Tag lines. They define, designate, and identify us. Some people have M.D. after their name, some have Ph.D., but all of us have a title of some sort.
We begin with the name Baby, toodle into Toddler, and gradually grow into Child. Next comes the tumultuous title, Teenager. If both parents and child survive that one, we arrive at Adult, although Young Adult is now bantered around.
Some of us situate ourselves at Single; some of us mosey into Married, where we willingly take the qualifier Wife or Husband. Then the cycle begins anew, but this time we become Parent of the Baby, Toddler, Child, and Teenager.
A new set of names works its way into our language then. Empty Nester. Sandwich Generation. Middle-ager or Baby Boomer as my generation is tagged. At some point, hopefully, we become Mother-in-law and Father-in-law, usually followed by Grandparent. But ultimately, we become the Elderly.
It occurred to me recently that I have worked my way through most of that list and there aren’t many categories left to place a check mark beside. This happens when you pass the big Five-O, and start sliding toward 60.
I was rudely reminded of that last night as hubby and I met with a nice gentleman who discussed long-term care insurance with us. Talking about the possibility that one or both of us may need such a thing if a lingering illness should arise made me want to hyper-ventilate. “I’m too young to be thinking about long-term care!” my mind screamed as my face hid behind a pasted-on smile while listening to his presentation.
As much as I think I have embraced my “fifty-something-ness,” I guess there’s still a smidgen of denial there. This morning I’ve been pondering my current state of life. What are the tag lines that define me?
It’s true I am an Empty Nester. I think that for some of us, this stage of life comes in two phases. The first phase is when your teenagers/young adults start heading off to college. Hubby and I experienced a period of ten years in that phase. Our oldest daughter went to college in the year 2000 and our youngest child, our son, graduated from college in 2010.
Stage one of empty-nest-hood is a quasi-phase, I think. Even though one or more of your children moves out of your home to attend college, they still return for summers and/or school breaks, so they aren’t yet fully supplied with wings to fly completely out of the nest. Most of the time, they still rely on you for food, a washing machine and dryer, a room in which to retreat, and probably monetary funding as well. So relationally and economically, they still are your dependents.
Empty nest stage two arrives when your children actually and literally move out of your home, either through career launching or marriage. As difficult as stage one may have been, stage two is gut-wrenching and liberating coinciding together. Emotionally, it is difficult to let go, to watch your child’s attempt at solo flight without your assistance or interference.
The empty nest also can be quite lonely, especially if you realize you’ve lost connection with your spouse during those difficult years of parenting. The absence of a brood of teenagers/young adults makes your home a chilling, quiet place. But hopefully, you find a new sense of direction with your spouse and that leads to liberation.
As each child spreads those wings to fly, you cheer him or her on and rejoice in the freedom that flight brings you. It can be an exciting time for them and you. When adult children launch careers (or get married) and become self-sustaining, we parents experience more financial freedom and more time to engage in all those things we relegated to the back burner when we became parents.
Since our son (our youngest) just graduated from college this past spring and moved to another state to launch his career this summer, hubby and I have been attempting this adjustment into empty nest, phase two. The finality of this stage is what makes it so daunting.
All three of our adult children have proven they are quite capable of independence. As their mama, I’m oh so proud of that, but at the same time, I must deal with the anguishing hard fact that they don’t need me like they once did. That’s why this phase is so gut-wrenching, especially for those of us who were stay-at-home moms.
Many empty nesters wear the sandwich generation label at the same time. This generation describes those of us who support college-aged children and at the same time take care of aging parents. Our sandwich generation days came to a close when my father, the last of our parents, passed away.
I think that is yet another reason I struggled so considerably – my final stage of empty nesting was arriving at the same time as my sandwich generation period ended. Double whammy. So I engaged in a “Who needs me any more?” period of mourning, until I realized that just because they don’t need me, doesn’t mean they don’t love me.
So through prayer, patience, and positive thinking, I’m casting off the mourning veil; I’m coming round the bend (but not going off the deep end!).
The late Erma Bombeck, whose writing I think was hysterically funny, once said, “When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they’re not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They’re upset because they’ve gone from supervisor of a child’s life to a spectator. It’s like being the vice president of the United States.”
Well said. It’s about time I accept the label and the challenge that comes with it. Hence, I do hereby accept the office and title of Empty Nester, and on those days, I’m tempted to mourn, I’ll read this passage – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.” (New King James Version)