For the past year I have been working in one of the biggest transitions in my life - that of my three children moving out of the house and living a majority of their time away from our home at the universities they are attending. I have found that I have needed all my self-compassion and awareness skills along with my web of support, as I try to navigate this change. How do I support them as they spread their wings and go into new situations and not helicopter or micromanage? How do I share my authentic self and support them in not hearing they are responsible for my feelings? How do we maintain connection while we are no longer physically together, and how do I be with loneliness and missing in my heart? How do I face that my most precious people go out into a world I don't always trust?
I realized that I have needed a lot of time to work with this change. And I found my husband was on the same page too, he also was missing them immensely. We both found it challenging to respond to comments such as, "So have you gotten used to your empty nest?" or "Are you enjoying your freedom now?" or suggestions of what to do to "fill" the time now that the children were gone.
I realized, 1. I need a lot of empathy and understanding for just where I am and the freedom to not follow a prescribed path others believe I "should" be on. I need empathy for myself and room to be with this change in the way I need to. So I decided to look at why I got triggered and felt more alone when people made those comments? I realized that I had a belief that if I "got over" it quickly then it wasn't honoring the depth of the love I had for them and our life together. I had spent 21 years as a parent with children in my home, being around some of my favorite people. I realized I was struggling to understand why in this society families must separate as we do. And I needed time. When I heard those comments, I had a sense that I was not doing "right", and so more loneliness.
My husband and I didn't have a sense of resonance that others struggled like we did and yet it was comforting to be understood by eachother.
2. I learned to really get clear on what I wanted back from people - "I just long to be heard for not wanting to "get used to it" because I really like being with my children. And have that be ok and expected. Would you be willing to hear how hard it is for me and how just hearing that is helpful, and you don't have to solve it?"
3. I learned that I have had many of my needs met by my children - companionship, authenticity and acceptance, in that it is only really with my family I can really be myself and know I have acceptance, of course also meaning and purpose, knowing I matter, contribution big time, love, connection, play, and a shared experience, etc! And I came to realize that's ok - what a wonderful strategy that has been serving. I spent awhile beating myself up that I tried to make it so I wouldn't be devistated when they left by having my own passions, and then I realized that I didn't do anything "wrong", I just was experiencing the grief when something ends. Afterall, we will never be at this place again.
4. I have learned that to have the quality of connection I so cherish, it does not have to have physical presence. I am learning to find ways to maintain connection and what I call my new "text" parenting role. In this way I am thankful for technology and how it CAN support connection. Texting, facetime or skyping, sharing pictures, jokes, links to videos, snapchats through out the day and night keeps us in each other's lives.
5. I have learned to trust that connection and I am so grateful that I changed my parenting to concentrating on maintaining the connection and trust in our relationship rather than on certain results or behavioral changes. They want to have connection with us, they don't need to "rebel" or "push back", they want us in their lives. And with this I arrive at a huge connection of gratitude and love for these amazing beings in my life.
6. And at family camp this summer I was reminded of what I had learned before, and now was experiencing - that there are stages to transitions and sometimes we want to jump to strategy when we may need to be with what is. I was so comforted and felt so validated when another NVC trainer, Erin Merrihew, expressed that there can be a lot of grief that comes when something ends and to honor that sadness and grief. She is the one who reminded me of the picture below and the stages so I could see I had a place on the chart!
7. I am glad that I have been taking my time to understand myself and have compassion for myself. I have found that reminding myself to be gentle with myself - to have awareness and compassion - has been essential.
And now as I head into the second year where all my children are at university, I remind myself to be gentle to myself and notice what I'm longing for as a way to stay present, in this moment. And to seek support. "bucking up" has never worked for me - letting the sadness, or grief, or melancholy lead to what it is that's important to me - love, connection, mattering, and meaning usually in this case. I hope that this has been helpful for you to read.
Marcia has been studying and practicing Nonviolent Communication since 2005. She has experienced immense joy & gratitude while learning this consciousness. This blog reflects some of that learning.