…so are the days of our lives”. Remember that show? I’ve never been much of a soap opera watcher but it was definitely on at our house in the 60s and 70s. What brought this to mind was the realization that this is the first fall in 24 years that I have not sent a child off to school, even college. Felt a little weird to be honest, although I did not miss hauling furniture, clothing and groceries from one of my kid’s apartments to the next.
A number of my friends became empty nesters in the last few weeks. Several more have bid adieu to kids in their 20s, who have moved cross country to pursue new careers. And while everyone has their own unique experience of this as a parent, one constant seems to be a sense of disequilibrium – springing from the void that exists in their absence. You can almost feel the ground shift and you become acutely aware that the relationship you had with them before they left is history.
This puts both the parent and the son or daughter in a space of real opportunity. Everyone gets to make choices about how this next phase of life will be defined. In the ideal world, we would actually take time to stop, reflect and ask ourselves, “What kind of relationship do I want to have with him or her now and what does that really look like?” In reality, very few of us do that with any degree of conscious effort. Why? Because we’re more focused on “me’ than “us” during this time of transition. We are trying to sort out what this means to our own identity, and that can be unnerving enough that we can’t step back to ask the larger question.
When we enter a new arena, we become a beginner again. In this situation, we go from years of having shared not only physical space but emotional energy with the departing child. There was a familiar rhythm and even if it was challenging, you kind of knew what to expect. Over the coming months, as everyone explores what ‘feels right’ in terms of communication, conversation and connection, there will be the inevitable bumps. Whether you are the parent or son/daughter, as you navigate your way along this new road, my hope is that you consider giving yourself or the other the following –
- Patience – Give the new relationship some time to unfold
- Compassion – Everyone is doing their best to figure this out
- Optimism – When you believe that all will be well, it typically turns out that way
…and kids, call your mother…