Michael, Brittany, me, and Emily. My mom wanted us to sit still for a few more family pictures by the Christmas tree, but Emily had had her fill of being still! Brittany looks like a little baby bird and Michael looks like he just woke up!
As I wrote not long ago, Empty Nest Syndrome is a popular subject in my e-mail’s inbox. It was a fairly popular subject before I wrote Empty Nest Syndrome: Let’s Bury the Phrase in the Yard, but after the article, it’s a rock star.
Unfortunately, it’s a pretty unhappy rock star.
I love getting e-mail from all of my friends – which is what I consider anyone who actually takes the time to honor me by reading my words. I know I ramble like a Mexican grey wolf through the Sonoran Desert. Sometimes, like el lobo, I probably look like I have no idea where I’m headed… but, give us this – we’re passionate about getting there!
So, for those of you who bear with me, you’re a friend for life and I welcome your e-mails any time. Self Help Daily is different than a lot of other websites and blogs – there are certain topics that some people aren’t comfortable talking about in the comments. I’m always floored by those who throw caution to the wind and open up in the comment’s section – but I know it’s not an option for everyone and every situation.
Three separate e-mails have come over the past 8 days.
- The names were different.
- The number(s) of children were different.
- The details were different.
- The “tone” of each message was different.
Yet, in spite of all the differences, the e-mails were more alike than they were different. Pain is pain, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Most of the parents I hear from are parents who now find themselves in an “empty nest.” However, I hear from a great number who simply FEEL like the nest is empty (because their kids are away more than they’re home) and from others who know the day is approaching.
Look out, here comes the grey wolf… but aren’t the “approaching days” the worst?! When Emily’s wedding was approaching, each holiday and birthday kind of had a dark cloud hovering above. No matter how hard I tried NOT to, I kept thinking, “This is the last Christmas she’ll be living at home…” or “This is the last time she’ll have a birthday while living with us…” Silly stuff like that. Take it from me, as someone who has lived through it – the approaching days are FAR worse than the the days after the fact. Christmases, birthdays, and other holidays aren’t any different whatsoever. The kids just arrive through another door…. and generally arrive starving, so always have food on hand!
There was something extra distressing about the recent e-mails. They went past the “lonely days” and the “echoing silence.” Each of these e-mails had an underlying theme: The overwhelming feelings caused by “Empty Nest Syndrome” had caused relationship problems in their families. The very real threat of this is one of the things that prompted me to write my initial article.
I’m going to primarily address the ladies right now – but I ask that my male friends please continue reading. It’ll help you understand the lady in your life better, as well as her pain.
As mothers, most of us are possessed with an overwhelming feeling of love and devotion the minute we hold our newborn baby. Something happens when we look down into the precious face of our baby girl or baby boy. Internal feelings of love fill us as do feelings of protection. Heaven help the individual who tries to get between a mother and her child! We devote our entire lives to caring for, protecting, and loving this baby. Over the years, our days and nights are filled with caring for them. OF COURSE we have our own lives and OF COURSE we love our spouses just as deeply – but a good mother has a strong tie that binds her to each of her children.
I can’t remember what the exact situation was, but I do remember my husband once telling me that he was very thankful that I was this way. He said he thanked God every day that his daughters had me for a mother. I think most husbands and fathers (if they’re worth their weight!) feel this way. They want the mother of their children to love them with an all-encompassing love.
The power of a mother is a very powerful thing. So is the determination to protect them and care for them. In a way, when the child begins to date, work, and go to college – we kind of feel like we’re “losing” them. That’s utter nonsense, of course, but there is a very real feeling that something is pulling them away from us.
Again – I want to remind you that I’ve been there. When Emily was born, I had just turned 20. I had never held a baby in my entire life. When they placed that little 8 pounds of wiggling pinkness in my arms something profound happened. I was no longer Joi the spoiled only child who listened to Prince and Madonna all day. I was no longer the girl who collected unicorns and loved to shop everyday with her new cute as all get out husband. How my hair looked or whether or not my nail polish and lip gloss matched didn’t matter quite as much.
I was a mommy.
I home-schooled all three of our daughters all the way through school. Every hour of my days were filled with little girls… and then teen-aged girls. I loved every second and, yes, they most definitely went by too fast. Someone asked me once if my days were “too quiet” now and my exact answer was this, “Quiet, most of the time… but too quiet? I wouldn’t go that far!”
An interesting life (that’s what I’m calling it today) has actually done something remarkable for me. It has made me incredibly strong. At times when I would be tempted to say that I miss Emily being in her room – I’m able to swallow the words and come up with something better. You see, saying these things to our children serves absolutely no purpose at all.
Saying these words to our spouses serves no purpose at all. Giving our pain a voice only hurts the people we should never, ever wan to hurt.
When we first held our children in our arms, our number 1 thought was to protect them from harm. We positioned our arms and hands with the utmost of care – just to make sure their heads rested easily. Sometimes it caused a crick in my neck but I didn’t care – as long as my little pink ladies were comfortable! Did you ever have a toddler fall asleep in your lap and want desperately to move? Whether it was a leg that had gone to sleep or an itch you couldn’t reach, all you wanted to do was move that child and reclaim mobility!
