Thursday, August 27, 2009

Child Rearing Afterlife... AKA Baby Separation Anxiety In Reverse... AKA Empty Nest Syndrome

Since our son & daughter are no longer living at home, I have a much clearer long term view of being an empty-nester. Of course, most Moms will bawl like babies before, during, and after initial separation, but hopefully not until they have deposited their children in their respective dorms and driven away. I did. It was excruciatingly painful to let both of my children go off to college since they had been my main job for 20 years total. However, I was also excited about getting to know my husband again after all those years of going in opposite directions. Let me just say that took some adjustment. We were almost complete strangers & I was worried that we might not be able to recapture what we'd had between us back when we married in 1977. But, I didn't really expect that. I just wanted to have a good relationship again. Somehow, we were able to find it, but not without obstacles. You have to really want to make it work again or it's just wasted effort.

Luckily, we were able to mend the fences & become reacquainted with one another again, although it isn't the mad, passionate love we once had. It seems to be somehow different, and yet the same. We'd spent so many years in *Parent Mode*, I feared we couldn't make the transition and I think it's like that for a lot of couples. If you aren't in touch with one another by the time the kids have been gone a couple of years, then it's probably a lost cause, in my honest opinion.

At any rate, here is how the whole scenario goes (okay, for me anyway):

You spend time & money shopping & getting them off to college, which should be considered time & money well spent. You shop for all the things they'll need, load the SUV (top and interior) with all those things, you help them move into their dorm, hang pictures & other stuff, run at least a gazillion times to the hardware store to find the little item you forgot on the last trip, then they want you to get the Hell out. I was eventually okay with that.

Then you make the drive home, perhaps crying all the way or at least part of the way. When you get home, it's so quiet you could implode. Then the phone rings and it's the college kid... wanting something. Wanting you to send lots of somethings. So, you send them. Every time there is a request, you send the items. Between the phone calls & the packing & shipping of said things you're barely able to catch your breath. At this point you're thinking "What empty nest?"

I recall one instance when we went out to dinner with friends for the evening, which was the first time in many years. When we arrived home, there were like 4 answering machine messages from our daughter with the last message saying "Mom! Dad! Why are you not picking up the phone? I know you're there!" I'm pretty sure Mr. Snoots and I had laughing fits as we were swinging from the chandeliers. When I finally spoke to her, I said "Hey - Guess what? We have a life now. Get used to it." I think she was in total shock for a month. It might have been three months.

If they decide to come home for the first summer you once again think "What empty nest?" You find yourself running errands for them & cooking again, just like before they ever left. Their rooms have become something similar to a shrine that's been rented out temporarily to a young stranger, so you don't mess with them. SD was only home the first summer, working full time for our best friends' law firm. The next year she was home long enough to take a class at the local junior college that included a two week trip to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC .

When school starts back in the Fall, you are saying your blessings & thanking God they are once again gone. Besides, it's football season and you can hardly wait for game weekend road trips. The phone calls & requests for things they need continue, but on a slightly smaller scale. You begin to realize that you might just be able to have a life beyond children. This is the time in which you begin to once again blossom as the human being you were before being someone's Mom. You might even become something better than you were before as it all depends on what you want at this juncture in your life. We all want something different but that doesn't mean we really even have to accomplish anything at all. It becomes our time to do whatever we want, hopefully with someone we love.

You still make the trips to attend sorority or fraternity parties that invite the parents. It's all fun and you talk with other parents who are also discovering (or not) they might just have a child rearing afterlife as well. This is, understandably, a slow & gradual process. You take your kids out to eat and suddenly discover that they were actually paying attention when you were teaching manners. That, or their friends shamed them into better table manners. Either way, you are grateful to whatever powers be.

By their third year of college you realize they are truly growing up and you really did a fabulous job. You can pat yourself on the back here. The phone calls dwindle to once or thrice a week and your new life begins to take shape.

When they reach their senior year of college you don't actually realize that things are coming to an end until they come to an end. Once they graduate and go out into the real world to work you are still taking care of business & never quite understand what is happening until it does happen. You then realize that they have done exactly what you trained them to do for 23-24 years. You also realize the two (or however many) kids suddenly like and care care about each other. You realize all those referee sessions during car trips and in public, paid off.

