I was thinking about age today. I will be fifty-six years old, God willing, when my youngest son, Will, leaves home. Most of our parents were in their early forties when we left for college. So many of us began our families years later than generations did before us. What kind of effect will the Empty Nest Syndrome have on us as a result of this? I know they say that fifty is the new thirty but come on, really? Is having ones children leave the nest different at age fifty-six than lets say forty-two? Boy, when I think back on it, I was a whole different person at forty-two. For one thing, these menopausal hormones had not kicked in yet. I still had a waist at forty-two. I could sleep through the nights, that is if my three year old let me. I made a film when I was forty-two. I had more energy, more ambition, more angst at forty-two. I had fewer wrinkles, fewer grey hairs, and fewer moments of pure peace. But, do you think that when you are forty-two and your kids leave home you think you have a whole other lifetime of possibilities? Is it possible that when I am fifty-six, I won't feel the desire to pursue my own dreams anymore, that all I will want to do is live vicariously through my children. A wise and gentle friend told me told me today that she believes that if we find our passions and interests for ourselves, our children will enjoy being around us even more. I think that she is brilliant and progressive. My worry is that I either won't find my passion or when I finally do I will be too old to really care.
Another interesting point to take into consideration is that many of us have had full blown careers before we had children. Many of us then gave up our work to raise our kids. Others figured out ways to work and raise kids. Either way, there is a growing feeling amongst the women I have talked to that they are desperately trying to figure out what to do next, after the kids are out of the house. This is amazingly difficult for so many of us. Perhaps it is because we have been out of the work force for such a long time and we suffer from a fear that we won't be able to compete anymore. Most of us, really are at a loss as to what to do. We are a bit spoiled and want a job or career that allows us the flexibility we are use to but is also both stimulating and rewarding.
The only thing I can tell you is that I feel that we can't give up. As long as there is breath in our lungs we must keep searching and exploring our passion. Our ambitions might change but we must stay ambitious. I am sure I will feel differently at fifty-six than I do at fifty-one.
As with all matters of any significance, I turned to my older cousin for wise counsel. She has raised two perfect sons. They have each married wonderful women. And now my cousin has five fabulous grandchildren. Of course, she was in her very early twenties when she started her family but she has balanced family, career, and adventure so beautifully in her life. In an e-mail she sent a few days back she said, "What might be helpful for you is to think back to how your maternal role has already changed over the last 16 years, and then see the next 10 or 20 as simply a continuation of that process. When you look for another word for nesting, think of "expanding" the nest (even "renovating'"as you did your lovely house!) or colonising the whole tree in order to accommodate a growing family! One day, all being well, there will be daughters-in-law/partners to welcome and embrace - and adjust to - and then perhaps grandchildren. Lots of change and adjustment, bringing new challenges and new joys and yes, you won't any longer be the central person in their lives - but you'll always be their one 'Mum' and no-one can ever change or supplant that. .As you wisely say in the blog, letting go is part of the parenting role - perhaps the most difficult one of all - but actually you've been doing it since they took their first steps, since they went to nursery, since they first crossed a road without you...."
Did I mention, that my cousin is a novelist and quite brilliant. I hope she will impart more of her life's lessons for me to share with you.
I love this concept of "expanding" the nest. With it comes the hope of possibilities. And is that all we can really ask for? Possibility and hope is as wonderful at fifty-six as it is at forty-two or twenty-two for that matter. My cousin has opened my eyes to a new way to look at my impending Empty Nest. I can already see the possibilities of renovating! Let's hope this renovation comes with a few less headaches.
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