My recent post on Finding Your Calling made me think about the overlap between “roles” (like parent, spouse) and “jobs” or career. For me, being a mom has been part of being a therapist. I specialize in child/adolescent therapy in large part because one of my children had special needs.
Things are rarely chopped into little boxes with real human beings, and the thoughtful comments readers left reminded me of this.
Something I don’t remember learning enough about in psych school are the the phases of family development, one of which is the Empty Nest. Erik Erikson’s broad “generativity vs. stagnation” stage from age 25 to 60 is woefully inadequate to describe the stages and phases I’ve experienced, along with clients and friends–as we go through (sometimes kicking and screaming) midllife changes.
Phase I of the Empty Nest, accompanied by graduation and departure, is the one everyone seems to look forward to. I didn’t. I loved having my teenagers and their friends around, staying up late, tracking in mud, eating everything in the refrigerator—it was so much fun, I dreaded the party ending. And end it did, with many tears and hugs.
I adjusted to this eventually, looking forward to the vacations when my daughter would return, reveling in the fact that my son was still on the island and making him have a weekly lunch with me, and substituting my kids’ daily hugs for brushing a high-maintenance Shih-tzu. In Phase I, you clean out the kid’s crap and make it into a pretty guest room (daughter’s) and s storage and framing room for art (son’s) and have a lot of feelings you take out on your husband, who’s also missing the kids.
Phase II comes sometime in the middle of the kids’ college years. You realize, and it slowly dawns—they really aren’t coming home to live in that pretty guest room or cramped framing room, and that phase of family life is over. This phase, for me, was accompanied by frantic working and writing—I worked twelve hour days and cranked out four novels—and came home too exhausted to notice there were only two pairs of rubber slippers by the door. Only I still did.
Once a mom, always a mom, I guess. *sniff*
Phase III comes when the kids graduate from college and get jobs on the Mainland (or wherever) and I realized I had two perfectly-good rooms in the house that get used twice a year when the kids visit, and I began to consider reclaiming that space for my own needs.
I know there are more phases ahead—the phase when they find partners, and then settle in to build their own families, hopefully in Hawaii—but now, in Phase III, I realize I don’t want to work so hard anymore. I don't want to write my books in a poky corner of my bedroom at a cramped desk.
So with a few tears (believe it or not, I’m still letting go) I decided to make that pretty guest room into my own home office. Here’s the story, in pictures.
Aw, that was sweet and it made me sad. My little girl is 6 and I dread having to go through these phases. I know I’ll probably be exactly the same.
I really loved your blog today. My youngest of 4 has just moved out to her own apartment with 3 other girls. I know the feeling. My other kids are all over the USA! Miami, Fl, Chicago, IL, Iowa City, IA and my youngest still in our home town.
This time went fast, way way to fast. I am missing all the commotion. I have a home full of 2 and a parttime cat all belonging to my kids at one time, my own 2 bichons and my husband. Working and wondering…..
I am still in phase 1 and my son has been at college for 3 weeks now. I love this post and wanted to re-tweet it and of course re-read it. I miss my son so much and want him home immediately…lol.
I won’t say it’s easy. But, you eventually learn to live with it…you have a ways to go before the full effect kicks in!