Empty Nest – 4 Realities

 

This is a post for all the parents whose children will be receiving college acceptance letters next week.  If you have trouble letting go and are worried about them leaving home, this one’s for you! 

There are articles coming out all the time that dwell on the misery and despair of the “empty nest.” This is mostly family myth for the tabloids.  Let’s get a more balanced picture of this time of life for both parents and children.  Here are 4 points to consider:

  1. When kids are ready to launch at around 18, parents are often at midlife and older – a volatile intersection of life stages for both parents and kids.
  2. Mothers may be very ready to be finished with their nurturing roles having spent 18-25 years at the task.
  3. Fathers may be delighted to get their wives back, having taken second place to the kids.
  4. Relationships don’t usually end – they change into something more adult.

Think about the timing.  Many parents are dealing with midlife issues during the years that their kids are grappling with adolescence and beyond.

1. When kids are ready to launch at around 18, parents are often at midlife and older – a volatile intersection of life stages for both parents and kids. Midlife means that parents are asking themselves questions such as, “What do I want from my life?” or “Is this all there is?”  Parents evaluate their lives and consider what they have done and what they have not yet been able to accomplish.  With regard to parenting, moms and dads suffer when they reach this time and their kids are ready to fly, and they have regrets about their parenting.  They are sad or bitter about tasks they performed poorly and relationships that they neglected. (Note to parents whose kids are still at home: behave in ways that will leave you with the fewest regrets.)

 2. Mothers may be very ready to be finished with their nurturing roles having spent 18-25 years at the task.  Mothers carried the babies, cleaned the poop, worried about the schools, drove to soccer, listened to back talk, laid awake terrified that their kids were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll for 18 + years. Most mothers are relieved that their children have made it and are able to go on (semi) independently.  Imagine getting a good night’s sleep without one ear tuned to kid sounds.  Fathers have also worried and suffered their full share but, in this society, women are still responsible for most of the child care.

3. Fathers may be delighted to get their wives back, having taken second place to the kids. Men, on the other hand, have worried about finances (women, too) and taken a back seat to the kids, the dog and the broken hot water heater.  Many men are thrilled to be able to meet their wives for dinner or go for a walk without rushing home to check on unfinished homework.

4. Relationships don’t usually end – they change into something more adult.  Best of all – the relationship with your fly-away child will continue.  In my gazillion years as a therapist, I continue to be impressed by parents’ love and sacrifice.  Most parents are amazing people when it comes to trying hard to raise good kids.  And the kids know it.  They don’t want to ditch their parents; they just want to take off the training wheels.

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