And yet you didn’t.
Our children are still our children – just taller, hopefully wiser, and usually hungrier. These are still our babies and it’s still our responsibility to protect them – yes, even at our own inconvenience. Is it easy? Not even remotely! But please try to picture yourself with your child as a toddler – asleep in your lap. What mattered most THEN is what matters most NOW: The happiness of your little girl or little boy.
When we come across to our children as lonely – or make them feel like they’ve hurt or abandoned us – it hurts them. They may react with anger, but what they’re feeling is pain. A pain they don’t know what to do with because “mom” had always been the strong one.
I was thinking about my own parents a few nights ago. I was 19 when I got married and moved several states away. Their only child… a very spoiled little girl, at that… was headed off many miles and many hours away. I know they experienced a lot of pain and worry. Sometimes I could hear it in their voices on the phone and I’d have to hurry off the phone before they realized I was crying.
I remember after we’d been married (and moved) for about a month, my mom called. I could hear excitement in her voice as she talked about a new camera my dad had bought. He was taking up photography and was taking pictures of everything and everyone! She was excited for him and she said she’d started taking up a few crafts. She was going to paint the living room and the paper the bathroom – and she was so excited about everything, I could hardly keep up with her.
When I got off the phone, I felt like the world had lifted off of my shoulders. My mom and dad were okay. They were happy, excited, and living their lives. I felt so happy, I couldn’t sit still and the smile on my face was in no hurry to fade.
Your children and your spouse need you now more than ever. Never think for a second that any part of an empty nest is easy on good ole dad! In fact, he has compounded problems – he misses his child, he worries about the child (all of those crazy “dad worries” like gas, insurance, dead bolts, strangers…), and he worries about his wife. Truth be told, I’m sure in many ways he misses her too. Please do your loved ones – and yourself – a huge favor and find your will to live and your desire to be happy again. The smile you see on their face will melt your heart and make you happier than you can imagine.
For those of you who have strained relationships because of this transition of life, you simply have to hit REFRESH. Ever had a web page that refused to load properly? You hit REFRESH and give it a second chance – voila! Everything loads just like it was meant to – it just needed a second chance.
Here’s your second chance. Make a great supper and have everyone attend. Make everyone’s favorite foods! You don’t have to make a big speech – if you’re like me, you’d probably just cry anyway – but if you want to say something, keep it simple, “I’m better now. I love you. Let’s eat.”
Most importantly, just let everyone see you happy – it may be a sight they haven’t seen in a while. Let them see you smile, hear you laugh, and remember just how special their mom/wife is. No doubt they’ve missed you terribly,
A few final thoughts:
- The more you dwell on a thought – the more ingrained it becomes. If you keep thinking, “I’m lonely…. I’m lonely… I’m lonely…” – you’re putting the thoughts in cement. Knock that off! Replace the thoughts with, “I’m getting stronger everyday!” or “This is a relaxing and peaceful day!” If you think you can’t change your thoughts, here’s a test for you. Think of a yellow rose. A vibrant, beautiful, big yellow rose. Now think of a red tricycle. Fire engine red. Booyah! You changed thoughts.
- Get busy, girl! Take up yoga, pilates, sewing, bird watching, crafts, reading, writing, painting, photography, cooking, or all of the above. Don’t sit around moping and feeling blue. Ask yourself, “Who’s going to want to come spend time with me?!?!” Put a little music on, fill the house with the smell of homemade chocolate chip cookies, and get your groove back.
- We’re all as happy as we make up our minds to be.
- Families argue. Families sometimes even yell and make one another cry. Once when I was pregnant – with hormones soaring – I threw a Hardee’s hamburger out the window, past my husband who was behind the steering wheel. We were parked at the park, under the shade. The plan was to eat the burgers – not throw them. He looked at the burger as it flew past his face and out onto the ground. I’d never done anything like that before, so I was even more shocked than him. He calmly closed up his burger and turned the key. I asked what he thought he was doing and he said, “Well, you can’t eat that now. I’m going to go get you another one.” It’s exactly what he did. We didn’t talk about the flying burger incident that night or for a long time after that. When I brought it up once, we just died laughing.
- Your family isn’t any different than most. Again, all families argue. Remember the “perfect” family from the Blind Side. I wrote about their newest book in a recent article. Here’s a quote from that book: We fight. We make up. And we get over it. That’s what families do. Beautifully said. Even perfect families argue… no biggie.
- Nothing is irrevocable or irreversible. As the mother (and, let’s face it, girls – probably the one who caused the stink in the first place!), it’s up to you to dress yourself head to toe in strength. Your child is in your lap and the last thing you want to do is disturb them. Channel your thoughts away from the itch you can’t reach and into the child you treasure.
I know you have the strength inside of you and when you tap into it, you’ll amaze yourself as much as your family. You’ll wear it beautifully.