Empty Nest Syndrome – Is it Really That Much of a Change?
When COVID-19 made a serious appearance in February, my husband and I were in South East Asia on a cruise. Thank goodness we were on the Sapphire Princess and not the Diamond Princess (the ship that was quarantined for months)! After the cruise we stayed in Vietnam and Cambodia for an extra nine days to do some sightseeing.
We were in the thick of the COVID storm and our friends and family felt very nervous. They just wanted us to come home.
While we appreciated their concern, we felt that their worry was mildly overblown, so much so that we decided to come home bearing prank COVID gifts to acknowledge their fear. We bought 20 reusable face masks for a total of $7.80US. We thought it was hilarious, and we were making a Vietnamese fashion statement because this was not something they would ever be wearing in Canada!
The joke was clearly on us. As it turns out, the ‘prank’ face masks were the most useful gift they received!
Shortly after we arrived back to Toronto, our kids started coming home to stay, one at a time. In addition to the one who still lives with us, one returned home from a semester abroad in Scotland, another from London, Ontario, another from Montreal and another from downtown Toronto. We had a full house! It had been a long time since all five kids were back together for an extended period of time, but this time they were young adults, sharing the same space! We all had to find a way to adapt to the change.
To be completely honest, not all of the kids handled our ‘togetherness’ very well. Coupled with isolation and social distancing, some of them became a little stir-crazy, a little restless, a little agitated and a little frustrated. It wasn’t always easy. It’s one thing to have frustrated young kids in the house who are easy enough to distract with a game or arts & crafts. It’s a whole other thing to have a pack of 20-something-year-olds in the house who are itching to get out. It took some time for everyone to adjust.
We eventually established some routines. During the day everyone would do their own thing – work, school, walks/runs, zoom with friends, etc., and at night we would come together for crackers and cheese, drinks, dinner, cards and Netflix. I was thrilled to have the family back together again!
We celebrated Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and a couple of birthdays together. We had backyard visitors and tried our best to stay 6 feet apart. We baked cookies together, we made meals together and we cleaned the house together on Saturday mornings. We learned to really enjoy each other’s company, knowing that this was going to be a short-lived experience that would likely never happen again.
Since then, four of the five kids have left the house to resume their lives. Three of them settled in Montreal for jobs and one moved back to his downtown apartment. Once again, we are down to one.
This last weekend, my daughter was the last to go. The day before her departure, she asked me if I was sad to see them all leave the house and go back to their respective lives. I think my answer surprised her.
“I love you guys and I love having you home, near me, I said. “But…I have learned to love my WHOLE life. I love it when you guys are here, AND I love it just as much when you are all happy living your own lives, even if that means that you are not at home. I am happy with you here, but I do not depend on you for my happiness. To be honest, I hope I never will. I am happy where I am, however that looks. And if at times I am not happy (because I am human and humans are not ALWAYS happy), I know that I am responsible for figuring out how to get happy. I never want you to feel guilty for living your life and finding your happiness.”
Her reaction was interesting. She was a little disappointed that I wasn’t heartbroken about her departure, and a little relieved that I was releasing her of the responsibility that so many kids feel toward their parents after they leave the house.
So with only one kid left at home, my husband and I find ourselves almost empty nesters again. It’s a little weird to have so much quiet in the house. No chaos. No massive meals to cook. No crackers and cheese. No cards. No jokes. No complaints. A new reality. We are adjusting once again.
That’s really what life is about – this ongoing process of adapting to new things. New jobs, new homes, new relationships, new circumstances, new challenges and new opportunities. The best option is to love it all and find happiness in all states.
Tonight, my husband and I have plans to watch A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The length of the movie is 1 hour and 49 minutes, but we are carving out 3 and a half hours to watch it. Why? Because our kids will be calling to check in, and that takes time. We have a lot of experience with show interruptions – they are inevitable.
Having said that, I am all too aware that soon enough our kids will be a little too busy to interrupt our movie nights. They will be busy cleaning up after dinner, monitoring homework time and getting their kids ready for bed. When that happens, I know that we will have to find a way to get used to the change, yet again. For right now, I will love where I am, where they are and all the interruptions that will happen along the way.
Becoming an empty nester is not really this ONE big change that happens – it’s one of MANY changes that life throws our way.
So the real question is: does change rattle you or have you found a way to adapt with ease? Do you resist change or have you learned to LOVE it all?
If you have experienced a change in your life that you find yourself struggling with, it might be helpful to talk it through. Reach out! I’d love to hear what you are grappling with. A single conversation might ease the struggle, or perhaps a group coaching experience with others who are in the same boat might be the perfect option for you.
My email address is [email protected] – I look forward to hearing from you!