Two years ago, in the fall of 2015, my husband and I officially entered the empty nest chapter as our youngest son left home for University. After the initial shock wore off, we set the intention to explore and re-create our new “family dynamic.”
Entering any new phase of life and transitioning from one chapter to another can feel overwhelming and/or exciting, depending on how we choose to be with it. The empty nest chapter can feel daunting if we allow ourselves to wallow in the emptiness and stew in the memories of the past. But it can also feel invigorating, especially if we choose to celebrate our children’s growth and evolution and invite curiosity into our own lives.To be with this new chapter, my husband and I did all of the above—reflecting upon the past, celebrating the present, and looking in anticipation towards the future. We chose to get curious about all that could become possible for us, both as individuals and as a couple. And soon enough we had carved out a new lifestyle for the two of us, which very soon became our new normal.
For years now our three children have been returning home intermittently for a few weeks or months here and there, coming and going as needed. But during this time, for the most part, we have been a family of two.
This summer, however, we knew would be different. Our eldest son recently graduated and would be moving back home—his long-term plans undecided. And our youngest son would be joining him for a few months before heading off to camp.
And so our nest was temporarily refilling. Our family of two was soon to be a family of four—more unfamiliar territory with yet another adjustment to our “family dynamic.”
And thus began the overthinking: How was this even going to work? Would I have to slip back into my old role as primary caregiver and put my career on hold once again? How would we fare as a family—our strong and unique personalities together under one roof? What was the overall expectation? What would my sons make this mean? What would my husband and I make this mean?
I was feeling both anxious and excited, but perhaps a little more anxious than expected, which created huge pangs of guilt. How could I have been feeling anything other than pure joy and excitement that two of my three children would be returning home?
The umbilical cord, which I myself complained had been stretched too far, was now gently being pulled back home. What was wrong with me?
Instead of sitting for too long with these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, I decided to set the intention ahead of time to choose what I wanted to feel, how I wanted this new chapter to unfold, and what I wanted to make it mean for me. I had discussions with my husband and children every step of the way to hear what they, too, wanted to make this new chapter mean for them.
It has already been a month that we’re all living together and truly enjoying the experience. Our open communication has replaced the overthinking.
We are learning more every day about how to fully embrace this gift of our family of four time together for as long as we have it. Most importantly, we have created the space for unconditional love so that none of life’s pettiness can get in the way of what really and truly matters.
In life, when we reach a time of transition, that is a moment in time when we need to step into new territory in order to create a new normal, it is essential to realize that we each get to choose what we will make it mean. We each get to choose acceptance or resistance, overwhelm or curiosity, certainty or possibility.
And although we cannot control all of the circumstances of our lives, the element of control lies in our thinking. It is our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that contribute to our stories, which ultimately determine how we interpret and respond to every life circumstance. We do get to choose what marriage, parenting, ageing, and even what empty nesting will be like. We do get to decide what we want to make it mean for us.
For me, I have taken on the role of mother once again because I have chosen to. If that role had been forced upon me and if expectations were imposed, then I may have become bitter and resentful. But on the contrary, this has been my decision and, likewise, my greatest pleasure.
Last night my boys said to me half-jokingly, “What did we do to deserve this?” I smiled, knowing full well that it is I who remain forever grateful for the honor of mothering them.
In fact, they too are mothering me—looking out for me—caring for me and even holding me accountable in ways I never thought possible. Sometimes children need to go away and then return in order to fully appreciate their blessings. There is a kind of wisdom that evolves from growth and maturity that only life experience can offer.
No matter how our lives unfold, and whatever transitions we may face, I suggest that we always remain open and curious to what is possible. And remember this most essential piece: we get to decide what anything and everything means, be it a word, a phrase, an event, or even an entire chapter of our lives.
Our all-powerful thoughts and stories tell us what is right and what is wrong—what is acceptable and what is not—and so we need to create those stories ahead of time and consciously choose how we want to be with what is. In so doing, we not only make peace with the present moment, but we also create the space for life’s magic and wonder to unfold—for the unexpected and pleasant surprises to arise.