Coping with the Empty Nest
My husband, Chuck, and I stood on our front stoop waving to our oldest daughter as she pulled out of our driveway on her way to Tennessee. With a sly smile, Chuck uttered through clenched teeth, “She doesn’t have a clue where she is going.” I thought to myself, “Neither do we!” Rachel was concerned about finding her way to camp. We were concerned about finding our way through the transition years to the empty nest. Rachel did make her ultimate destination. Sometimes, I wondered if Chuck and I would.
The reality of parenting
As Chuck held the storm door open for me, he joked, “Parenting reminds me of that line in the Jurassic Park movie, ‘First comes the oohing and aahing, and then comes the running and the screaming.’ “ One of the main characters in the movie, a scientist who had previously been to the dinosaur reserve, was explaining the typical reaction of a newcomer to the park. Then, when faced with an actual life-sized dinosaur, reality set in. As new parents, we had experienced our share of “oohs and aahs.” No longer “new kids on the block,” we now embraced the glaring reality that parenting is hard work and at times, downright scary. Some days, we just wanted to scream–at our kids, at ourselves for handling a situation badly, or simply to release the pain we felt at saying goodbye to our grown children.
Parenting is terminal
As I said goodbye to Rachel that day on her way to camp, I realized anew that parenting is terminal. It does eventually come to an end, or at least it should under healthy conditions. I spent the year before Rachel’s high school graduation coming to terms with that fact. Grieving her lost childhood and uncertain about my new relationship with her, I snuck behind doors to conceal my tears, scurried off to the bathroom in the middle of dinner to blow my nose, and smothered her with hugs whenever she walked past me.
Saying goodbye doesn’t mean forever
One day, while washing dishes, I burst into tears. Rachel walked into the kitchen and I immediately opened a cabinet door to hide my face. I didn’t want to make her transition from home any harder on her than it already was. I started to leave, but as I turned to walk away, Rachel looked me straight in the eyes, took me in her arms and squeezed. That “squeeze” opened the door for a closer relationship, as I no longer tried to shut her out of my pain. We could now walk through the transition together. With broken voice, I stammered, “I know you have to leave. That’s good and right. Please bear with me as I deal with saying goodbye. Crying is just part of being a mom.” Rachel quietly responded, “I know. And guess what? Saying goodbye doesn’t mean forever. I’ll be back.”