From the moments of my children’s births, parenting has always been love. There has been such warmth and joy amid times that were frustrating and anxiety producing. Sometimes scary; sometimes maddening; sometimes hurtful. It has always been truly unconditional, and the most profound love.
I never wanted to be the imposing parent or the martyr. I have been both,despite my better intentions. Being mindful of my children’s proclivities, I wanted to encourage their strengths and find ways to have them strengthen their weaknesses, and ensure that they would become caring,thoughtful,responsible,giving adults. I can’t ensure anything, but I am optimistic. They live in a sub-culture that shares those values, even if those standards aren’t always revealed to the parents.
When they each left for college, it was bittersweet. It was time. Some parents stay tethered and feel as though they must communicate constantly and know all about their emerging adult children’s lives. I confess to having mixed emotions about that. Despite wanting to hear more about their lives, I respect their independence, and have always been amazed by their independent streaks. The kids have embarked upon their own journeys, and those college years were a transition time for them, as well as for us parents. We have branched out as adults, but as parents, we have not stopped thinking about our kids, and find them endlessly interesting. We know that this is not the case for them.
We adjusted quite well to the empty nest. It was our time again, while they were having their times. We could focus even more on work and community and other projects, as well as our relationship, and our adult concerns could just be dealt with, rather than having to choreograph around the kids (sometimes unsuccessfully). When the kids would come home, there was a bit of readjustment. The unconscious habits of childhood and adolescence were instantly triggered–in both parents and children. Although more tempered and measured than during adolescence, there was still that sort of semi-trustful listening (or non-listening) that existed as an undercurrent. It was a habitual listening (or non-listening) that had yet to be fully transformed. Despite the facts that each of us has been working and learning and evolving, as a family we were on auto-pilot.
It is natural and common to experience this awkward stage. Parental roles are dramatically different at this stage, but so too are the emerging adult children’s roles. They may be oblivious to their parents’ lives, but their parents not only have an empty nest, but also an emptiness. Parents need their children. My need for my children is beyond ego; it stems from my heart and soul. It is basic and profound love. When the ego needs, it is anxiety producing. When the soul needs, it is the experience of love (and the emptiness that accompanies absence). I have been feeling empty-nessed. It is not the need to have the nest filled up, but to have my heart filled up. When I think of their absence I feel empty-nessed. When I think of them, not what they are doing or the distance, but just as people, the people I adore most, my heart swells and the emptiness fills with love. It is from this state that relationships can flourish and we can evolve. More than filling an empty nest, having space for the totality of the person–pure love–the emptynessed becomes transformed.