’t mean you haven’t done your very best. It just means you have to believe you have and trust your child to the rest of the world. How easy is that? NOT!
Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_nest_syndrome) says it pretty simply:
Symptoms of empty nest syndrome can include depression, a sense of loss of purpose, feelings of rejection, or worry, stress, and anxiety over the child's welfare. Parents who experience empty nest syndrome often question whether or not they have adequately prepared their child to live independently.
I find it interesting that stay at home moms are said to experience the empty nest syndrome more than others. I guess that could be true as that has been our job and somewhat our identity. (I’ll touch on this in my “Stay at home Mom article later.) I don’t think it’s fair to categorize the effect of Empty Nest quite so specifically. I know plenty of Mom’s who were full-time workers that feel the effects as much if not more than I. There can be a feeling that they now have to grieve the time they could have had with their child if they had stayed at home; an extreme feeling, not balanced by the reality of the needed income in this society and the truth that they worked two jobs while raising their children. Raising children, despite the actions of many parents, is not a competition. You enter the life-cycle by bearing the children, feeding them, clothing them and setting life standards and values by your own actions, your words and for me a lot of prayer. Raising children is as individual as the parent and their own life story.
So is letting go. So is experiencing the heartbreak and sadness of packing up the room and setting up the dorm, apartment, or waving goodbye to the soldier. I congratulate Target, Wal-Mart and other big box stores for making the adventure a little fun. Buying matchy-matchy bedding and plastic drawers more than makes up for the stab of sadness as you hug your kid good-bye and drive back home to the empty nest, right?
It’s real. Its’ different for everyone and until you go through it, you haven’t a clue. Wiki says some people never experience it and feel a sense of relief and freedom. The key piece of information there is – they don’t feel it. Just because they don’t feel it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Good for you for feeling it. Recognizing it means you are a step closer to doing something with it. And just because you don’t feel relief and freedom at this moment doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
It’s time now to prepare the nest for the return visits of your adult. It’s time to do what your heart has always wanted you to do. Guilt is non-productive so move that out with the kids and say goodbye to it forever. The relationship between you and your kids is ongoing. They will always be a part of your life. They are not gone – it’s just different.
Remember to remember. When I left home, I would come back and spend more time visiting others than my parents. Holidays and family gatherings and the joy of being with my folks brought me home. I wanted to be in my old room and I wanted to base myself from that home. But I didn’t return to the child that preceded my independence – ever! Remember how important your friends were before you left home. Your children’s are too and they have had to disband most of their life-long circles of friends and it hurts. It will be a few years before those circles are diluted with new friends, spouses and children. When that happens, the family circle starts to reunite. Remember, you are the constant in their life, but they don’t need you to remain the same. Remember how you felt about your parents after you left. Watching my parents “having a life” after I left was important to me. Seeing active parents with lives of their own is a gift. It keeps the responsibility of your happiness off the shoulders and heart of your kids. Gift them with that.
And lastly, remember the image of holding sand in one’s palm. You can hold a lot more sand in an open palm than if you squeeze the sand with all your might. Hold your family in the palm of your hand. It is a gentle, freeing feeling. Grieve the loss, but celebrate the job you have done.
Today is still the first day of the rest of YOUR life as well as their’s.