Editor’s Note: Richard and Linda Eyre will be guest hosts along with Dr. Joseph Allen on a “Book of Mormon Symposium at Sea” leaving March 21. To learn more about this uplifting and exotic Caribbean cruise click here
How does our parental stewardship change when a child moves out from under our roof to go to college or on a mission or to work? Do we have any less responsibility? Is it any easier? Are there any fewer worries? How do we deal with financial questions? With spiritual issues? With the emotions we face?
These are questions we’ve been dealing with a lot ourselves lately, and we’re pleased to be able to share some of our thoughts (and those of a lot of other ENPs Emptying Nest Parents and LTNs Leaving the Nest Kids that we’ve consulted) with you in this new Meridian Magazine column. Please send us your feedback, comments, and ideas.
Parenting is Forever:
We post it on our refrigerators: “Families Are Forever.” One clear implication, and one we don’t think about often enough or hard enough, is that “Parenting Is Forever.” We like to say, “‘Father’ and ‘Mother’ are the only callings from which we will never be released.” We know that family relationships can continue beyond this life. Our whole concept of heaven is based on it. We even know that the Church itself is temporary while the family is eternal. We start our journey as parents here on this earth, but we end it never.
At the end of life, all that matters is our relationships. What we need to understand is that relationships are what matter before the end of our lives too. Twenty or thirty or forty years before the end of our lives, our children leave our homes. If our relationships leave with them, we are guaranteed a legacy of loneliness. But if we maintain and build onto our relationships with our grown children, we maximize the happiness on both ends.
If you’re an average baby boomer, you will be a parent for nearly sixty years of your life, and only twenty or thirty of those years will be spent parenting your kids while they live with you. You’ll spend half to two-thirds of your parental span as an empty-nest parent!
And it doesn’t stop there. As Church members, we have so many added insights about the eternally important (and eternally joyful) nature of families. One of the most important of these is that family relationships are the one thing we can take with us from this world into the next. Not only our marriages but also our parenthood can be eternal!
Reminding ourselves of this should be motivation enough to take the time and put forth the effort required to thoroughly think through the empty-nest phase of our lives and to work with our children to create a vision and a plan for the kind of extended family we want to have. We want to build relationships with our children and our grandchildren that will provide them and us with the eternal joy we were sent here to find.
The reason aging people get “discarded” in America is that they don’t take their rightful positions as the continuing heads of their grown families. They suffer for this, and so do their children and grandchildren. We tend to blame the plight of the elderly on “Western society.” “In Asia,” we say, “parents and grandparents are revered and respected by their adult children.” But in fact, we parents of grown children have no one to blame but ourselves. If our goal is to put in our time and do our parental duty until our kids turn eighteen and move out so that we can get on with our own lives and devote ourselves exclusively to our own enjoyment and our own ambitions, then we deserve it when our children fail to listen to us or respect us or look up to us – and when they begin to see us as a burden that they may have to take care of.
How to Think About Empty Nest Parenting:
What is the best way to think about and conceptualize empty-nest parenting? First of all, try to view it as a fourth and completing phase or stage of your mortal stewardships. First-stage parenting is babies and preschoolers – the incredible formative time when children acquire 80 percent of their cognitive abilities and need an incredible amount of parenting attention. Second-stage parenting is the elementary school years – sometimes the least turbulent and worrying phase but also the best time to teach children responsibility and values. Third-stage parenting is the adolescent years when children become decision-making young adults.
And then comes fourth-stage parenting – beginning when children first leave home and continuing and continuing and continuing. This is empty-nest parenting, and it can (and should) occupy about half of your adult life here on earth.
Empty-nest parenting is an issue (an opportunity, a challenge) from the day your first child moves out until the day you die. But there are four times, whatever sequence they come in, when new issues and needs arise, and when empty-nest parenting takes on special intensity and importance:
1. When your child first leaves home, often for college.2. When your child first gets a full-time job.3. When your child gets married and starts a separate family unit.4. When your child has a child – and you become a grandparent.
The order and sequence and shape of these four phases will be different for each child, but the ideal scenario is to be ready for each spike of opportunity (or need) and to talk to your kids ahead of time about each one. Then you will have some objectives in mind and some plans and ideas in place before you need them. If you are already into one or more of the phases, the challenge is to think of and learn and apply some appropriate approaches as soon as possible.
What to Expect From This Column:
As we write to you each month on the subject of Empty Nest Parenting, we are going to attempt to divide the subject up into “bite size” sections. We will deal with Emotional Empty Nest Parenting and with trying to find the balance between “hanging on” and letting go. We will talk about Social Empty Nest Parenting and sorting out the evolving relationships and changing roles. We will discuss Financial Empty Nest Parenting and finding the balance between assistance and independence. We’ll get into Mental Empty Nest Parenting and helping with each other’s goals and plans. And of course the most important facet of all is Spiritual Empty Nest Parenting and understanding that all real answers are spiritual.
We will also talk about the most common questions parents have as their nests begin to empty and give not only our answers but good answers we’ve collected from other empty nest parents around the church.
Four “Infrastructure” Elements That Can Help:
Even though this is essentially an introductory column, let’s end with some substance. There are four things that many empty nest parents find indispensable in their new role as extended family patriarchs. Together they make up a sort of “infrastructure” for the new empty nest parenting phase of life.
1. Place (a traditional location to gather)
We’re writing this column in a place we call “the Lighthouse,” a summer house we built on top of a steep hill overlooking Bear Lake, a natural aqua-blue gem in the mountains on the border of Utah and Idaho. We’ve been spending family time here for twenty-three summers. More communication, more relaxing, more sharing, and more fun seems to happen here in the few days or weeks we spend each year than in all the rest of the time and all the rest of the places put together.
