(Part Three of Seven)
Raising kids for eighteen plus years is one of the most rewarding things we could ever do as a human being. We gain so much from the experience; it toughens us up in ways we never thought imaginable, we learn to be flexible, think on our feet, do silly things, and it tests every one of our boundaries. As an Empty Nester (or soon to be one) things are not only changing in terms of the noise in the house, but deep within us as well.
One of the reasons this feels so uncomfortable, and we don’t know how to maneuver the transition is, we’ve lost our ability to decide. I know this sounds ridiculous to say to a grown person, but hear me out. Every decision we have made since our child was born has not been a decision for us. It’s always been about ‘what is best for the child, what is best for the family, what is best for everyone given the situation.’ Since the first moment they breathed air, every single decision has been for them. We don’t even know how to choose something for ourselves anymore because we’ve lost the capacity to decipher what is in our best interest.
Our children are now leaving the nest to make their own decisions and we are perplexed. We have lived so long without meeting our own needs that we don’t know how to accommodate ourselves. Even after they’re gone we still consider them before committing to anything.
After her last child graduated, I asked a client to take a much needed day completely to herself. Do anything she wanted, have a self-care, pamper day where she was completely in the moment enjoying her life. She had no clue as to what to do or how to pull it off.
“I suppose I could tell all my loved ones and ask them to leave me be that day, I could prep my children that I won’t be around, I could send out an email, get things ready for them ahead of time…” A litany of preparations laid out in order to be unavailable for one day.
I filled the long silence, “You are an awesome mother, and because of that your kids are well equipped. What if you just decided to leave your phone at home and trust that the world is capable of surviving one day without you? What if you made this one decision purely for you and by you?”
She squirmed, “It makes me nervous and anyway what would I do for a whole day? I can’t just waste time like that.”
“You’ve spent every day for the last twenty-three years taking care of everyone else, and never thought for one minute that was a waste of time, but the thought of taking care of yourself has no credibility or validity with you. What’s the chance this is about you deciding that it’s ok for you to do something in your own best interest? If you were to make the decision to do this, what would your dream day look like?”
She grinned, still it took quite a while for her to dream up her day without feeling guilty. To her surprise, when she told her children, they were happy for her and proud of the decision she made to finally take care of herself.
As parents, we’ve done our job, and we’ve given it our all. Now we must reorient our thinking and give ourselves permission to make choices that are going to move us forward in this new season. Even better, if we can do so without guilt, shame or regret.
After raising six kids, my marriage collapsed in a second due to infidelity and I didn’t even know who I was not as a mother or a spouse. I had to find myself again and learn how to make my own decisions. The first choice I made completely for myself (since I’d been 22 years old and had my first child) was to put everything in a storage locker and travel the world alone in search of myself. Hearing my plans, most of my children freaked out,
“Africa! Noooo! What if we need you?!”
I gathered up my resolve and courage not to cave in to these beautiful people that I so adored, “You have each other. If something happens, rely on each other. I like to think I raised you well enough to handle life’s situations, and I know each of you to be very resourceful. I love you and I need to do this for me.”
Things did happen to the kids while I was away; big and even tragic things. And they relied on each other, even being separated east coast to west coast. They actually got closer for the experience of it, and all the while, I found out who I am on this planet and discovered my new life purpose.
Best decision ever.
Our society tells us it’s selfish to do things for ourselves, but how much more impact will we have if we know who we are now? And what quicker way to get there than by making the most fruitful decision that benefits our well being and growth. How much more will we have to offer?
On the flip side, how healthy will we be if we are clinging to the notion that we must be at beckon call for our grown children? And the truth is, we want to be at their beckon call because we want to do what we’ve always done; fix things for them. It makes us feel good when we make it all better, and we like to feel good. Now that they are grown though, this actually does not do them any favors. If we are helicopter parents hovering over them, we are undercutting their adulthood and their true experience of development and maturity.
We must decide to let them stand on their own two feet, yet another tough step in the Empty Nest process. Up next in this blog series is, “Time to Stop Being the Fixer”.