With September comes a new batch of empty nests all across the country. College bound kids and newly employed young adults troop off to their dorms and apartments leaving holes in their parents’ lives. And, sometimes, in their parents’ walls. The parents who are left behind see the sweet victory of fulfilling the promise they made long ago to newborn babies. They have brought these precious lives all the way to adulthood safely, given them the wings they need to pursue their own adventures, and settled them in where they will begin their new lives.
These parents may also experience the terrifying dizziness of wondering who they themselves will now become, once the need to constantly parent is gone.
There are families in which the process can be gradual. First an oldest child leaves for college while younger siblings like water seeking its own level rush to occupy the large spaces he leaves behind. By the time a second or third child leaves the nest, impatient parents have had a taste of their own freedom and are ready for more. There are parents who divorced when the kids were still small, and have gotten good at being single parents, but would be even happier as just plain single adults.
Less fortunate are the parents who have waited “until the kids are grown” to finally get that divorce they have needed for so long. These people run the risk of losing several identities at once. “If I am not a parent, at least I am a spouse.” Or, “if I am not a spouse, at least I am a parent.” Gives way to, “If I am neither parent nor spouse what am I? What purpose do I have?” Waiting for the double-whammy may feel safe in a procrastinating sort of way; but it might inadvertently cause a bigger rupture at the end.
The truth of the matter is that just as no one is ever fully prepared for all of the highs and lows that parenting brings; no parent is ever fully prepared for the vertigo of seeing tail feathers fly out your front door. NO matter how well you prepared for your days of independence. No matter what precautions you took to have a clean slate once the fledglings took flight. A new chapter of your life begins. Single, married, or widowed. College tuition to pay, or loans to co-sign. Friends to travel with, or bills to sort out. The world looks different when it belongs to you alone.
The best advice I have seen empty-nesters follow is to downsize as soon as practicable. Just as Joni Mitchell and Sting lament of the bed being too big when a loved one is gone, having a big empty house with bedrooms that look like shrines to childhood actually does no one any good. Your kids will benefit more from you having a larger purse and a smaller house than the other way around. This is not to say that you should sell their belongings without their permission. You might even be willing to spring for a storage unit for a few years; assigning each child a reasonable amount of space. By changing your own perspective; and showing the kids that you are not wallowing in depression while you wait for them; you allow for everyone to spread their wings and fly at the same time.
WHAT WE LOVE: Each stage of our lives gives us new ways of re-inventing ourselves into the person we want to be next.