Balancing Your Needs and Theirs
by Richard and Linda Eyre
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
In the last installment we discussed the interesting and sometimes very difficult challenges of empty nest marriage. In this column we will re-visit some of the perspectives that can make the emptying nest phase of life more manageable and more approachable, and then we’ll discuss the difficult question of balance . . . how to balance our own needs as empty-nesters, especially as empty-nest mothers, with the on-going and evolving needs of our grown children.
Even when your children are grown and gone, parent is still the most influential and important role in your life. And though there are plenty of light moments and humor in parental relationships with adult children, this stewardship that we call empty-nest parenting is a pretty serious thing because families and family relationships need constant maintenance.
The four key challenges and opportunities of the empty nest years are the very elements that will insure your own happiness for the balance of your years on earth and guarantee your eternal family for the eternities. Think about the magnitude and importance of these four difficult challenges which are also marvelous opportunities:
1. Choosing who you want to be for the rest of your life – and centering that choice on family.
2. Making family bonds grow stronger rather than weaker as years pass and generations grow up.
3. Becoming true patriarchs and matriarchs and leading and supporting your family forever.
4. Creating a mutually beneficial and increasingly interdependent relationship with your children as you share your lives, your knowledge, and your love.
Somehow, many parents get the idea that when their kids grow up and leave home, they are done with parenting. Well, fellow parent, think again! Parenting isn’t finished when kids move away for college or jobs or marriage. The challenges change, but they don’t end. In fact, they often get bigger and more complex.
But here’s the good news: Just as the worries, problems, and challenges of being a parent don’t end when the kids no longer share the same roof, the love, joy an fulfillment don’t end either. And while it’s natural for a parent to dread the day when children leave home to be on their own, it’s also natural to look forward to the “freedom” you’ll have when your kids move on and you have less day-to-day responsibility for them.
Kids moving out is just a change of venue B a road game instead of a home game. They’re still ours, our salvation is still linked, our stewardship is still intact.
So what kind of an empty-nest parent will you be? How much control and influence should you try to maintain with kids who have grown up and moved on? How much do you want to help them financially? How can you do so without undermining their independence? How much should you influence their decisions about their day-to-day needs and problems? How often should you call or write or email? How much do you want to influence where they live and how close they locate to you? How often do you want them to come home? Most important, what do you need from them and what do they need from you?
There are lots of questions – what and how and when and where questions. Most parents have a wait-and-see attitude – dealing with issues as they arise and feeling their way along. The thesis of this column is that you are better off with a plan – some well-thought-out-goals about what kind of an empty-nest parent you want to be and some specific ideas about how to make it happen!
This ongoing monthly column will help you formulate your own objectives and will be a metal grab bag and a thought and idea prompter. We’ll throw out more methods, techniques, and ideas here than any empty-next parent will ever use or than any one family could ever want. Every family, every parent, every child, and every situation is different. The key is to examine your own unique family situation, talk about your kids, set your own goals, and then choose methods and plans that work for you to reach your unique family aims and objectives.
Balancing Your Needs and Theirs
I (Linda) want to tell you that, with our large number of children, we have had more than our share of farewells and homecomings. In addition to sending kids off to college, new jobs, and marriages, we have also sent all of them off on missions (to Romania, Bulgaria, Spain, England [twice], Brazil, Chile, and Japan.)
Even though we have been spinning children off into the world for more than fourteen years, we’re only now just approaching a truly empty nest as the last of our children prepares to “launch.” Yet we have also realized that we’ve sometimes seen the same child come and go several times, and we’ve learned that dealing with the emotion of empty-nest parenting is an on going process no matter how many children you have! Furthermore, as time marches on and they really are gone, there are emotional and poignant times when you have to decide just how involved you want to be with the children after they have left the nest.
As a mother, I have quickly learned that, even though I had thought of this era of life as carefree, empty-nest parenting can also become a day-to-day, full time job if I allow it. There is always a need for phone calls, advise, baby-sitting, and of course, money. When children who have left home are in various kinds of emotional stress, I have to decide when and how much to help. Every other empty nest mother I have talked to as had the same experiences and feelings. The following is a list of the “pulls” we feel on our time and energy (from each direction – our own needs and our children’s needs.)
Our own needs:
Time to exercise, play tennis, play gold, run or walk, and enjoy nature.
Time to think and set goals for the future.
Time to enjoy each other as husband and wife and do things together that we haven’t been able to do because of the needs and demands of the children.
Time to sit down and read all of those books we’ve been stockpiling.
Time to develop personal gifts and talents that have lain dormant.
Time to resume a career or find a job that is meaningful and fulfilling.
