"Survey for Empty Nest Moms. Social psychologist Carin Rubenstein is writing a book on how women feel about their children leaving home. If your children are over age 18, click to respond to her survey."
How intriguing! Well, since I fit the parameters, I took the survey.
My first problem was deciding on a definition of a child having "left home." Is that when she goes to college? Gets married? When does one exactly "leave home"? My children left home gradually. Once they started college, they still kept our house as home base, but their visits were fewer and less extended. For a few years, they came here for the summer. Then they moved out of the dorm into apartments. Marriage finally made the whole thing official. It's not just one day we're the 4 of us, then the next day we're 3, then the next day, 2. It was a process. We could see our lives changing. Heck, we expected our lives to change. Kids grow up and leave home. It's the way of nature; it's the way of the world. Thank goodness it does happen gradually, though. It helps the poor parents to make emotional peace with the idea.
College was certainly step one. Because the university our children attended is only an hour away, it didn't feel so much as if they were leaving home. And thanks to cell phones and e-mails, and - yes - Internet chat, we stayed in frequent contact. We kept their rooms in the house just as they left them. Our house was still their house; after all, one can't really consider a dorm room "home." They kept their house keys so they could come by if we weren't here. They were still dependents on our income tax. Yes, the umbilical cord was still intact.
Closer to college graduation, we could see that that cord was becoming a little wobbly. It was love, of course. The beginning of the end of our family unit. After all, they were adults now, and they were thinking about their futures. Rachel was doing student teaching, coming off a broken engagement, when she met the man who was to become her husband. It wasn't long before his house became more of a home to her than our house. Her marriage in 2002 cinched the deal. One child had definitely left home. One umbilical cord had been severed.
Well, OK, we still had Matt. But we knew it was inevitable that he would leave, too. I think Ed sensed it first. Ed would shed a few tears every time Matt came home. Everything reminded him of Matt. Every tool that he couldn't find, he blamed Matt for losing it. (Do you remember Alvin and the Chipmunks? It was just like yelling "AAAALVIN!") But he would never stay upset for long. He would just sigh. It was little things like that.
Then it happened. Matt too fell in love. The times he spent here in this house meant his body was here, but his heart and mind were with Sarah. Engagement and marriage followed. Leaving his wedding , I remember thinking, "We're really empty-nesters now."
The More magazine quiz wanted me to describe how I felt when the kids "left home." Was I anxious? Sad and depressed? Relieved? Joyful? Unfortunately, they didn't have a choice marked "all of these." We went through every emotion during the gradual change in our family unit. We were anxious about their futures, we were sad that they had grown up and would miss them being around, we were relieved that they had turned out to be well-adjusted, functioning adults, and we were so happy they had found true love and married people that we respect and love, too. All the above.
I didn't have to give up being a parent. I didn't look around after the house was empty and say, "Who am I?" or have some kind of identity crisis. Because my love for my children transcends time and distance. I know they are cared for by their spouses, and I know they are building their own families. It is as it should be. I gave each kid the pre-marriage lecture about the fact that their loyalties were now primarily to their new spouse first.
Rest assured, their spirits are still here in this house. Especially when Ed can't find his drill.