Senah S. Andrews, MS, LPA
|Posted on August 3, 2017 at 12:25 AM|
I have been dreading the Empty Nest for years! The very idea of my boys leaving has made me feel overwhelmed with sadness. Don’t get me wrong, I am so proud of them and want them to live independent lives. I’m thrilled with their college choices! I encourage them to pursue their own paths and have given them ample opportunity to gain independence through travel, camps, sports, independent decision making and jobs. BUT…WHAT ABOUT ME? I feel like I have just been downsized from my dream job, my life’s work. I know, I know…parenting never ends, it simply evolves. That all sounds good in theory but the reality for me is that the physical nurturing, caretaking, activity planning, homework checking, soccer jersey washing, carpooling, playdate planning, PTOing, Santa Clausing, Tooth Fairying and all things “kid magical” have come to an abrupt ending. (Insert kick to the stomach.)
What the hell do I do with this? Is my “nest” really empty? Does the nest represent my heart and soul? God I hope not! Will Chuck and I enjoy the solitude of the nest? Will we reconnect with each other and the passion we had as a young couple with no children? Will we be relieved to have our weekends free, weeknights without soccer games and no more arguments over chores, curfew and sassy language? Somehow those issues seem insignificant now.
I have prided myself on the fact that I embraced each developmental milestone with joy and excitement. I loved watching the boys grow, take on new challenges and become more independent Rites of passage were openly celebrated by all in our household. I took off for a massage on Kindergarten day, planned girls trips as the boys became less dependent on mommy and even went back to work full time. Not too shabby! So WHY am I feeling so lost and lonely NOW? Isn’t this the natural order of things?
I’ve spent my career helping others redefine their lives based on healthy beliefs, positive self -talk and loads of self -care and self -love so I decided to take a look at what goes on in my own head when I think about the boys leaving home. The messages are overwhelmingly negative both from the outside world and from my innermost thoughts. Good grief I have work to do! Friends and family ask me how I am doing as if having college age kids is akin to having terminal cancer. Older mothers reflect on this time as dark, sad and lonely. I hear horror stories of young adults gone astray or just simply gone. It’s as if the mommy superpowers we once possessed have been crippled by college kryptonite. I think more about what is ending rather than what is beginning. Themes of loss are at an all-time high. Am I a washed up superhero just waiting for my next gig as Wonder Granny? (Jeez…this seems pathetic.)
What if this whole Empty Nest crisis is simply a manufactured smokescreen? What if the real deal is that it’s time for me to GROW? What if I am destined to develop my own talents apart from my role as a wife, mother, daughter or therapist? Now that’s some scary shit! As I write and think and question everything I know to be true the path begins to unfold. This stripping away of all that I have been is making space for all that I will become. The EMPTY in Empty Nest is simply the SPACE BETWEEN “Us and Me.” Empty sounds sad and lonely but SPACE sounds hopeful, liberating and free! I can get down with this!
What am I supposed to do with this new level of insight? I must redefine Empty Nest…not simply accept what the world would have me believe. I’ve tackled the word empty and reframed it as space but what about nest? I’ve always thought of my nest as our little home and family. Chuck, Dom, Keys and I form the nest and over time we grew to include Brittney and Desi. As an only child coming from a tiny and fractured nest I thought our nest we created was quite full and brimming with life and love! I FREAKING LOVE MY NEST!! It’s funny how we place limits on our own reality and grow comfortable in our own small worlds. A nest is designed to grow, nurture and protect little birdies only until they are able to fly. The nest is a launching pad, a safe zone. A nest is not where real living and flying take place. OMG the nest was always intended to be temporary!
LET THAT SINK IN...THE NEST IS TEMPORARY!
Looking back into my own childhood I always feared things that were temporary. I hated letting go of people, places and things that I loved. I held on too tightly, tried to control my wins and losses, quit before I was abandoned or failed, put up with unhealthy relationships and deeply mourned change. Leaving my childhood home, losing friendships, boyfriend breakups, my parents’ divorce and the death of my mother have all been normal transitions that I was once unable to embrace with grace. The Empty Nest has loomed overhead as another uncontrollable loss that would inevitably bring sorrow. But does it have to?
