The wait is over. Our college students are home for the holidays. I’ve grown accustomed to empty nesting, faster than I’d ever anticipated, but I still looked forward to shoes cluttering the hallway and laughter from downstairs keeping me awake at night.
In preparation for their homecoming, I’d shopped for their favorite snacks, cleaned their rooms from top to bottom and made homemade cookies close enough to their arrival time that the house would be filled with that fresh-baked smell. I’d been so excited to have a full house again, especially after enduring several long and lonely months. I’d felt like a young child awaiting Christmas morning as I counted down the hours for my kids to walk through the side door.
My teens are finally home
They’ve been home for several days now, and I’m still waiting for that anticipated sigh of relief of having everyone under one roof. Instead, I find myself wandering through the house aimlessly, uncharacteristically tidying and looking for new ways to keep my mind occupied.
Confused at why I was feeling so unsettled, I sought out my husband for advice. I found him in the basement, emptying storage closets and sorting through countless plastic bins. He was purging, trying to get organized. That’s where his nervous energy goes when his heart starts to ache.
He turned to me and asked, “Why do we suddenly seem so irrelevant to them?”
Our kids. He was referring to our kids. Surrounded by mementos representing varying phases of their lives—the Fisher Price dollhouse, dress-up clothes, Legos, jigsaw puzzles from every family vacation we’d taken together and a sampling of soccer cleats and wrestling shoes—my husband immediately clarified what I’d been feeling since our kids had arrived.
I knew it would be somewhat difficult for them to come home. They’d each lived on their own for different lengths of time and under different circumstances. Returning to an environment where someone else wants to know where you’re going and waits up for you to return can be stifling. I get it. I’d been there myself. So, I’d try my best to honor the freedom and independence they’d grown accustomed to. Turns out, that’s not the challenging part.
My home is now full, the loneliness remains
My house is full, but the loneliness remains. It’s a different kind of lonely, maybe even worse than the kind that comes with being alone. Surrounded by my loved ones, I too feel irrelevant. In less than twenty-four hours, the cookies were gone, and their bedrooms completely cluttered.
My son picked up right where he’d left off a semester ago, spending most of his time in his room before dashing off to a friend’s house. My daughter at least parks herself in the family room, but only feigns interest in our lives between episodes of her favorite Bravo TV shows.
That’s why I feel so anxious. I’ve been suppressing my emotions to avoid facing my disappointment. I’d had this grand idea of how joyful our house would be when the kids returned, how happy we’d be and how much fun we would have. But their idea of fun doesn’t quite fit with ours at the moment. They’re young adults who’ve missed their friends. Again, I remember it well.
To my own mom and dad, I’m sorry if I ever made you feel irrelevant. You aren’t and never were. I finally understand how much it hurts when you pour your heart and soul into raising a family, only to have them grow up and pull away to pursue their own lives. It’s natural—exactly what’s supposed to happen—but that doesn’t make it any easier.
The circle of life can bring happiness and pain in one simple breath. But the point of it is to keep moving forward. Not to dwell on the downside, but to keep grabbing moments of joy when they come your way.
Relationships with our children evolve drastically as they enter adulthood. The kids may be hyper-focused on their own lives now, but that won’t last. As they grow older, they’ll come around again. Requesting recipes so they can cook their own holiday meals. Asking for advice on how to raise their own children. And seeking counsel on a variety of unknowns the same way we turned to our parents.
This stage of life is different but there is still room for parents
This stage of life might be different, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for us. We’ll always be their parents—the people who raised them, encouraged them, believed in them wholeheartedly, and advocated for them when no one else would. We did our best to expose them to life’s offerings and taught them right from wrong. So, even if we’re no longer the center of their universe, they remain the center of ours.
And we consider ourselves blessed that they still want to come home at all.
Now that I understand where all this nervous energy originates, I won’t change much over the next few weeks besides shifting my expectations. I’ll still wander aimlessly, fussing over the house and the holiday meal. But I’ll allow myself to feel all the feels and stop sheltering my heart.
I’ll appreciate each and every second of our family time together now no matter how sparse it might be and remember that there’s plenty to look forward to. Laughter and conversation. Hello hugs and goodbye kisses. Sharing a bottle of wine over dinner or several beers around the pool next summer. Future family vacations, birthdays, weddings and grandchildren.
Yikes, did I just say grandchildren?
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Family Traditions are the Bricks in the Foundations We Build For Our Children