PENS (Premature Empty Nest Syndrome)
My kids are upstairs in the spare room working on their homework. I just went up to check on them because it is eerily quiet from the usual complaining, procrastinating, laughing and debating that typically accompanies doing homework within 10 feet of each other.
My parents were visiting this weekend and my mother told me that she and my dad were remarking how they can always tell when my kids are home with me or not by the tone of my voice. I thought it may have to do with the multitude of noises in the background but apparently they were able to do a multivariate analysis, isolate the variable of “tone of my voice” and statistically demonstrate that in fact, I sound a lot more depressed when they are not around.
I will leave it to the final peer review committee at the New England Journal of Medicine to decide if it actually stands up to their study standards but aside from that, they are right. It has been hard not seeing them everyday as of late. It is a somewhat recent phenomena as their sports and extracurricular activity schedule affords me opportunities to connect with them at games and such even if their custodial day is not with me. Unfortunately, my soon-to-be-ex remains inflexible anything schedule-related even though we are less than 2 miles apart – not a criticism, just a fact for purposes of this blog, and therefore these extracurricular activities are the only opportunities I have to physically connect with them on a day that they are not with me legally.
Due to holidays etc., these days have not been as plenty (though, luckily, due to basketball and a new play, this is starting to change again.) My struggle has been with how to connect outside of 10 minute FaceTime chats or at least deal with those days that are more difficult. I know that rather than treating the symptom (feeling low), I have to get to the route cause and that is where the challenge has been.
I looked up “empty nest” syndrome to see if, maybe, outside of the traditional leaving for college, there is an overall syndrome that is exclusive of what caused it – in other words, is this syndrome really more about the state of the person on the receiving end (the parent) and less about the stage of life of the person causing it (the child)? And the overwhelming answer, of course, was “duh – yeah!”
See, besides simply missing my kids being in the house, even if we are not necessarily interacting at that very moment, there is the idea of how we are as a unit and that is a big part of how I define myself – as their dad. I like that part of me, regardless of whether there are some days when I think I probably need to be put on administrative leave for a while.
When it is just me, alone, I feel a little lost, as if I am not really sure who I am or what I am supposed to do. Is this because I need the distraction? Is it because I don’t feel I have a purpose otherwise? Is it because I no longer have an excuse to watch bad television? I don’t know! Maybe it is to some degree. All I know is that it feels like hell.
I always imagined that when the kids went off to college or whatever direction their path may take them after high school, that, of course, there would be a natural longing for daily contact. I just wasn’t prepared for that at ages 14 and 12. Truth is, that they are evolving into active, involved adolescents with their own lives and my main goal is to guide them and then let them go. I am a part of their lives regardless of whether we have dinner together every night or not. It is their journey and I am here to help them navigate. Now, I need to take the same approach for myself.
Until next time,