The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. – Denis Waitly
As a blogger, it occurred to me as I approached the day when my youngest would be going off to college (in my case, my youngest two, twins), I might write a post about the experience – specifically, about the so-called empty nest.
Not surprisingly, before my kids left for college, the empty nest kept coming up. Countless friends asked me how I felt about our soon-to-be-new status.
I stumbled upon several articles about the experience from other newly-minted empty-nesters, and studies show that marital satisfaction improves when the children leave home.
Two questions about an empty nest
When people asked my wife (Marcie) and me about our upcoming lifecycle event, their questions tended to be focused in one of two ways. Half of them would excitedly ask what we were going to be doing with our new-found freedom; the other half asked, with concern, about our anxiety about missing the kids.
In answer to the first question, we didn’t have any particular plans for our new-found “freedom,” though we agreed that we would look for (inexpensive) ways to travel more.
It wasn’t long, however, before the beauty of the freedom hit us. The second night that we were home alone, Marcie and I went for a bike ride. On the surface of it, that shouldn’t have been such a big deal—before they went away, our kids had long been old enough to be left alone—however we rarely went out on weeknights because we liked to have family dinners as often as possible.
The freedom walk
The feeling of freedom that I felt on that bike ride was awesome. I was reminded of the story Marcie told me about the day, four years earlier, when she dropped our daughters off for their first day of high school.
After they got out of the car, she found a place nearby to take a long walk that she told me she called “the freedom walk,” so named because she had dropped them off nearly an hour earlier than she had been for middle school, and knowing that their participation in high school sports would be keeping them at school much later.
As to having anxiety about missing the kids once they were off to school, we weren’t very concerned.
We had already had a lot of practice with them being away.
Each summer, for many years, they had attended seven weeks of overnight camp, during which time we would see them once, for a “visiting day” after three weeks. We knew that college would be different because each time they went to camp they came home for a 10-month school year whereas the college departures would have come with a more permanent feeling.
In my case, before each new stage of our kids’ experiences, I had always had a certain degree of anxiety. Would everything work out for them? Would they be happy? Would they be ready? And in each case, when the time came, they seemed to (magically, it seemed to me) rise to the occasion, as did we as parents.
Life had a way of doing that. And so, after many such experiences, I told myself it would be the same with their departure for college.
In Marcie’s case, she kept answering the question about missing the kids by saying that any such feelings would be offset by the fact that we would know that they were where they needed to be. “We’ve done everything we can do for them,” she would say. “There’s nothing more they can learn from us. There’s nothing more they can learn from high school. It’s time.”
And I felt the same way. As much as I loved being with them, I knew that in order for them to move forward with their lives they needed to go to college.
The things we tell ourselves
I know that’s a healthy way of looking it and it got me thinking about how important it is to develop scripts—ways of looking at things that you can tell yourself to make you feel good about your situation.
Some of the additional things we tell ourselves about the kids being away:
- We are more worried about them because we are not there to “come to the rescue” and there are lots of opportunities for trouble. (Think alcohol, for one.) But, we are also sleeping better because we no longer spend each night wondering when they will be home and worrying that they will get home safely. It’s kind of “out of house, out of mind,” at least with respect to that aspect.
- For years, we knew that there is only so much you can do to control your kids—for example, them going to parties with alcohol no matter how hard you try to make sure that doesn’t happen—and that you have to hope that you have instilled good values and taught them good judgment so they can make smart decisions.
- We feel we gave them the foundation so that we can tell ourselves, “We did everything we could,” when we think, “Will they eat right?,” “Will they exercise?,” “Will they do their homework?”
- And what about being there for them when they experience stress and anxiety, whether due to overwhelm from schoolwork, social life issues, or whatever? That’s something we’ve been working on since they were little.
- “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” I will tell myself when I get a teary-sounding call from one of my kids. “What they learn from this experience, they will draw upon in the future,” I will say to Marcie, and “We have to let them go, to let them grow,” she will say to me.
Scripts are important. They help us to deal with all kinds of experiences in life. They help us to maintain positive thinking and to benefit from its power. They help us to see the glass as half full.
Probably the overriding script we will say regarding our kids is this one: as long as they are happy, we are happy. We’ve been saying that for most of our nearly 21 years as parents.
Which reminds me: our first-born’s 21st birthday is coming soon, along with Marcie’s 50th, and then my 50th in November—I had better get going now—I’ve got some scripts to work on.
What are some of the scripts you use to help yourself to be happy about your circumstances? Join the conversation in Comments below. Reading by email? Click through to the site to share your comment.