I sit in awe as it hits me that this whole Empty Nest thing has not been about my kids at all. It’s not about Chuck or our marriage.
It’s about that scared little girl inside me who fears abandonment, craves love and seeks validation from others.
(Good Lord that was hard to write!)
How do I nurture Little Senah, grow her up and allow HER to fly, liberated from her tiny nest filled with limitations, rules, comfort and safety?
I am a firm believer that we often do a better job nurturing those around us than we do nurturing ourselves. So, I look around me to see what I have done “right” for my boys. They seem to be navigating their “launch” quite well. What did I do to prepare them? Can I follow the same model to prepare myself?
First, I love my boys unconditionally. do I love myself that fiercely? Probably not…
I need to work on self love!
Second, I gave the boys increasing responsibilities, new experiences and lots of opportunities to gain mastery in independent living skills. Have I given myself the same? Absolutely not! After marriage, I leaned on Chuck, shared responsibilities, shifted blame at times and became increasingly dependent on our family system rather than on my individual abilities.
I need to find a balance and rediscover my own competencies.
Third, I allowed my boys to take risks, venture out on their own and experience the world through their own eyes. They lived at camp in the summers, traveled to far-away lands without mom and dad and joined teams and groups geared to their own interests, not ours. Have I allowed myself these experiences as of late? Of course not! I have lived according to what is best for the family system. Individuality was traded in for the collective good. That’s ok, it’s what we do as parents but…DOES IT SERVE ME NOW?
I need to pursue interests, curiosities, relationships and set goals that set my soul on fire!
Finally, I have encouraged my boys to create their own path, follow their curiosity, break stereotypes and listen to their own inner voice. I have often turned a deaf ear to the whispers of my own gut. It is uncomfortable and uneasy to walk away from people, places and things that no longer serve me. At times I have chosen convenience over conscience, peace over passion, complacency over compassion and stagnation over hard work. All of these choices have kept me grounded in my safe little nest, forever in a holding pattern forgetting that it was my time to launch…to soar unencumbered.
I guess the mama bird in me needs to kick the baby bird in me out of the proverbial nest!
August 10th we take Keys to college and August 12th I will take a “Soul-O” flight out of my comfortable nest. I have chosen to take a 3 week cross country driving/camping trip to reconnect with my inner spirit. I will immerse myself in nature while visiting numerous National Parks and cool cities rich with history and art.
I will write, dream, question, challenge my fears, learn to get still, embrace being alone and fall in love with my soul.
I have chosen to be off the grid so I will not be engaging through phone, computer or social media. I will however engage with the beautiful souls who cross my path.
I am excited, anxious and at times scared to death!
Fear always precedes growth and I know I am headed into a big stretch!
What do I need from my loved ones?
The one thing that has become abundantly clear for me while planning this journey is that I have everything I need inside of me. I don’t need approval, understanding, support, admiration or cheerleading. I do however know that my life is richer because of the love I have in it from friends and family so please hold space for me because I am coming back!
Chuck has been the most amazing partner! He has supported my idea from the beginning, placing his own fears aside in order to hold space for my growth. What a gift he is!
I truly believe that we will both grow from this experience and that our relationship will reflect the growth in amazing ways yet to be discovered.
Is this a midlife crisis?
Of course! But I prefer to call it a midlife AWAKENING …Crisis is so DRAMATIC!
Is your marriage in trouble?
Stagnation kills marriages… ours is anything but stagnant. We've got this!
Why so extreme? Why not go to a spa or fun tropical destination?
Grit is formed when we test ourselves…no one ever developed grit at the spa!
Will you be safe?
Safety is an illusion. I will make wise choices, keep my instincts in check and will make every effort to protect myself from obvious dangers. Most importantly, I will trust in the Divine to guide me on this journey!
I look forward to sharing my photos, journal entries and stories from my journey when I return in September. This is just the beginning of my journey with many more adventures and growth opportunities ahead but for now it’s time for this little birdie to FLY!
With courage and compassion,