The term empty nest can conjure up a slideshow of depressing snap shots in ones mind; a sad couple roaming the halls of a big empty house, peering into what had now become a shrine to the high schooler that once lived there, a mom struggling to cook for two after cooking for so many, a husband and wife with very little left to talk about.
We’ve been told this is just another one of those rites of passage into midlife we should dread and need to bear. Suck it up buttercup. Just add it to your list, along with crow’s feet and grey hair and go about your sad old way already.
Or not! As I begin to reach this stage of life, I’m happy to report there is very little sad to it at all for me. I feel guilty sometimes that I don’t feel more broken hearted about it, as so many moms I know are devastated right now. I get it, I do.
The way I see it, there is no right or wrong way to deal with the empty nest. The parents that are sad are fine, the parents like me that are not sad, we’re fine. I’m hoping my perspective will erase some of those sad snapshots you might have in your mind when you think of the term empty nest.
My take on the empty nest
I get missing them not being around, I really do. But I raised my kids to go out into the world and chase their dreams, to follow a path that makes their heart sing.
This is a path my husband and I never managed to be able to take. We did more of what was expected, and then were shocked along the way when we failed miserably at it. They have seen how hard we have worked at jobs we found little joy in. We did what it took to make it work.
As much as I want to keep them around, the path of their dreams is not going to be found under my roof…it’s out there in the world, waiting for them. They have to go get it.
Three kids, three crazy dreams…
Of our three children, one has moved out, one is away at college and the youngest, who is still freaked out by the amount of “only child” attention she is currently receiving, has two years of high school left.
When my oldest graduated high school, all he wanted to be was a rapper…thats it. Okay, so we promised to help nurture their dreams, but I can still only name two successful white rappers. This could entirely be due to my lack of knowledge about rappers, but I’m guessing it’s a field that is pretty darn narrow. This child has never chosen an easy path in his life! Luckily he was smart enough to realize his odds might be slim.
We were able to send him to a music production program and he is regularly making music on his own now. Did he find a job in that field? Ah, no…but he loves the knowledge acquired and enjoys making his “sick beats” anytime he wants. In the meantime, he has figured out what he really wants to do with his life and will be starting school in the fall.
To say he has struggled in school in the past would be an extreme understatement. He wasn’t mentally in the right space to have gone off to a regular college curriculum out of high school. He would have failed. I am confident now that he is prepared to chase his true calling in zoology and wild life biology.
It took him being able to explore what his kid mind thought he wanted in order to come to a real man decision on his own.
As for my daughter away at school in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, there has never been any doubt that she would be a photographer. She has had a camera firmly gripped in her hand since she was 12 years old.
Back in high school she would regularly collaborate with a couple of friends on photo shoots. They would get an idea and work together on set up, make up and hair to make it happen. She was stunned one day to realize that both girls had been told by their parents that they needed to follow a real career path, not that of photographer or makeup artist. My daughter shook her head in disbelief, asking me, “Why would they say that?” Then she thanked me for never telling her that her dream wasn’t valid, for always supporting her no matter what.
While she has been away, we have seen her grow beyond our wildest dreams. She is doing amazing and outrageous things, being exposed to unbelievable opportunities and people that only a small town within proximity of Aspen could provide. She even managed to earn a scholarship to pay for her second year based on her efforts.
By following her photography dream she has discovered she also wants to pursue a journalism degree. The passionate path has allowed her to begin to define and clarify, on her own, what she really wants to do.
So let’s recap; one had dreams of being a rapper and the other a photographer. How about that third child? What does the 16 year old dream of being? Because, if we supported the dreams of the others, we have to support hers too. Oh, she wants to be a model. Of course she does…
From a parental perspective, can you think of three more seemingly impractical dreams than these? While I have thought quietly to myself, “Can’t you just go into healthcare, or IT where there are plenty of good jobs”, I never said it out loud to them. The world will tell them soon enough if what they desire is plausible or not. They will adjust their paths based on their own findings, and not the misgivings of their mother.
My experience so far in pushing my kids to do what they truly want is that they are discovering, on their own, a future that I couldn’t have dreamt up for them. I’m good with that, really good with that.
With the kids almost all out chasing their dreams, my husband and I are finally able to think about chasing ours too. This nest is becoming a place of possibility. We have talked the talk for a long time, now it’s our time to walk the walk.
Here is the part that makes this so-called empty nest time truly great for us personally…so many of the individual things we are all doing are becoming intertwined. Becca is using Luke’s music on video projects. Bec and I are working together on a few things this summer. Emma is apparently in need of head shots and a composite card so she can start sticking her toe in the modeling pond…good thing I happen to know an awesome photographer to help!
The point is, by chasing our dreams, we are becoming more tightly connected to one another.
The 3500 square foot house may be getting more empty, but the nest is securely bound in the hearts of this family. No sadness here.
So next time you feel doom and gloom setting in about a midlife term, remember, we decide what the rites of passage of aging are like…we decide.