I just want the soon-to-be-empty-nesters to know that this whole process is only as difficult as you make it. Don't be anal retentive, overbearing, or smothering about it all and learn to go with the proverbial flow. Always encourage them to be as frugal and thrifty as possible, since they won't always be on Dad's payroll... and keep reminding them of this throughout their college years.

I recall our daughter bringing home a wonderful poem from Sunday school, by Erma Bombeck, that I still have on my refrigerator:

"I see children as kites. You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you're both breathless...they crash...they hit the patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them be lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly. Finally, they are airborne, they need more string and you keep letting it out. But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone. Only then do you know that your job is done."
Erma Bombeck

It has all made me see that I need to get busy living or get busy dying, but I'm not ready for defeat yet. I've still got a world of things I want to do & places I want to go. When my time comes to leave this world, they're going to have to drag me kicking & screaming, because I will not go quietly now that I finally have my life back!


NanU said...

What a lovely post!
Not having kids of my own I haven't the parent-side point of view, but I know the change in my parents was drastic when we three finally were all out of the nest.
They changed a great deal for the better, becoming less stressed, having time for each other and for the things they loved to do, and now they're people I'm very happy to know and talk to (which believe me was not the case when I was 20!)

I'd say they refound themselves.

The Incredible Woody said...

Look out world! Here comes, Snooty!!

Daryl said...

What a fabulous post ..

Its Mama's turn! (think Rose's big solo in Gypsy)

Heather said...

The kids head back to school on Monday. Is it OK that I am excited?

Golfing Daughter is starting middle school. Yesterday I spent a gazillion dollars on locker "necessities." Now we have to go back to the school to install them.

Still...middle school freaks me out. I watched the cliquey kids yesterday find their lockers with their parents. It's clear the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

But I relish the first couple of months of school. I decided that I've earned the right to be selfish and play all the golf I want before the snow falls.

imom said...

Wonderful post! Great advice for me to remember in the next couple of years!

Rickrack and Pompoms said...

That was a great post, as I sit here fending phone calls from my freshman, mom what should I do? I know in a few more weeks it will be mom, I need money. Life is fun you just have to roll with it. I've got one more at home so I am not there yet but I am gonna put that poem on fridge to remind me to let them fly.

blushing rose said...

You nailed it completely, word by word ... BUT, after we got over the kids have left home empty nest syndrome, despite a revolving door, we had a whole different challenge after we reacquainted ourselves to a life of togetherness.

RETIREMENT ~~~ Oh, that word! I thought it would be sheer bliss of 24/7. Well, after 30 years of his being gone on the road 50% of the time ... hmmmmm, let me put it like this! I had one heck of a time adjusting to his constant being here daily 24/7. It wasn't him, but it sure was a new learning lesson(s) for me.

I had a lady tell me when she overheard my enthusiasm just prior to retirement I was having with a friend. She walked over, handed me her calling card & said 'honey, call me in 3 months, you can come over for a drink (?), you'll need it by then'. We still chuckle over this ... TTFN ~Marydon

Pink Martini said...

Ahhh, just what the Dr. ordered although I am not quite that evolved yet as you. I have my breaking moment in 2 weeks. Having sons I think one might have more ties to a daughter calling and needing something. Has this been your experience? If my son1 is any indication he doesn't even need me to send him cookies!! Arrow right through my heart. Son2 will probably be the same and this is what I am gearing myself up for ~ the obligatory Sunday night phone call that lasts a few minutes. Son1 even works at school for the summer so for the past 3 years the most we have seen him is for 2 weeks at the holidays and an additional week 2 other times during the year. But wait - this post is about you... as you can see I am trying to figure out where this leaves me, as you did. I hope I come out of it as well as you have. I am going to use you as a resource. :) xoxo

Mental P Mama said...

Sigh. I'm coming, too!

snooty daughter said...

Aw that was a great post Madre! Don't worry, the manners I've acquired is all you, my friends all lack manners. I'm still surprised and offended when no one answers my phone calls, I will never accept that you two have a life!

