Empty Nest

8 Easter Gifts for Grandkids that last longer than Chocolate

Toys, books and games are great if you want to give your grandkids an alternative to Easter eggs and keep them entertained at Easter. Some of the following toys can also make great prizes in an Easter egg hunt.  Your grandkids will have great fun without overindulging in chocolate and becoming hyperactive and irritable.

1. Where’s the Bunny?: An Egg-cellent Search Book

Easter is coming and the rabbits are decorating chocolate eggs to deliver. The eggs fall down the rabbit hole and land in Fairyland. Children go on an enchanting journey through their favorite fairy tales to find the bunny, 10 eggs and a few chirping chicks. 

alternative easter gifts

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2. Plush Girl Easter Bunny Basket Tote

The plush girl tote basket  is crafted from soft poly-cotton fabric and features an adorable white girl bunny with rosy cheeks . The soft polka dot handle is easy for little hands to hold and your grandchild will enjoy filling up the tote with Easter goodies on an Easter egg hunt.

easter bunny

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3. Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit Jack-in-The-Box

A classic jack-in-the-box musical toy will appeal to grandkids who love Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter the Rabbit. The box is made of durable, sturdy metal and the pop-up is a  plush puppet.  The toy plays “Pop-goes-the-weasel” when it pops up.  

easter gift for grandchildren

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4. Dig-a-Dozen Dino Egg Dig Kit

Kids can excavate a toy dinosaur like a T-Rex from a dozen dino eggs with a chisel and brushes. This kit is suitable for kids of six and older. It includes 12 cards that describe the history and characteristics of each dinosaur. Your grandkids will love digging in an egg and slowly uncovering the dino inside.  After digging up the dino, they match it with a card to learn more about it.

Dino egg

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5. Inflatable Bunny Ears Ring Toss Game

The whole family can join in the fun with the inflatable bunny ears ring toss game. All you have to do is toss the 12 rings onto the bunny ears for a fun Easter activity. The package includes three Easter bunny ear hats in purple, pink and yellow and twelve inflatable rings in pink, blue, green and purple.

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6. The Original Egg-mazing Easter Egg Decorating Kit

The Original Egg-mazing Easter egg decorating kit spins hard-boiled eggs so that kids can decorate them. The kit includes the spinner and eight quick drying non-toxic markers.  It makes the whole process of decorating real eggs a much less messy one and is suitable for kids of six years and older. The spinner requires four AA batteries which aren’t included.

non-chocolate easter gift

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7. Hide and Squeak Eggs

Any grandkid over eighteen months will enjoy this toy egg box that contains six colorful squeaking eggs to play with. They encourage shape and color recognition and the shells crack open to reveal colorful chicks inside.  The chicks chirp when their heads are pressed.

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8. Toy Easter eggs filled with construction vehicles

If you have grandsons of three years or over, a 12-pack of Easter eggs filled with different pull-back construction vehicles with movable parts will be a great source of entertainment. The Easter eggs are three inches in length and come in six different colors. The vehicles include dump trucks, forklifts, a cement mixer, a bulldozer and an excavator.  Just pull the vehicle back and let it go forward naturally and the smooth wheels keep it running. The Easter eggs and toys are made of safe materials.

toy vehicles in easter eggs 

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Easter gifts

Coping with the Curved Ball of Covid-19

typewriter Covid-19  Coronavirus has jolted us off-balance and as many of us have never faced a crisis of this nature before, we don’t know how to respond. For many, a sense of security, safety and certainty has disappeared.

Don’t give in to fear

We all have assumptions of how life should be and when something as unexpected as this happens, it’s a struggle to get our minds around it. Many people are living in fear about what the future holds and this fear can be all-consuming. It can cause such a state of stress in our bodies that it undermines our immunity and makes us more susceptible.

When expectations and reality differ

Developing resilience isn’t fun. It requires learning how to deal with setbacks, disappointments and derailed plans. Some days are very hard going but it can also be a time to learn about yourself that you wouldn’t have had if circumstances were normal. If you expect life to conform to your expectations, which are often built on false assumptions, it can easily cause frustration and self-pity. When your expectations and your reality are so different, the ground shifts underneath you and you can either fall or find positive ways to deal with your reality.

Embrace adversity

Embrace adversity as a part of the journey of life. The way you face the curved balls will determine how well you cope with them. You can either face adversity with pessimism and see limitations, or face it with optimism and see opportunities. When you’re determined to learn from any experience, you can use all your resources to explore possibilities.

