While reading the Empty Nest posts I became consciously aware that my own children (14, 11, 7) had just emptied out their new back packs filled with school supplies (all over my kitchen floor) for the 10th time (ok maybe only the 2nd but ALL those supplies sure made it seem like 10!). I sat and listened to their bubbling conversations, their arguing over who’s folder was purple and whether the pencils should go in the supply box or front pocket of the backpack. Such excitement, such energy.
And then in the next moment my 7 year old remembered that she would be starting at a new school, and she began to wonder aloud if her teacher would know that she was new and would the teacher help her to find her new locker? or would the teacher tell her where lunch bag? Such nervousness, such anxiety
I wondered how to help her with that whole range of emotions in a single instant? All of the feelings rwere eal and important to my daughter. I may be comfortable with the knowledge that her teacher will ‘have it under control and know what to do, but how was I going to convince my daughter?
The first step is to acknowledge ALL of her feelings. I can’t acknowledge some and disregard the others. Asking her to tell me more about what else she ‘wonders’ about her new school, new teacher, new classmates. Her seemingly innocent phrases out of the blue about her anxieties should be listened to and talked about. This is how she works through the dilemma in her head. Random questions. Disconnected thoughts. Brief phrases. I need to follow along with her train of thought and talk with her when she is ready to talk about them.
Sometimes those thoughts are about excitement and other times they are about fears. No matter where here feelings are for the moment taking the time to share in their ‘real-ness’ shows her that I am along with her for the ride and will help her navigate the waters.
Encouragement for the journey!
Sometimes the idea that what’s old is new again can be positive. But when I listened to the podcast and heard how the alcohol and pot of the 60s and 70s are now favored by teens – well, it wasn’t a good thing. We’re talking about the era I grew up in and yes, teens were doing plenty of experimenting and rebelling. However, it seemed to pass quickly for most and the consequences were not too significant.
Fast forward to today and I can tell you I worry about my grandkids and the choices they may make. The use (and abuse) of alcohol and drugs has been normalized and the behavior often glorified. There does not seem to be any rules to this game, but the consequences are severe.
So where do parents start? This sounds so simple – spend time together as a family. The podcast mentioned the alarming small amount of time dads and moms spend with their children. Time together is how you build affection and trust. This is the basis for communication.
Talk about yourself and the pressures and choices that came at each age. Be honest in sharing your own experiences. That doesn’t mean I have to tell every little detail about what I did, or didn’t do. But I can share my mistakes and the consequences of my choices. I can share my values and beliefs.
Allow for some experimentation. What I mean is it is natural for kids to experiment. That is how they learn. As a parent you can allow experimentation in areas where there is little or no long term danger. Let your child experiment with various school activities, part-time jobs, types of hair style and clothing. A wise parent learns when to close her eyes or bite her tongue. I choose to look past the trendy clothes and purple hair. The clothes change and the hair grows out. Instead i focus my energies on open conversations about choices that affect my grandkids’ futures. We may not always agree but they know they can speak freely with me.
Children are growing up in the same world as we adults live in but their experiences are very different. The one thing I, and you as a parent, can do is be present. Do not turn over all influence to peers and media. Children and teens need and want, support, guidance, and caring from their parents. If that is what’s old is new again, I think it is a very good thing.
When I read Donna’s “Niagra Falls” post, it reminded me of the day my parents dropped me off at college. I am the youngest in the family, and the only girl. For both my parents, they admittedly found it hardest to let go of their “last” child, and to leave a girl alone on a college campus surrounded by college boys.
Unlike Donna, my parents’ tears were not finished when they got to the car. It took them the better part of a year to navigate being “empty nesters.” There were a lot of individual adjustments to make as relationships changed. If you’re in the same boat, know that there are a few things you can do to help yourself adjust.
- Recognize that parenthood is an evolution. It changes constantly, but it never goes away. Your new parenting role involves helping your child make big decisions about things like careers and significant others. You don’t stop being a parents, you just change phases.
- Don’t focus on the fact that your child is moving away. Focus on the fact that your child is moving toward his or her own life. Be proud that as a parent, you contributed to all this growth!
- Fall in love all over again. If you have a significant other, one large adjustment in the empty nest phase can be getting used to being “just the two of you” again. View this as a time to rediscover each other. Go on a date, take the time to hear about each other’s days, or just enjoy watching the six o’clock news uninterrupted!
- Get involved. If you find yourself twiddling your thumbs now that your kiddos are all gone, consider doing something you’ve always wanted to do. Take up a hobby, volunteer your time, or even get that storage room in the basement sorted out. Do something that will make you feel good about the way you’re spending your extra time.
Are there any empty nesters out there with advice of their own? – Molly Luchtel
“My daughter is going off to college or to live on her own.” These are such simple words to evoke the powerful emotions that often accompany them. Molly talked about how you can help your child adjust to her new world. I want to look at this issue from the other perspective and focus on your feelings as a parent.
I thought I was prepared when we took our first daughter to college. She was a mature young lady and ready for the adventure. We were thrilled for her, and even a little envious. So on a beautiful August morning we packed her up and headed off. Upon arrival we helped carry all the “stuff” to the dorm room, gave her last minute advice, and turned to leave. Yep, you guessed it; I didn’t make it out the door before the tears started. Other parents in the hall might have thought they were taking a ride on the Maiden of the Mist at Niagara Falls if they hadn’t been similarly occupied.
When a child leaves home, it can be traumatic for any parent. You are now experiencing another stage of parenthood called departure. It’s natural for you to spend time thinking about whether you’ve achieved the relationship you want with your now adult child. You may run that little video in your head over and over playing the story of your child’s life. All this is normal.
With the smiles and joys of remembering the wonderful years, will come the sadness of knowing things will never be quite the same. Share your feelings of sadness and loss with other adults. It is better to do so now then bottle up the feelings and try to deny their existence. Then you can focus on readapting identities and looking forward to new opportunities.
As for me, the tears stopped by the time my husband and I got to the car. Then we took off for a wonderful vacation where we celebrated the launching of the first child from our home. As the weeks and months went by, we all began to adjust to the shifts in our relationship. Let me tell you the rest of the story; the young woman we took to college all those years ago will celebrate her 45th birthday this month. You need not worry – you will always have a role as a parent. It just keeps changing with each stage of life.
Recent trends indicate that teens are more likely to think it’s OK to get drunk or use marijuana and other drugs. Prevention advocates are issuing a wake-up call to parents in this month’s Science of Parenting radio program podcast.
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