Let the Family Changes Happen
When we dropped our daughter off at college, her dad and I and her younger sister drove away, tears streaming down our faces (well not her sister’s face). We’d return home as a family of three which took on a whole new personality. This was the first of many family life shifts I experienced. It took some time for us to adjust to the empty chair at the dinner table and to cooking for three and only having to chauffeur one child around. It was different. Not good different, not bad different … just different. In hindsight, it was an opportunity for us to really get to know our 13-year-old youngest child who, while she was certainly not shy, (we are a very talkative family), definitely had to vie for attention.
I cherish both of my daughters equally and I have no favorites but there is something special about having one-on-one time with each one of them because we have amazing discussions that may otherwise be lost in a family conversation. Did we miss our older daughter? Immensely but we also knew that this was our parental job; to raise our daughters to be independent and strong and let them go off to discover their passions.
With every visit, whether she would come home for a holiday break or we would go visit, we’d revert back to our family of four roles. Even with the back and forth during her four years of college, reverting back to our family of three or four seemed relatively easy now that we had grown accustomed to those dynamics. But, our younger daughter was growing up fast, and oftentimes, it would just be my husband and me… pre empty nesters.
I kept remembering the advice my own mom gave me which was “children are lend-lease. You have 18 years to mold them into independent, kind, loving people and then you have to let them go.” It wasn’t that we wouldn’t see our kids after 18 years or wouldn’t worry about them once they flew the nest (my mother also said “parenting is forever”); it was that our family dynamic would eventually have to change. Our older daughter temporarily moved back home after graduation, and once again, we had our original foursome. The behaviors, the roles… they just fell right back into place. That is until a tragic accident took their dad’s life and our family dynamics changed overnight with no warning, no advance preparation just an in-your-face, figure-it-out type of disruption.
Herculean Family Changes
The changes that ensued in our family were herculean. Once again, the empty chair at the table was very noticeable but this time there would be no returning to our family-of-four dynamic. My role drastically changed, borne out of necessity. But, they were both young adults which I considered to be a blessing and after a long, long, long adjustment, we settled into our new family dynamic. When I look back, I am amazed at their strength and resiliency. We learned to laugh again, to have fun, and to accept our life shift.
My younger daughter left for college a year later and BAM, it was just two of us. Living with my older daughter gave me a unique time to get to know this young adult daughter of mine. And yes while she was still living with me while working her first job, our relationship shifted to more of a friendship. I, without doubt, know that many other parents go through that same transformation with their adult children. When she moved out, I was, for the very first time in my adult life, a true empty-nester. I was proud of my daughter for moving on and adulting but, I unapologetically admit to a 15 minute, tear-filled, full-on pity party. Eventually, I dried my eyes, took several big breaths, pulled up my big girl panties, and emphatically told myself “You’ve got this!”
Two years later, my younger daughter graduated from college and moved home for the summer. I knew this was short-term so, while our family dynamic changed once again, just as I did with her older sister, I got to know my daughter on a different level. There have been so many changes to our family dynamics that it has been dizzying. Moving in, moving out, visits home, vacations together. I am fully cognizant of the fact that life is full of shifts and does not exist in a vacuum. But I think by far, that 2020 has changed almost everyone’s family dynamic.
College students abruptly came home in March, some with their belongings still at school. Many people were either furloughed or lost their jobs. Suddenly we were all locked down and had to grasp numerous changes thrown at us at one time. If you had told me that my young adult daughters, both of whom had moved to NYC to start new jobs would return 5 months later for a weekend visit only to not go back, I would have thought that preposterous. But that is exactly what happened. They just returned to pack up their apartment, put their furniture in storage, and are coming back to live with me until…
… Until a job loss leads down a new path
… Until my WFH daughter is called back to her office
… Until well until who knows.
And, like many friends and acquaintances I know, some of us are living with our adult children. A part of me has truly enjoyed this time with my daughters over the past 7 months. I would have been by myself which would have been isolating and lonely so having them here has been a blessing. We made changes to accommodate this new dynamic, one I will readily admit is not 100% foolproof but we are getting there.
The part of me that does not like this dynamic (hear me out first) is that I am sad for my daughters and many of the college students and twenty-somethings who should be enjoying “the best four years of their lives” or their new adulting lives. As my daughters head to the airport in NY to fly home until…, I find myself making comments like “I am so excited to see you both but I feel bad it’s under these circumstances.” They hate it when I make comments like that. But as a mom, I do feel their loss. And I recognize that it is these sorts of comments that make me realize I have completely missed it and that is okay.
My younger daughter gifted me with the book Journey to the Heart (daily meditations on the path to freeing your soul). Each day consists of a short meditation. Ironically, my very first reading was titled You Haven’t Lost Your Place in which addresses life shifts and changes that make us feel we’ve lost our place. It addressed feeling out of tune, balance, rhythm, and balance. It perfectly describes how I, and I am confident many of you, feel when people are leaving and the form or shape of our life is changing. It closes with an intriguing view that while we may be going through a shift it does not mean that the magic has disappeared or is gone; it means that things are moving and movement is good. (I invite you to get this book; meditation during a very trying year is very healing).
For now it may feel like you can’t
Find your place, but that’s because
Your place is changing.
So as we spend the next who-knows-how-many months together again, I am confident that we will be okay with this newest shift in our family dynamic until….