The kids are gone. The house is empty. Their rooms are neat and tidy. “Face your fears.” How many times have we heard that truism? We even say it to ourselves. Who knew that an empty nest would be lined with fears?
Our role totally changes, from busy mom, making sure school work is done, lunches packed, homework in the back pack, kids at soccer, swimming, dance, basketball all on time and uniform to an empty house and a schedule no longer ruled by the school calendar. Noise, perpetual noise, sleepovers, clothes -- mountains of clothes to wash, and dry and fold and put away are gone. We are now child free, the nest is empty. They graduated and have moved into their own life space. The idea of having time to ourselves, while longed for is not necessarily altogether welcomed when it materializes.
We have thought about this time, dreamed about it, and wished for it to happen. But, we are not always ready when it happens. We worry if the children are ready to leave. Did we do enough to prepare them? We need time to practice this empty nest thing before we get thrown into the deep end of a blank calendar! No practice runs are offered.
The thought of an empty home, just husband and me, of now planning life around us, rather than them, is a new one, what do we do?
Where are the experts to tell us what to do? We want this transition to be successful, but it is so scary! We clean the house and it stays cleaned, who knew? We even feel guilty not thinking about the kids before we make a decision, if we go to coffee, if we delay grocery shopping for a day, if we let the laundry pile up (how much of pile does 2 towels and 2 sets of underwear make?) it will not affect them in the slightest. That is a novel thought.
A positive transition begins when we start to reconcile with that novel thought, we are progressing until every fear and every objection screams back:
- “I’m not ready!”
- “I don’t think I can do this.”
- “I don’t want to do this.”
- “What if the kids need me?”
- “If I tell people I’m going struggling with this, they’ll laugh at me.”
- “What if I’m the only one struggling or doubting my ability to do this?”
We do know we have no choice over the circumstance. There is no "time do over," we cannot make the kids 6 and 7 again. A new parenting phase has arrived and unwrapped itself on our door step, like it or not. We either win this internal battle, or we lose it. The only choice we have is how we adjust to the situation. In the flurry of end of school details, the examinations, the graduations, the parties we somehow did not get to this point in our planning process. We begin to process it.
We ask, “what if”?
… What if I might enjoy this phase?
… What if I actually do take those extra classes and finish my doctorate, learn photography?
… What if parents do morph into people? Moms and dads back into lovers?
… What if the wings the kids have sprouted actually do hold and they do fly?
… What if all this is a new phase of life opportunity? And I miss it?
… What if I don’t reconcile to this situation?
What if we turn into hover mom living in the past, missing the present and future, our present, our future, well ours, it includes the husband. We might drift through the experience, being banged and bruised against the parameters of our willingness to adjust.
Conversely, what if we make a decision, and decide to BELIEVE that this natural life progression bringing opportunity for growth, and freedom?
There have to be other parents in this situation, can we network? Is it okay to now put feet to long held personal and couple dreams? We have always wanted to go overseas, now we can. With just what we save on groceries alone we could go twice a year. That thought seemed to be wicked, decadent, delicious. If some or even part of this really could happen, how can we decide NOT to walk into the future with enthusiasm? “Hello future, it’s me, what do you have for me?”
Dare we decide to believe? The hardest part of reconciling with this situation is accepting it for what it is, a natural progression of family life, giving up the fight against it and deciding to believe in ourselves. It takes believing that focusing on ourselves on a daily basis is possible and does not require guilt. Dare we believe that we can create life enhancing experiences and opportunities for ourselves, the parents??? Or shall we sit on the fence?
Sitting on that fence is paralyzing. Most parents are not good at paralysis. The doubts, the uncertainties even the grief get bigger the more we struggle against the situation. The “unknown” overshadows our thinking, the knowns are no longer known and the future is out of focus? We need clarity.
Clarity demands that we look deep inside our own heart … and decide to believe. All it takes is courage, confidence, motivation and self permission, we have all of those, to some degree. And if we don’t we fake it.
Belief that stays at the thought level is like blowing someone a kiss in the dark, no one sees or knows it, nothing changes. Belief must lead to action. Enroll in that class, plan that trip, meet those friends for coffee and talk about your mutual feelings about this life change. Saying it out loud, to those who care about you makes it more real and commits you to a different course of action.
Having decided to process this, to believe we can take it head on and control our responses and the impact we allow it to have on us we then take positive action. Doubts and pouting over our losses, bewilderment at how to now manage our life makes way for a sense of purpose and a new life plan. That exchange is exhilarating.
Maybe, just maybe this is a real chance to move away from one celebrated, cherished, fantastically fun role and get face to face with all that life now offers.
Photo Credit: grongar.
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