I am a member of a wonderful group of women who write about midlife. Under the umbrella, THE WOMEN OF MIDLIFE, we now have over 1,000 members and within the group are writers of novels and poetry, photographers and chefs, designers and members of the medical community–all experiencing midlife and helping one another as they share their experiences. Some members have created products or research and present products that make midlife even better. Many have published books.
A year ago, Melissa T. Shultz interviewed members for her recently published book: FROM MOM TO ME AGAIN How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented The Rest of My Life.
Melissa interviewed me and my answers appear in sections of her book. But when I was looking for a topic today, I found both questions and answers and realized they underline some things I have been wanting to write about–and so here is the interview–unedited and honest. (Footnote: Life is often a search for another’s experience as we make important life decisions. I encourage you to read Melissa’s book, especially after reading this post–because the interview is only a glimpse into the material that she covers and that readers in similar situations can benefit from.)
1. As a mom, do you believe that children come first? That is, do their needs take precedence? When you bring children into the world, you have to care for them. If that means that you must give up certain material goods or blocks of time in your life to love, rear and help your children grow and adapt to living in the world—then yes! A child’s needs should take precedence over your own. Or don’t have children. But also, don’t create some imaginary world where you watch what others do and want to give, buy and push your child to be like someone else’s. Be sensible and reasonable in your rearing. Give them love. That’s what they want and need. Not stuff.
2. Do you think being sad or depressed when the kids leave for college is a sign that you were too involved in their lives? Everything works on a continuum. If you are deeply depressed and need medical help when your children leave for college—then again, yes, you need help. Women who live through their children and monitor their lives too closely lose themselves in the rearing. Then when the object of that attention no longer needs them—what is left? Possibly depression—or at the very least a long time adapting to the change.
3. If you have children still living at home, are you putting off a personal dream that you hope to accomplish when they’ve left for school or moved out? My children are all gone now, but looking back—no I did not put off a personal dream. While raising my two daughters who were 4 years apart, I got up early almost every day and wrote until they awoke. When my son was born, I even tried to publish a book on having children after the age of 35—I was 42 when I had him. Then I went to nursing school and became an RN working in labor and delivery. Later, when he was in grade school and high school, I wrote three novels. And I also worked at home proofreading for a publishing company and then taking a position outside the home as an educator at the health department, part time.
4. If you could go back and change one thing about how you prepared yourself (or didn’t prepare yourself) emotionally for your son/daughter’s departure to college (up to four years before he or she left), what would that be? Here’s the crux of that question—becoming an empty nester can be hard no matter how you prepare. I think by having another life, my writing, my nursing, I did prepare myself. But what is part of the empty nest syndrome is ultimately the fact that you are entering another stage of life. You are leaving that exhilarating time of the bonding family, and if it’s been a joyful experience, which it was for me and my husband, then it’s just sad to have to give it up. What I am saying is you can’t prepare for that. It’s life. You are now at another stage and you are aging.
5. If you’re an empty nester, are you in (or are you contemplating) a new career? If so, tell me a bit about how it came about/the reality vs. expectations, etc. I am an empty nester, but when I first became one, I might be a bit different in some ways. As my son moved off to college, my husband’s chronic illness worsened and my mother’s dementia increased. I started writing my blog, Boomer Highway, because my life was so busy with so many responsibilities, and I needed to figure out how to manage. Of course I did manage, and I wanted to help others who were in the same proverbial “boat” that I was in. My son graduated, then lost all his possessions in a fire. My husband retired, then almost died until he got into a clinical trial that is saving his life. My dearest mother did die and then we moved across the country. Life goes on and on. Sometimes you just hang on. My career? Then it was coping. Now it’s writing and working toward publishing my novels. I also enjoy reading and taking deep sighs of relief.
6. If you’re an empty nester, are you still as close to the women friends you had while your kids were growing up together? Please elaborate. Those friends I swear are in your bloodstream, your bones. They are the golden oldies. So yes! My Chicago friends who were there while raising my daughters and my Des Moines friends who were there while raising my son are still in my heart. We email. Some visit. My husband and I go to their children’s weddings when we can. It’s a process as everyone has busy lives. But certain ones are always there for me and they are the oldest and dearest, the ones from the very beginning.
7. If you’re an empty nester, have you made new women friends since your child/children left? If so, how did you meet and were you actively seeking new friends? Friends are precious. Since we moved, I only have a few in the new community where we live, and when you don’t have children to pull you into groups of people, it takes a lot longer. And I guess I’m more content to write and read, though I did join a book club. I confess, I miss my friends from Chicago and Iowa. That’s why social networking is nice. Not the same, but helpful.
8. Regarding your partnership or marriage, how has the empty nest changed/not changed the dynamic between you? Our marriage is great. We have been the best of friends for 45 years in marriage and for 51 years if you include dating. We still share the same faith, the same politics and of course our children and grandchildren are amazing familial bonds. He is my greatest supporter and our love, every aspect of it, is still present and giving our lives joy. Though my husband has been through a lot with his chronic illness, even after a day of chemo, he would get up the next morning and go to work. He is strong and forward thinking and that helped me to believe and be strong. Same with my mother. Her abiding love and belief in me all my life helped me to give back to her what I needed to give at a very tough time in my life.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Maybe some people don’t realize that every day of family life you are building toward the end of that family life. If you love and give and support, it most probably will come back to you when you need it. And believe me, we all will. Being a parent and parenting has been a gift in my life and it continues to see me through midlife and I am sure it will be there for me always.