Return to: Thoughts that Inspire

“Empty Nest” doesn’t cover it!

Some people can post entries throughout stressful events in their lives. Readers get blow-by-blow action and can see the development through the event.

But some of us can’t write when an occurrence is really stressful. Thinking of putting it out for public consumption takes energy away that we need to stay centered in our process.

Both are valuable. I just happen to be in the second camp, so I’ve been out of touch this year. I can’t even journal if something is too raw.

Besides my mother dying in March, my only child went to college mid-August. I knew it was going to be a huge change for all of us, especially her – I’m a therapist, for goodness’ sake! I thought I had us all prepared as possible. I guess we were, but that didn’t take away having to go through a mind-boggling amount of stress and change. “Empty Nest” doesn’t cover it.  Sometimes it seems demeaning as a term. It seems to imply that the woman doesn’t have a life (it’s usually aimed at mothers, this term) or an identity, that she’s so mindless that she’s lived vicariously through her children.

But it’s much more than that. Think of all the work, struggle, and fear that was involved in the beginning of the process, from deciding to parent (or finding it thrust upon you), through each crisis, each stage that demanded that you change yourself and develop a new parenting skill. All that you went through to turn you into a mother who took total responsibility for this helpless infant, now has to go through a transformation to a hands-much-looser, at-a-distance relationship.

First, there were all her texts and calls that preseason to make a varsity team was much harder than she expected. Then, there were the injuries and blackened toe nails that fell off, and the shin splints, and blood blisters – and I couldn’t get to her to take care of her!

Then there was the dead air space as she stopped communicating. I was shocked by how hard I took it. I couldn’t settle to any activity in my own life. I worried about her. I had no energy and no focus. I sheepishly report that I didn’t calm down until she FaceTimed me, so I could see that she was okay.

Then there was the forced triple – 3 girls in a room for 2 – and one a prima donna who took up 2/3 of the space all by herself, and kept the other two unsettled by deciding to leave, then not, being offered  a different room, then not taking it. This went on until November! There still is nothing on the walls, as they anticipate her not coming back for spring semester, so they are still unsettled.

Then there was all the angst about classes – so hard! – and not meeting people because always involved with her team.

The one thing that gave me my energy back, or rather the energy to start defining my post-child-rearing life, was that she couldn’t come home for mid-semester break due to athletics, really wanted to and was really lonely. So I went there and she joined me in a motel for 4 days.  I needed to see my baby over time – if I couldn’t sleep, there she was. She had a cold, so I cooked her favorite foods on a hot plate in the bathroom.  It felt as if my cells needed to know that she/we were fine. She loved being pampered, and when I came home, I could focus on work. It was visceral, biological.

Logic didn’t make a dent. And I’m still working to adjust to what she needs at this stage of her life. Then there’s developing an up-to-date relationship with my partner, considering what my life should and needs to be, and dealing with later life issues (since we’re what I call “late onset parents.”) The journey never ends. It gets richer in different ways. My daughter added her insight: “When I’m talking with friends, I put on my happy face, and they get the best part of me. When I call you, I need to complain and vent. Over Thanksgiving, I have huge papers to write, so I’ll be in a bad mood, and you’ll get the worst of me. Just lettin’ you know!” And that’s what I need to remember, so I don’t overreact. She calls me when she’s really upset. I don’t get to see that the s of the time, she’s probably fine. And I love being able to comfort her in those calls, so it’s all good.

What’s your experience with kids leaving home? There’s so much to share here! Let me know.