Every adversity can hold the seed of an equal or greater benefit, even it is difficult to see amidst the disruption. It may not be obvious at first but even the most difficult problems usually have solutions.

Find hope in your new reality

When faced with any radical change in circumstances, it’s natural to feel a flood of emotions. You need to process what you’re feeling but you also need to commit to finding the hope and promise hidden within your new reality.

Curved balls are inevitable

Your plans may be linear but life is not. When you accept that curved balls are inevitable, you learn to trust in your ability to handle them and to find a way to turn them into a catalyst for improvement.

The pandemic may have impacted your livelihood and turned your life upside down but you don’t have to give in and get caught up in futility. In fact, you may just uncover a new path that’s more rewarding than your old one.

A Visit to Cabrespine in the South of France

Visit to CabrespineVisiting the South of France has been on my bucket list ever since I read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence”.  Little did I know that my sister and her husband would move from South Africa to Cabrespine in France and I would be flying to visit them on the eve of my 62nd birthday.  We thought it would be a perfect opportunity for a family reunion and my brother and sister decided to fly over from England to join us.

My 85-year-old mother and I packed our suitcases and embarked on one of the longest and most tiring journeys we had ever undertaken. We departed from Cape Town International Airport and arrived in Istanbul 11 hours later. After a layover of eight hours, we took another three hour flight to Toulouse where my brother-in-law and sister picked us up.

I had seen many photos but nothing prepared me for what I experienced as we drove from the airport in Toulouse. On route I was immediately impressed by the flowers – huge fields of sunflowers and flower boxes in the streets of every little village we passed through.

Cabrespine is a tiny village in the Minervois, home to about 150 inhabitants, and it swells to almost double the size during the summer months with seasonal visitors. The village nestles in the gorges of the river Clamoux that flows down from the Pic de Nore, the highest point of the Black Mountain (Montaigne Noir)

Eventually we were going up the narrow winding roads from Carcassonne to Cabrespine.  My sister and brother-in-law’s home is situated in a street right at the top of the village with most of the other houses lying in the valley below.

From the ancient walls outside, there was little indication of what to expect inside the home. On entering the blue front door with greenery hanging over it and plants surrounding it, we went through a welcoming entrance hall into a lovely dining area and up some stairs to a large bedroom.

I immediately flung open the windows and took in the view of the forests across the valley.   I was exhausted after our travels and it didn’t take long before I collapsed and I only woke up at 11 o’clock the next morning.

After coffee, we took a quick walk along the narrow cobbled streets of the village, admiring the thick walls,  large, solid wooden doors and colorful shutters on all the buildings.

After that it was time to head off to the shops so that I could find a plug to connect to the internet. It’s fortunate that I am able to continue with my online writing wherever I go!   canal du midiI was delighted to see boats lined up waiting at a lock on the Canal du Midi. People were riding bikes on a cycling track alongside the river.

Cabrespine is not far from Carcassonne which is famous for its huge, fortified, hilltop castle and this is where we decided to go for my birthday celebration. The view of the massive towers as we approached was an unforgettable sight. Once inside, I felt a little cheated by the contrast between what we had seen outside and the commercialism inside.   We had fun, though – eating pizza, drinking wine and people-watching.

Basilica stained glass

After browsing through the shops, we rested on benches at the Basilica, and admired the world famous stained glass windows.

I had been told that in August all the little villages have annual fairs and I was looking forward to attending one. On a walk around the village, I saw a noticeboard advertising a band called Angel.  My brother had arrived by then and we went down to the playground of the local school to see what was happening. It was a surreal experience to hear sixties music bouncing off the ancient walls and see people dancing with such abandon.  We may have missed out on the meules et frites (mussels and chips) but we drank some beer and soon threw aside our inhibitions and joined in, dancing late into the night.

Ancient bathOn a walk through the village, I came across what looked like a big bath and didn’t realize its significance until I attended a movie night and watched an old movie by Pierre Maguelon, a French actor who lived in Cabrespine. It revealed what life had been like in Cabrespine when the inhabitants lived off the land. In the movie,  the women of the village were seen gathered at the bath doing their washing.

Some lovely hiking trails start from the village. From my sister’s home you can see the Roc de l’Aigle, rock of the Eagle, and hiking  from the village takes you past the Gouffre de Giant or giant chasm of Cabrespine. We didn’t fit in a visit to the world famous caves this time but I will definitely do so on my next visit.

LavalOne of my favorite walks in Cabrespine was a short one along a forest road that leads to the hamlet of Laval. This is a little corner of paradise with its houses covered in foliage and a bridge over a river with many natural pools.

