Feathering Your Empty Nest

By Suzan French

For somewhere around eighteen years, you’ve taken care of them, nurtured them and provided them with the necessities of life and an abundance of unconditional love. Now, as you help your children prepare for the next phase of their lives, you find yourself facing the next phase of yours: the dreaded “empty nest. ”

Empty nest syndrome is a term that was coined in the 1970s to describe feelings of depression, loneliness, abandonment and loss felt by parents when their children graduate from high school and leave home to attend college, join the military or live on their own. Originally, the condition was mostly associated with women, as mothers have traditionally served as their children’s primary caregivers while fathers worked outside the home. Of course that dynamic has changed as more and more women join the workforce, fathers become stay-at-home dads and companies allow employees to telecommute.

Still, while empty nest symdrome can affect either parent to varying degrees, today’s moms and dads say  it may not be a syndrome at all, but a welcome change, an opportunity for both them and their offspring.

SPREADING THEIR WINGS

Sandy Martin had no illusions about her daughter Linnea’s post-graduation plans. From her freshman year in high school, the now 21-year old knew she would attend her school of choice, more than 300 miles away from her home in Lower Saucon Township.

“Linnea knew she wanted to major in education, knew she wanted to be a teacher, knew she wanted a school with a Christian emphasis and knew she desperately wanted to be away from home,” says Martin. “A young woman wanting her independence…she just didn’t want to be home.”

While Martin wasn’t surprised by her daughter’s desire to move far from home, nor was she hurt by it and didn’t take it personally.

“I was fine with that because I understand it. She just wanted her wings. I knew I would miss her, but I had to give her space. She’s a very independent kid, always has been from the time she was a baby,” explains Martin. “When you have that kid who wants to go, you help her find a safe way to do it.”

Having a strong, trusting relationship with her daughter was key, says Martin.

“I had moments when I would miss her and cry, but they were short. We are both very secure with each other, so I didn’t see it as a loss in the relationship. There was no emotional distance, just geographical,” states Martin.

LEARNING TO FLY

Wade Haubert, Jr. was pleased by his stepson Brandon’s desire to live off campus, but at a college not too far from their Orefield home.

“The purpose of college is to be exposed to the rich diversity of life, meeting new people, dating new people, taking a variety of classes. You’re trying to find yourself and learn about being on your own,” believes Haubert, Jr. “Unlike video games, there is no restart button, no do-over. You don’t get a second life if you screw up. Your success or failure is your responsibility; and you can’t get that experience living under your parents’ roof. We were excited to see how that would turn out—the ultimate test of our parenting.”

Haubert, Jr. married Brandon’s mother Antoinette when Brandon, now 21, was 10 years old. Circumstances as they were, the couple skipped the honeymoon phase and passed directly into family mode.

“Up until the time he left, our time together was spent trying to provide the best life for Brandon and the best possible future,” says Haubert, Jr. “Even when the realization came that he was gone, we knew he wasn’t gone for good. Our work would not be completely done until he graduated from college and was settled. So when he left for school, we thought that while Brandon was off doing his own life, we could focus on each other. We were excited that he would be close by, but also excited that we would have time alone.”

Haubert, Jr. suggests couples start preparing themselves for the empty nest as early as their child’s junior year in high school.

“Lay the foundation early so it is a smoother transition when the kids leave. Plan date nights, have interests separate from your children and look for new ways to have fun with your spouse,” advises Haubert, Jr. “Most importantly, communicate. Discuss what you envision life to be like when the kids are gone. How will it impact the family? What are your financial goals? What will you do? Will you travel?”

(In a tragic twist of fate, Haubert, Jr.’s wife, Antoinette, suffered fatal injuries as the result of a car accident in May. He  is grateful that he and his wife had the opportunity to rediscover each other prior to her death.)

Martin and her husband have two more children at home: Danielle, 18, who will be attending college locally, but living on-campus, and Debbie, 16, who is beginning her junior year of high school. Martin says having more than one child eases the symptoms of empty nest syndrome because the house is still bustling with activity, so the impact isn’t as great. Being a working mom also helps because it keeps Martin occupied and busy.  Still, the Martins are already planning for the future when their nest is empty.

“We’re talking about possibly downsizing, moving to a warmer climate,” says Martin. “I’ll keep working because being connected and keeping busy helps with empty nest syndrome. You have to have to your own life.”

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