One of the good things about being a parent three times over is that I am more focused on life’s ordinary moments as my last child inches her way toward leaving the nest. Recently, I was packing to go away for a rare “girls weekend” when my daughter sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me about the friends with whom I was traveling. Ultimately, our conversation shifted into a philosophical one about her own friends and the importance of friendship.
I will readily admit my many failures as a mother but one of the things I am most proud of is the way I have communicated through action (and words) how much my friends mean to me.
I am inordinately grateful and comforted when I look at my two older children who have already “flown the nest” and see the kinds of friendships they have established. They demonstrate to me that they understand how to be loyal, inclusive, trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive in times of trouble. They accept and celebrate differences. I am wowed by the way that they have chosen their inner circle (with an extended selection of friends beyond this) based on “matters of the heart” and common values.
All those years when I forced them (claiming it was good manners and very important to me) to have a conversation (sit and dine) with my friends, helped them to understand the subtitles of relationships and importance of friendship to me. All the times I prayed out loud for someone, shared my sadness and concern, or dragged them along as I lent a hand to a friend-in-need has paid off.
Over my weekend away from my family, I pondered the time I have left at home with my youngest daughter in a new light. I have surely grasped that time is short….. to stand on the sidelines, help with homework, navigate her next steps, laugh together and do “girly” things and more.
However, possibly the most important part of this juncture is that it is my last chance to model important life lessons. Once children leave for college, they begin to shape their own lives. More importantly, I hadn’t considered that what is really different is that they aren’t watching their parents as closely and certainly those times to interject just don’t happen as naturally.
Once a friend (and a family therapist) comforted me by saying ” don’t worry that your kids aren’t listening to you….they are watching you every minute and absorbing the way you live.” This was a huge support to me during those adolescent years when a grunt was the regular feedback of the day.
I posed this question to my group of girlfriends: What is the most critical thing to communicate, by word and deed, during the days when my daughter still lives at home? The serious and comic conversation ranged from wishing they had taught their child more old-fashioned manners to others who worried about what they forgot to teach their last child because they were tired and forgetful. In the end, I frame this question to other empty nesters.
What last lessons should I focus on in during our car conversations ….with the driver’s license date looming in the near future ?
On a side note, as I was about to send a photo of the group of girlfriends to my husband and kids, thanking them for the time away, my oldest daughter beat me to it. A year out of college, she was away on her own “girls weekend” with eight of her high school buddies…..
Gabrielle McCree is an ESL Adult Teacher, Hispanic Resource Center and English Language Institute, Manhattanville College. She is a mother of three, Lori (25), Chris (23), Andrea (18).