For wonderful swims in the hot weather, a lake in the village of Pradelle was our favorite swimming spot. It was a long, scenic, winding drive to reach Pradelle and that swim in the lake was quite spectacular.

The short drives around the Cabrespine area were as delightful as the destinations – steep, winding roads, forests and atmospheric mist lifting to reveal quaint buildings and lush vegetation. A longer drive up to the summit of the Pic de Nore gave us a magnificent panoramic view of the valleys below with the Pyrenees in the background.

When our time in Cabrespine was drawing to a close, we knew we couldn’t leave without a meal at the Caput Spina Restaurant. Its modern interior is unexpected considering its rustic surroundings and the quality of its food was excellent. Taha, the owner, and his partner, Melani, were very welcoming and helpful. Our choices for the night were written on a blackboard and I enjoyed my pork stirfry – a mouthwatering combination of textures and flavors.

As I was traveling on a budget, I couldn’t afford more than one meal out but I loved the simple fare we ate every day –  lovely chewy baguettes I couldn’t stop eating, a magnificent wheel of soft brie and some delicious salami bought at a stall at the Carcassonne market.

I was so grateful to be able to experience Cabrespine in a non-touristy way – meeting and chatting with people my sister had made friends with in the village. There is not a single shop in the village – an aspect many may consider a disadvantage but I enjoyed the absence of commercialism and the opportunity to identify with a way of life that has long disappeared in most places today.

E-readers for over 50s

It appears that many people over 50 have overcome their initial prejudice  about e-books. Many of them already own one or are considering purchasing one. I was one of those who resisted the idea of using an e-reader, despite pressure from my children to buy one. I have loved reading books all my life – examining the cover and feeling the pages is part of the experience. And then, of course, there’s that lovely book smell! My son was insistent that I was missing out on many benefits but I wasn’t convinced.

It was only when I was about to go on a trip to France that he managed to persuade me that taking an e-reader with me was a good idea. He bought me a standard Kindle and downloaded a number of books written by my favorite authors. When I travel, the weight of the books I want to take along is always an issue. I saw the advantage of being able to carry my slim, light Kindle filled with interesting e-books in my hand luggage.

I experimented a bit with my Kindle before I left and when I pulled it out on the long flight to Istanbul,  I was already familiar with the basics of how to use it. I remembered a flight overseas when I was seventeen and had forgotten to pack any reading material in my hand luggage. That flight was interminable! Now, I had more than enough good books to keep me happy for the long flight.

Today’s best e-readers can match  (and even beat) the print book experience. Clear, crisp text, long-lasting batteries, waterproofing, integrated backlights, and best of all, being able to have a library at your fingertips.  I have discovered that it is dangerously easy to buy new books!

When picking out an e-reader, one of the main considerations is how easy it will be to find the books you’re looking for. With my Kindle, I have access to a huge selection from the Kindle library with extras like Kindle Unlimited, a million free classics and Goodreads recommendations.  If you want to purchase a newer product or an e-reader from a smaller brand, just make sure you’ll be able to download books by your favorite authors.

Amazon Kindle

I have the original Amazon Kindle. It is small, very light at 161g and does most of what I need it to do.   The battery lasts a long time and it has 4GB of storage. This standard Kindle is a beginner-friendly basic option. I’m glad I started off with this version but I am likely to upgrade in the future. 

Pros: Affordable; light; accessibility to many books
Cons: No built-in light; no waterproofing; basic styling

e-reader

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The Kindle Paperwhite

This is the bestselling e-reader for good reasons. It is not the cheapest but it probably the most affordable for what it offers.

The curved design with a soft matte finish is great to hold for long reading sessions. It is not  the lightest option as it weighs 205g but it is still quite light enough. It has a sharp 300ppi touchscreen display and a long battery life. It has a built-in front light which is great for reading in bed at night.

The latest version of the Paperwhite is waterproof, has an improved design and allows you to listen to audiobooks over Bluetooth. I can’t read in the bath with my Kindle and this is one reason I would consider upgrading to the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite. Amazon has said that it can be submerged in water for up to 60 minutes – so it’s safe to read in the bathtub or on the beach!

Pros: Good value for money; waterproof; built-in reading light
Cons: No color temperature controls

e-reader for over 50s

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The Kindle Oasis

The Kindle Oasis is the luxury option in the Kindle series. Instead of the functional, plastic look, you get an anodized aluminum face and ergonomic, asymmetrical weighting that allows you to hold it comfortably in your hand. At 194g, it is light enough to use on-the-go and has handy page turn buttons  to the side of the 7-inch 300ppi touchscreen display. It has an adaptive light sensor that automatically adjusts brightness. The base model gets you 8GM of storage. The Kindle Oasis costs nearly twice as much as the Paperwhite but it is a beautiful accessory that is likely to be on your wishlist.

