By Cheryl Bryan
This parenting thing is not easy. Just when you think you may be getting it right and they're on their way to becoming civilized adults, able to carry on an intelligent conversation, help around the house without supervision, and verbally acknowledge your worth in their lives -- they leave!
No longer are you the most important person in their lives. They have needed you for so long, and you have needed them to need you. How do you overcome this Syndrome they call The Empty Nest? The following is certainly not an inclusive list, but maybe it'll give you a new perspective.
1. Realize that it started at birth. From the beginning, you nourished and protected them, urged them to talk, walk, make friends and study. You watched them try and fail so they would learn strength, taught them the difference between need and want and the rewards of hard work. You were preparing them to leave you, and you have succeeded.
2. Don't take it personally. Did you leave your parents' home because you didn't love them? Did making an independent decision mean you didn't value their opinion? Think about your own journey to financial and emotional independence. If your parents were your foundation but not your crutch, you're probably grateful for their wisdom and the trust they placed in you.
3. Examine your motives. Have you been living vicariously through your children? Give an honest answer to the question, "Why am I feeling sad when my children are okay? What is it I really want?" When you can answer honestly, you're ready to declare your own independence.
4. Keep in touch. Even when they seem to shove you away, they need you. It can be scary out there. As they make independent decisions, they need to know you love them unconditionally and are available to them as they make difficult adjustments. But know the difference between helping and hovering.
5. Enjoy your freedom! Remember what you promised yourself "when the kids are grown"? It's time! Pursue your artistic interests, learn something new, or write a book. Volunteer at the school, hospital, or senior center, where your focused energy can make a difference. Appreciate the quiet, the privacy, and the freedom to come and go without having to consider your children's schedules.
6. Support them when they fail. This is when you'll be tempted to respond with "Come home, baby, and we'll take care of you," or "I knew this would not be a good move for you." Help them know that though it's difficult now, this will pass. Try to listen without judgment or correction. They need you to listen, not solve the problem.
7. Know they still need you. Your role has changed through the years, from First Responder to Last Resort. But no one will ever take your place; no one else heard their first cry or watched their first steps. No one knows them like you do.
8. Benefit from their independent experiences. Isn't it nice to discuss topics unrelated to your relationship as parent and child, topics that relate more to shared interests? And more than that, your grown children bring to the discussion myriads of experiences different from yours, enabling you to explore the world through their eyes.
9. Realize you're not on your own. If you're the mother, realize that though he may not admit it, your husband may also be feeling the loss. Give him the attention he lost when you began having kids. Turn your attention to your girl friends, and experience your own social life, uninterrupted by other people's appointments or cries for help.
10. Rejoice in a job well done. Even if professional success causes them to move further away, know you have done what a parent is supposed to do. You birthed them, babied them, nurtured them, loved them, and brought them to a point of independence. You wouldn't want any less for them than to be happy, independent productive adults.
In spite of the mistakes she might have made, Cheryl Bryan's children are independent and well-adjusted adults. Three of the four live a thousand miles away; the other one lives 13,000 miles away with her (at present) only grandchild.
Cheryl was educated in business and music, but over the years, both as an employed and a freelance administrative assistant, has developed a reputation as a capable proofreader, copy editor and business writer. For three years she wrote weekly inspirational newspaper columns, and she recently launched a blog, http://www.aginginwonder.com, to encourage fellow baby-boomers as they reach the last trimester of their lives. She believes that aging well means you never cease to learn, to explore, or to be amazed at the wonder of it all.
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