A Fresh Take on the Empty-Nest

babybirdcropEmpty-Nest; the words I’ve been dreading. I’ve been here before. There’s the vicarious thrill of seeing your baby set off on a new adventure mixed with the pain of saying goodbye. My heart physically aches at the thought of my last kid, or even the two before him, heading out the door bound for college.

My experience doesn’t ease the pain of this last baby bird flying the coop. The finality of my last child leaving scares me. My child – yes I know there’s wisdom in Khalil Gibran’s words, “Your children are not your children.” It is a beautiful sentiment, but Gibran didn’t even have children. What the hell did he know? I understand the concept that my children are not mine in the sense that I don’t possess them body and soul. But in coming through me they take a part of me; leaving me feeling less than whole when they’re gone.

It’s not even the physical departure that hurts. I know from experience they never really leave. They visit often. They share their successes; even seek advice with their failures. These moments, however, become fewer and farther in between. But it’s a slow progression; less painful than the abrupt rip of my heart that I brace for. I know, like the jab of a needle, the anticipation is worse than the actual experience. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but flinch at the thought of it.

I think the heartbreak comes from reaching the milestone rather than the actual flying away. The first steps, the first lost tooth, the first day of school, first date, driver’s license; these are all steps in the natural progression of events toward the day they leave. As a parent you spend decades dedicating your life, your love – your being, to the health and welfare of your child. Then, poof, your job is over. No wonder parents feel depleted once it’s all said and done.

I propose a paradigm shift for the empty-nest syndrome.

First, we need to ditch that label. There’s nothing empty about our lives. Our homes and hearts may feel temporarily vacated, but this is not a terminal condition. If anything, the extra space we now possess is filled with possibilities. We’re not empty, we’re free. We’re free from the challenges our beloved offspring present on a regular basis.

We’ll always be parents, but now we’re kid-free parents (KFPs).

Maybe KFPs need a commencement ceremony to solidify their new status. Just like our graduates, we deserve a new outfit for the event or at least a new pair of shoes. We should throw a party. Maybe have friends and family bring gifts to help launch us into this next phase of life.

This is after all, a beginning, not an end.

Our kids are sent with new linens and decorations for their dorm rooms. We should at least get a new set of sheets (the really nice ones with Egyptian cotton and a high thread count). Perhaps we too should expand our education. We could take cooking lessons or a pottery class, maybe learn to speak Italian. The point is, as a new KFP, we’ve got to place ourselves in situations that allow us to try new things and meet new people.

Let’s start a national initiative to encourage the dreams of these newly awakened individuals who, after taking time out to help procreate the human race, still have a future ahead of them. I challenge my fellow KFPs to pull out a picture of yourself before kids. Forgive yourself for the overly permed hair and padded shoulders and look deep into the eyes of the person you once were. What passions have you set aside in order to take on the all-important role of parent? Are they still there or do you have new ones? Now go forth with the same enthusiasm and determination you’ve managed to foster in your children and reclaim your own hopes and dreams.

By all means, love your kids, miss your kids, but don’t do it at the expense of losing yourself. You deserve a reward for raising an awesome human being. Now it’s time to get out there and raise the person you were meant to be. At least until they call to say you’re going to be a grandparent, then all bets are off.

20 Comments

  1. Linda Larkee
    Aug 23, 2016

    I love your perspective! Very well stated: “To all of us who are kid -free”: Whoot, Whoot!!! We did it!!

    • Kerry Parry
      Aug 24, 2016

      Thanks Linda, my fellow KFP. I’m glad I only had to help Sean with some boxes, no horses required.

  2. Michelle
    Aug 23, 2016

    Kerry, this is awesome! I love the paradigm shift idea, because that’s what it really feels like! I am currently sitting in Italy (because I can….back to school doesn’t exist for me, PTL, and now my summer actually goes into September like it’s supposed to!), and JUST LAST NIGHT I said to Dave I want to take cooking classes and cool modern floral arranging classes too. It can feel frustrating still not knowing what I want to be when I grow up. I think it might be the dicovering it along the way that’s what life is anyway.
    Peace to you and Doug as you send off your baby. Cheering for you!

    • Kerry Parry
      Aug 24, 2016

      Thanks Michelle. I’m so glad to hear that you and Dave are safe in Italy. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip.

  3. Alison
    Aug 24, 2016

    Well done, Kerry and Doug. KFP at last! It is a milestone in your lives as much as your children’s. Good luck to Sean at college. Hope he enjoys his time there and makes lifelong friends as you did.

    • Kerry Parry
      Aug 24, 2016

      Thank you Alison. I think you and Anton win the prize for best KFP strategy by moving to France!

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