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11.27.2011

How do we prepare for the empty nest?

I wonder about people who put 'family' ahead of everything and live their lives through their children. I'm not casting a vote one way or the other here but I see on facebook and reading blogs and adding up the conventional wisdom that a good many (women more than men) say that family comes so far in front that their own lives exist in the shadows. It also seems that for many of those their own childhoods were no screaming joy which makes it strange that they would create a world where the kids are everything and they are only there to serve.

I laid my life on the line and put my needs aside when I married a woman with 2 small children with one over the top hyperactive ADD. I was young and inexperienced and didn't have a clue what I stepped into. There were definitely times when the water was so deep I needed a straw to breathe. But even then I never said that I didn't matter. I may have put my needs aside and worked entirely for their benefit but I didn't lose sight that I was one of the family members, not a robodaddy that put out all day and night. The same goes for the grandsons.

I read blogs and FB status lines where moms are lost when they aren't tending. They miss their kids like sunshine in winter when they go away for a couple of days. Some can't adjust at all when their kids leave home because they've built no life of their own inside the empty house. They expect, or want, their kids to stay totally connected with them even though they would never think to treat their own parents the same way.

The boys came back from 4 days away today and it's good to have them home. They had a great time, they're in good moods, glad to be home, and looking forward to their next visit away. As things should be. While I didn't pine for them, my mind was enough on hoping they were doing well and being thankful that there was no phone call with complaints, stress or disaster. I want them to develop a life away from home, a life of friends and far flung family, a life of independance. With that, naturally, comes the possibility that they might grow up to move far away for keeps.

I don't read a lot about close families where the parents appreciate distance - especially when there are grandchildren. They might have to deal with it, but it leaves them empty. Of course, no one wants loved ones to live far away but the odds of it happening are strong. You could build a good retirement fund betting on that one. I suspect in our modern society of fast travel, distant jobs, and lives led globally, that human nature and nurture hasn't had time to catch up. It wasn't so long ago that you grew up, worked and died within the same 20 miles of your birthplace. You might not know what the larger world had to offer and rarely meet an outsider. All the jobs were there. None of this "I gotta go where the jobs are, Ma" stuff.

If we're going to live in a world where our children raise families in Beijing while we rattle around an empty house in Yorkshire, maybe we need a better way to prepare for it while we raise our families.