Pros: Sleek design; more storage; waterproof
Cons: Expensive;  no light color tweaking

e-reader for over 50s

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The Kobo Clara

Amazon may dominate when it comes to ebooks but Kobo is a strong competitor. Kobo’s e-readers do have some features you won’t find on Kindles: the ability to borrow books from the Overdrive library system directly on the device and native support for Pocket articles.

The new Kobo Clara HD is similar in size, dimension and weight to the standard Kindle and it is a little cheaper than the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s not quite as ergonomic as the Paperwhite but more pleasing to handle than the standard Kindle as it has curved corners and a textured back. It has a 6-inch 300ppi touchscreen and the library and store setup is similar to the Kindle.

An advantage is that you can adjust the brightness and the color temperature of the built-in front light. Set your usual bedtime and the Clara HD adjusts the color of the light gradually from a bright white to a color rather like candlelight. It’s ideal if you’re worried about the impact of blue light on your sleep. It has 8GB of storage, a week long battery life and plenty of opportunities for customizing your reading experience.

Pros: Great features; light and portable; color temperature controls
Cons: Not quite as good as Kindle store for books; no water resistance

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Final thoughts

There you have it! Three choices of e-readers from Kindle and one from Koba. I must say that the option I favor is the Kindle Paperwhite and I don’t think it will be long before I decide to move on from my standard Kindle. 

   

 

Count your blessings in an empty nest

empty nest in hand

It may feel as if your life will never be the same after the years of hands-on parenting end. You are right – it won’t ever be the same. It will be quite, quite different. But although it’s different, there are ways in which it can be very rewarding.

You have spent years wiping away your children’s tears, being angry with them at times and immensely proud of them at others. You have spent hours in their company, nurturing them and trying to make sure they are developing into decent human beings. When they were toddlers, you were the center of their world. When they started school, you may have shed a sigh of relief but at the same time felt a sense of loss as you no longer had them around you all day. Each step forward in their lives was in some ways an ending for you.  For my children, getting a driver’s license was their ticket to freedom and adventure. For me, it marked the end of a very important era.

Enjoy your adult children

When your children leave home, you find that your role as a parent changes. You are still a parent and that will never change but the way you parent has to become less hands-on.

In the midst of your grief over them leaving, it doesn’t take long to realize that there are distinct benefits when they’re gone. The early school drop-off is over, you don’t have to make a family dinner every night, do loads of washing every week and feed their many friends. Your food and electricity bills drop. You can buy what you want to eat and make meals you enjoy without catering to all their likes and dislikes.

When they first leave home, you have to be sensitive to the fact that they also have mixed feelings. Some of them may act as if leaving means nothing to them, while others may be reluctant to leave.  When you call them don’t go on about how much you are missing them. Be grateful for the news they do tell you (even if it’s in broad strokes rather than details). Don’t keep pumping them for more information.

It may take them a few knocks along the way before they become more independent and mature but it does happen eventually.  As they mature, you often find that relating to them becomes easier and they may become more like best friends than children (although they are always your children, no matter how old they get!).  I love the deep conversations I can have with my children now that they are older.  I am always amazed at their insights about the world and love hearing their point of view on subjects. We can have talks that last for hours.

I love it when they come to visit. The atmosphere is far removed from the fraught one that reigned sometimes when they lived at home – over issues like dirty towels left in piles on the floor or music blaring late into the night.

Reconnect with your spouse

As someone who has gone through a divorce while facing an empty nest, I urge you to talk to your spouse and prepare for your empty nest together. Think about the fact that it will only be the two of you when the children leave and what that may look like.  It’s the perfect opportunity to reconnect and you can find out once again what made you get married in the first place.  You may even find that it’s like being on a second honeymoon.

Some couples go through a divorce when the children leave because one or the other party, or both, no longer want to grow old together. I believe that if you have been together for many years, it’s worth trying to save your marriage, even if you have drifted apart while bringing up your kids.  You may be looking forward to some of the best years of your marriage if you are both prepared to work on it.

Look after yourself

Now is the time to pay yourself some attention. It may feel strange to even contemplate this after the unselfishness of bringing up your kids.  You have happily made sacrifices over the years because you put your children first. But they will want you around for many years to come. If you haven’t had much time to exercise over the years, you have no excuse any longer. You can devote more attention to your nutrition as well.  You also have no excuse for putting off a general checkup with your doctor and taking care of any health problems. Become the best you can be so you can enjoy many more years of healthy living and inspire others to do so too.