Extended families – families with grown children – especially need a place to gather and to communicate. It ought to be a place somewhat removed from the daily routine and rat race – the normal distractions of work and friends and media and commitments. Days seem so much longer at a place like this – there is more time to talk and listen and enjoy each other. There also seems to be more time and more opportunities to discuss problems or choices and to help each other with solutions and decisions.
For some Emptying Nest Parents, this place might just be the family home to which kids return. But the problem there, usually, is that the parents have a busy work life and social life revolving around their home, so they are not really “getting away” when the kids visit. A second place – somewhere else to go where the dynamics and perspectives change a little – is worth its weight in gold.
And, by the way, it doesn’t have to cost very much gold. One family we know just uses their old Winnebago. Once they’re in it together, they start to talk and have fun on a different level. Another family has a very inexpensive vacation rental that they go to in the off-season. Others just have a good tent and get away to go camping. Friends in Bulgaria and the Ukraine, though they earn virtually nothing by American standards, still have a little “docca” – a tiny country or forest cabin, often that they’ve built themselves, where they can get away as a family.
In our case, we started with a one-room-and-loft A-frame at Bear Lake – all we could afford, but a place to start making memories as a family. It has grown and been added onto over the years, and now whenever we want to get together for real talking and real fun, it’s here at Bear Lake. This is where so many of our traditions are, and so many of our cherished memories. We’re glad we started coming here so early, when our kids were small, but if we hadn’t done it before, we’d do it now – for our grown family. Get a place to gather and to enjoy and re-bond.
2.Reunions (structuring and organizing our gatherings so they help each family member grow and progress)
Family Reunion. The phrase conjures images of parks or beaches, barbecues, volleyball games, and tug-or-wars. Many of us have those memories of childhood, and the nostalgic feelings they retrieve ought to be reason enough to create the same kind of memories for our children and their children. When kids return for reunions, there can be a magical merging of past, present, and future.
To be successful, a family reunion ought to provide generous helpings of three things besides the food:
a. Funb. Opportunities to teach each others the gospel.c. Progress on the family structure (genealogy, mission statement, finances,and so on).
Fun. When we gather each summer at Bear Lake, water-skiing is the top priority. When the wind is calm and the water becomes a sheet of glass, we drop whatever else we’re doing and head for the boat. Reunions also include the annual Eyrealm tennis tournament and the Bar Lake pentathlon (events: sagebrush run, cow pie toss, water rock skip, around-the-deck race, and surf and swim relay), not to mention late-night marathons of “Speed Scrabble” and “Scum” (a hard-to-explain card game).
Gospel Teaching. Each person is assigned in advance a gospel topic to present in one of the “serious sessions” (late-night meetings after kids are in bed).
Family Structure. Create an adult mission statement and a family constitution. Work on these at reunions, along with genealogy, family finances, and other “business.”
3.Service Expeditions (getting together in adventurous circumstances to serve others)
A few years ago, we were invited to join the board of a nonprofit humanitarian group called CHOICE (Center of Humanitarian Outreach Inter Cultural Exchange). The CHOICE philosophy (and there are other similar groups around the country) is that to really serve, people have to give of themselves as well as their money. The group accomplishes this by sending our “expeditions” to intensely poor Third- and Fourth-World locations. The expeditions last ten days to two weeks and accomplish some particular project, like building a simple school or health clinic, digging a well, constructing an irrigation project, or setting up micro-enterprise businesses. Expedition members (usually a group of several families) pay their own transportation plus the cost of the materials to accomplish and complete the designated project. An advance team of interns usually gets the materials in place before the expedition arrives.
It wasn’t long before we discovered that we could go on one of these expeditions for less money than we’d spend using the same vacation time to go to Disney World, Hawaii, or on a cruise.
We also realized that you don’t have to go halfway around the world to derive these benefits from service. A full-family “mini-expedition” to feed the homeless at a shelter provides the same kind of bonding and communication and the same kind of perspective and gratitude.
4. M&FM or F&FF (“future mothers” and “future fathers” clubs)
Several years ago, when our two oldest daughters had gone away to school, I (Linda) realized how easy it would be to lose touch with what they were thinking and how they were really feeling. Then, as our first grandchild was about to enter the world, I was worried that my daughters might lose track of how important their role as mothers was as they encountered the stress and hardships of everyday motherhood. In addition, I felt that our daughters, whether they were mothers yet or not, needed to think about motherhood as a serious career, one that would make not just a little difference but a profound difference in the lives of not only this generation but many yet to come. I realized that unless we organized a time and place to be together so that we could talk about these things that really matter, we might be in danger of being like ships passing in the night, never really sharing our deepest feelings, especially about things that matter most.
From this kernel of thought has sprung the illustrious organization Mothers and Fathers of Eyrealm (MFME for short). Once a year, usually for three days and two nights, the Eyre women meet at an appointed place and time to exchange ideas, enjoy cultural events, and generally relish being out of our own worlds and in the world of nurturing our love for each other and appreciating each other’s ideas. Although motherhood is the underlying theme, it is so exciting for me to learn from these women who have their own perspectives and such good ideas because of their life experiences!
At the first conference, before any of them had children, we talked about motherhood “theoretically.” Each conference becomes a little more interesting as our older daughters grapple with the realities of actual mothering. We try to combine communication about motherhood with deep communication about learning and opportunities to share what we’ve been learning, both about motherhood and the world that surrounds us, since the mother is the primary teacher in the home.
See you next month for Emptying Nest Parenting column II!
2003 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.