Sjn said...

so... you made me tear up, sniff. Life is full of changes isn't it?! Our empty nest is a bit fuller at the moment with Grad Girl home while she has an unpaid internship. It works out because we all are busy, but are there enough for each other too. I know it won't last long, so I'm going with the flow and enjoying it. And... in March we're expecting our first grand baby! That should liven things up!

Snooty Primadona said...

NanU: I know! Our kids actually like us now!

Daryl: Yes, it is Mama's turn! She's going to do great, I think. I hope.

Heather: Yes, middle school is a whole new can of worms. If you can imagine... I was PTA president when my kids were both in middle school. I also hated it. But, I wasn't playing golf back then. We didn't start back playing until our son was gone & daughter was a senior.

RickRack: Yes, boys are really different. They only call for money, lol.

Rose: That made me laugh so hard! The retirement part is a killer but I don't think my hubby will ever retire, which is a good thing. If I had him around the house all the time I'd go stark raving mad.

Pink Martini: Trust me, I know!

MPM: Hang in there girlfriend!

Dearest Daughter: Get used to it, baby! Love you!

SJN: Trust me, I cried when I was writing it but I'm such a sap. Yes, enjoy her while you can. I'm so envious that you're going to have a grandbaby! That will also change things, but you're going to love i!.

Allison said...

Ooh, forgot to say loved the Erma Bombeck too. Very touching metaphor...and I DO get the angst. Kinda. :)

Living on the Spit said...

I loved this post and you could not be more correct than you oldest daughter and I are still trying to figure things out, but we are getting there...she is now in grad school and missing being an active.

TSannie said...

Thatt was lovely. I hope to experience it one day (sigh). (You have one year on us - 1978 here.)

I've missed reading you - and everyone else - a bit of a funk here, can't seem to get out of the doldrums. Or maybe I'm just so disorganized I can't think straight. That's probably more like it! BUT, I love the way you write!

Living on the Spit said...

Email me at and I will give you the reader's digest version...I have had the summer from hell!

Pam said...

Dang it girl, you can sure write! I am now officially at the true empty nest...last son married in June. But I do remember lots of the same feelings you described as we left our oldest at his dorm some 13 years ago...I cried all the way home I think.

It is so good to know that I am not alone in the feelings I have had. Loved the Erma Bombeck story...she was one amazing woman. But truly, Snooty, I think you hold your own with her. Great writing. Keep it up. I always keep the tissue box close when I read your posts!

Anonymous said...

My mother used to invite all my friends' mothers round on the day we went back to school for "tea". I have a feeling there may have been champagne involved.

You are clearly a wonderful mother, and wonderful mothers are a precious, precious thing.

Well done on being such a great mom and for triumphing through the transition to reclaiming your life.

As for my mom, I pay tribute to her here:

Treasia said...

Aww Snooty what a beautiful post. I so needed to read this one. Princess has been gone a week now to college and I must say, I think I've seen her more this week than in the last few years. LOL. It also seems we've talked more together. Funny how that has worked so far.

Snooty Primadona said...

Treasia, I swear they start really liking you once they go off to college! It's almost like it was worth all the struggles while they were growing up, just for this little slice of sweet cake... True love, understanding & friendship with your own children. Life is GOOD!

noble pig said...

You know I bet that was incredibly helpful to all the recent empty-nesters. You have a great outlokk on it all!!

Clippy Mat said...

excellent post. we were empty nesters for about 5 mins and then every time we turned around the house was full of grandchildren. not complaining tho'.

TSannie said...

That was a very good read. Thanks for that!

Keeper Of All Things said...

Being in the trenches,so to speak, I know I'll miss the days when nothing could be done if my opinion wasn't involved.
Thats what I tell myself when things get to much.

Mariah said...

I think I will fall apart when my kids leave the house, at least for a week or so and after that I'll be smoking some green stuff while sitting on a beach laughing at the waves!

Anonymous said...

I think you and your husband should start by embracing walking around the house naked.

Get cases of wine and a lot of booze in and don't worry about kids stealing it.

Then throw a party and trash the house. Because it's YOUR house and you can do that and stop worrying about your kids doing it.

This is going to be so much fun for you! Embrace it!

Thank you for your lovely, open comment on my MOM post. I have replied to you on my site, here:


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