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Empty Nest Syndrome Is A Thing. How Do We Cope?Marybeth Bock, MPH
I remember going into a card store last February and seeing a shelf lined with boxes of Valentine’s Day cards. There were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars and superhero cards among the many others, and I was carried back to the years when I stood there with my sons, waiting for them to choose which cards they wanted to hand out to their classmates.
Once home with the cards, we'd sit down at the kitchen table and write them out together. It was fun having a project to do with them. We’d tape candy onto the envelopes to make them more special and chat as we worked. When, invariably, they grew bored with the task, I didn’t mind finishing it up by myself, double-checking the class list to make sure there was a Valentine for every child and an extra nice one for their teacher.
My boys are (mostly) grown now and, although I sometimes miss no longer being able to do things like Valentine’s projects together, there are so many things I like (and even prefer) about parenting older children.
When my boys were younger, I was on top of them like white on rice. “Do your homework,” “Go practice piano,” and “Clean up your room” were a few of the most used phrases in my nagging repertoire. Even I got sick of hearing myself say them.
I was never the type who thought my children were supposed to be my friends…that is, until now. These days I love being with them because we can interact without me always having to pester them. Yes, I still gently guide the older two (boys: please remember to make your dental appointments — teeth are important!) because, let’s face it, I will always be their mother. However, we can now also relate to each other as adults. It’s nice (for them and for me) to be able to back off. In addition, I can see that my sons view me more as an individual now and not just their mom, which is a beautiful thing.
Let’s face it — raising kids is hard. And all the while we are doing it, we can never be sure we’re getting it right. As my kids have gotten older, I'm finally getting to see the fruits of my labor. And I like what I’m seeing. It’s not about the colleges they attended, or the careers they've chosen; it’s that they have become good people. People who care about their family, friends and significant others, their community, the planet, etc. I know I can count on them, which is huge.
So it seems as if I didn’t totally screw them up, and even if (when) I made mistakes, those mistakes were not calamitous. And that’s a tremendous relief.
My boys were very active when they were little, as many kids are. I spent my days making sure they didn’t harm themselves (or each other) by jumping off something too high, swallowing something too big or poisonous, or beating each other to a pulp. They had boundless energy and I didn’t. There were days I felt I could barely keep up — with the meals, the laundry, the picking up, the tantrums, the fighting.
Now that the physical part of parenting is largely done, I can literally and figuratively put my feet up sometimes. And I’m good with that.
For a long time, I couldn’t figure out how my sons’ brains worked. Or sometimes even if they worked. We spoke a different language and I didn’t have Google Translate.
Now that they are older, they listen more and, even better, they seem to understand and are more reasonable. The parent/child divide has been bridged.
Although scheduling a family dinner or vacation has become more difficult, the time we do spend together is more fun. My sons are with us now because they want to be (although it may help that we pay), not because they are forced to be. We appreciate each other in a way we couldn’t always seem to when they were younger.
Valentine’s Day is definitely different now that my children are older. There are no class parties that require me to buy snacks, no cards they need help filling out. I do sometimes miss the art projects and bedtime stories, but I love having big kids. In fact, this may be my favorite parenting season of all.
So when I am in the card store again and see a mother waiting for her child to choose a box of Valentines, I’ll smile as I remember. And then I’ll text my boys and wish them a happy Valentine’s Day, because no matter how old they get or who else is in their lives they will always be my loves.
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