Prepping for an Empty Nest
Making the Most of the Time Left
When I walked into my son’s classroom on his first day of kindergarten and kissed him, wished him a super fantastic first day and then left almost in a sprint for the bathroom to grab a tissue, the thought of an empty nest was nowhere near. There’s tons of time, right? In the blink of an eye, he is now in the sixth grade. I only have six more summers before I will be called an empty nester. After I counted them, I started to panic!!
When we become parents, everyone tells us the time will move fast and to enjoy it, but do we really have a complete understanding of just how fast it will fly? I had no clue. What about all the summer vacations you wanted to put into place before your children jet off into the next phase of life? Should you go ahead and book airfare and hotel accommodations for the summers you have left? What are you going to do when they leave? Stepping back from some of these questions and taking a deep breath helps make clear that quality time needs to be the focus.
Many parents seem to wrap themselves up in all the noise of what they need to complete in a day, missing the opportunity to observe what is happening right then and there with their children. Too many times we are so involved in everyone else’s chatter (on the phone) that we miss what our kids are expressing at that very moment in time. Maybe you are on the computer and your teenager has finally decided to share his day. Will your ears be fully engaged to hear the full story, or will you compose an entire paragraph to a client or friend without really hearing a word your child has said? So many of us stay connected 24/7 and never turn off our phones. In a world where people want to hear from you NOW, it is a hard balance. Maybe it’s time for parents to have a technology timeout. Whitney Foxx, mother of four, says “My kids are young, but I know they won’t be for long, so I don’t mind leaving my phone upstairs when we head to the basement to play house, race cars or anything else they want to do.”
Have you ever taken a moment to just sit and soak in your surroundings? Remember when you would sit and watch your precious bundle of joy sleeping and observing every breath and movement? What about doing something similar when your kids are older? Switch from watching them sleep to watching them read or go through the kitchen looking for a snack. Think of it like going to the movie theater to see a film. Step outside what is happening in front of you and just sit and observe. Do you still see the sleeping baby you used to watch for hours? It is the same thing, but in a different way. Especially when there are teenagers running around, this is a good technique to help prepare oneself for the final year they are home. It helps keep you centered on what is most important and, in a way, starts the letting go process. My son cracks up when he sees me doing this and says, “You are doing that watching me thing again, aren’t you?” It has become a fun, quirky moment for us. I am sure he will share it as a “remember when” during future family gatherings when he is an adult.
Mary Nan Dupont, mother of three college students and estate planner at Dupont Law Firm, offers some insightful thoughts. With a full year of empty nesting under her belt, she says, “The anticipation is worse than the actual moment. And each child is different, so saying good-bye was different each time.” Some parents are not ready to hear this, but in most cases the child is ready to go. They have matured and grown out of their secondary school phase and want to branch out and plant seeds that are their own. “Let go of the expectations and pressure of making things happen and just enjoy the time you have left with them,” Dupont says. “Cherish the moments.”
Again, when you are in the midst of raising a family, managing a household, working a full- or part-time job, spending time with your partner, running to sports events or other activities, empty nesting is not going to be your first thought when you rise in the morning. It is a topic you start to think about more and more as the end-of-the-year report cards grow in numbers. It hit me hard, but I am glad it did. Because six summers will soar by fast in my world. But by recognizing this, I will try my very best to stay fully engaged and enjoy every possible moment to the fullest.
Erin Stegman is a creative and think-outside-the-box mother in Overland Park. She is owner and jewelry designer of Erin Paige Designs LLC.