Time to travel without the demands and worries of children at home.
Time to give service in volunteer work.
The children’s continuing needs:
Letters, email, and “care packages.”
Advise about what classes to take, what to major in, what job to take, and how to deal with their own kids, and so on.
Advise about major decisions on where to live, buying a house, going into debt, and so on.
Support and help as they deal with a spouse or a child’s illness, emotional stress, financial hardships or difficult circumstances.
Requests (“Please send the robe I left,” “Please call someone for me,” “Please come and visit for a few days.”)
Family reunions and coordination of family events, from weddings to mission calls.
As we try to balance these lists, we can quickly see that the balance will be different for different mothers (and fathers) according to our unique needs and preferences. Although there is no right or wrong in many of these decisions, it is important to Abegin with the end in mind.”
There seem to be two extremes on this spectrum. On one extreme are mothers who feel that they have “done their thing.” It is now time for them to fulfill the dreams they have put on hold while the kids were growing up and let the kids take care of themselves. They do not intend to be roped into baby-sitting when they’d rather be working or golfing, and they are essentially saying, “Good-bye, I love you, but you’re on your own!” After all, our goal is raising our children to work our way out of a job, right?
On the other extreme are mothers who have loved parenting their kids so much that they just don’t want to give it up. It has become their whole identity. They are so centered on the great times they had in raising their children that they cannot imagine having fun doing anything else. Also, it is so fun to be intimately involved in the lives of their grandchildren while not having the total responsibility of their care. They want to have a hand in guiding their children (the parents of their grandchildren) in matters of discipline, money, and wardrobe. After all, that’s what all these years of experience and finally having a little financial stability have been for, right! This time around they can really do a good job.
Though there are mothers on each end of the spectrum, most of us fall somewhere in between. What we have to ask ourselves in order to find the right balance is: What do I want for my children and their children at the end of my life? If I want a truly deep and meaningful relationship with my children and grandchildren, it is going to take some time to develop. Are we willing to make sacrifices to baby-sit when we are desperately needed, even if it’s inconvenient, because we realize that each encounter with a grandchild is “money in the bank” for creating a wonderful relationship? For some whose children and grandchildren live too far away for baby-sitting to be an issue, giving up part of vacation time or making a long trip to see them may be the sacrifice needed to create a special relationship.
I’ve found there are some key questions mothers can ponder to help us establish what we want our emotional relationship with our children and grandchildren to be – and to help guide our decisions as we move into and through the empty-nest years. Thinking about them now might help establish in your mind the relationship you want to have in the end, rather than just working things out as you go and wishing you’d thought some things through more clearly before you got to the end. In order to make things work as you’d like them to in the long run, you have to think through in advance what you want your future relationship to be with your children. Use my following questions to as a springboard to help you think of even better ones of your own.
At the end of my life…
How do I want my children to remember me?
What will each child say about our relationship?
What will they say they learned from me?
What specific memories with my grandchildren will be my treasures?
Will I feel that I have spent enough time with each grandchild to really know him or her?
Have I paid the price to balance my relationship with my children after they left home? Was I overbearing or aloof?
If you think long and hard about these questions before you get too set in your ways as the children leave home, your chances of being an emotionally stable empty-nester will become much greater. If you have a clear idea of what you want in the end, it will make the day-to-day decisions so much easier and the burden of guilt, or wishing you had done better, so much lighter! What it all boils down to is one key question to ask and answer now: “What specific things can I do now to ensure the relationship I want to have with my children and grandchildren at the end of my life?”
By the way (Richard Speaking now), I think these questions work equally well for empty nest fathers. And I think we dads feel most of the same emotions Linda has mentioned. Linda insists that it’s harder on moms, but I suggest we dads need to ask ourselves the same basic questions.
Good luck in this wonderful balancing act. Be sure to tune in the again next month when we’ll talk about the “eleven elements of successful empty nest families.” In the meantime, we invite you to visit emptynestparenting.com.
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Please respond to the following three questions about your own Emptying Nest feelings and experiences. Your answers (with or without your name- your call) will be shared with other empty nest parents throughout the world (just as their answers will be shared with you) on the emptynestparenting.com web site. Further questions and ideas will come to you later by email.
1. What has been your hardest adjustment as your child (children) grew up and left home?
2. What’s the best idea you’ve had for communicating effectively with a child who has left home?
3. What questions or concerns would you like to see addressed by other empty nest parents?
Submit to: rickrick”aros.net
Contact Information (so we can send you additional results and information)
* This information is for the sole purpose of updating you with information from the Eyre’s regarding Empty Nest Parenting and Values Parenting. It will not be sold or distributed to any other organization.
2003 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.