Have fun with your free time

At first the fact that you have so much time after years of frantic activity can be daunting. There are huge gaps in your day you have to fill. But then you find out that your free time gives you the opportunity to do all those things you put on the back-burner – travel, theater, art galleries, writing that book or just not doing much of anything at all.

Changes to  your home

Without your children’s mess to worry about and with more time on your hands, you can make a few decisions about your home for the phase to come.

Decluttering  when your years of child-rearing are over is a simple step and it can help you move through your grief. I had kept books, baby clothes, drawings, school projects, reports and much more. I sorted through it all carefully, crying and laughing at the memories. I kept what I really didn’t want to part with, gave some of it away and threw out the rest.

Your home has functioned for years in a certain way and when your kids leave, you can reassess.  Certain rooms can be made into full-time guest rooms or converted into a home office or gym. Creating different ways of using the space can even add to the value of your home. Children like stability and if you suddenly start changing things, they may be resentful. It’s best to bring them on board with what you want to do and let them make suggestions, rather than just going ahead.

You can even consider renting out bedrooms through a site like Airbnb. This is what I am working towards as a have a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and an outside entrance. I can do with the extra income and my privacy won’t be too compromised.

When the children leave home, it’s possible to downsize which will also help to reduce your expenses. You have to start looking towards your retirement and it makes sense to trade a big house you no longer need for a smaller one like a townhouse.

Last word

Once you have worked through the mixed emotions that come with your empty nest, you will see light at the end of the parenting tunnel. You will be able to re-evaluate your life and introduce some changes. These changes can make the difference between going speedily downhill or making the most of the years to come and living a very fulfilling life.

 

My empty nest is the best of both worlds

letting go

I have the best of both worlds. I spend the week in my empty nest and my 21-year-old daughter comes home from university nearly every weekend. She has the attraction of a boyfriend who lives down the road from me but I don’t care why she comes – I just care that she comes.

In the week, I love the fact that I have the house to myself. I enjoy waking up to complete silence in the mornings. After my shower, I walk around draped in a towel and take leisurely sips of my first cup of tea as I get dressed. Later, as I sit working at my computer, the only noise I hear is the sound of the birds in the trees outside the window. When I take a mid-morning break for tea, I have a choice of a whole array of cups neatly lined up on the shelf. In the evening, I can eat breakfast cereal and watch The Bachelor if I feel like it. In the week, the dishes do not pile up in the sink, my hairdryer stays exactly where I left it and I don’t find half my wardrobe lying on the bed.

By the time Friday comes, the silence suddenly becomes oppressive. I am tired of my own company and I start to anticipate my daughter’s arrival. I hear her car pull up outside. She rings the bell and waits for me to come out and help her carry her load of washing into the house. She dumps her laptop, books and keys on the table and heads straight for the kitchen. “Mom, there’s nothing in the fridge” she says. She’s right – there’s nothing she likes to eat in the fridge. I now have the pleasure of choosing what I want to eat on a daily basis – even if that means opening a can of tuna or living on toast and tea. I feel like a bad mother and know I will soon be on my way down to the shops.

I treasure the time when she unpacks and tells me about her week. This week the news all seems to be bad. She says she and her friends are in shock because a girl was raped outside one of the residences. They are concerned about their safety. I want to know if she has been carrying her mace with her and she reassures me that she has. I don’t want to reveal too much concern and plant more fear in her mind. She is smart and I know she won’t take any unnecessary chances. She tells me that staff members protesting about low wages set a car alight and burned down part of one of the administration buildings on campus. She was in one of the adjoining buildings and watched as it went up in flames. She does not realize that my stomach is lurching at the idea of her being in such close proximity to danger.

Her supervisor has told her that her proposal for her thesis needs work. She is in her fourth year of studying and this is the first time she has received negative criticism. I can’t believe that my confident daughter has become so insecure overnight. I want to give her a little lecture about how to deal with the situation but I realize that she does not want my well-intentioned advice. She is emotionally drained and all she wants to do is watch a movie and eat comfort food.

We decide to watch Room. It’s not long before we are both shedding tears and reaching for tissues. We agree at the end that Brie Larson deserved her Oscar for her emotionally raw performance. This little slice of time watching a good movie, crying a little, and discussing it afterwards instantaneously draws us as close as though we have never been apart. However, my daughter is an adult now and our relationship has been going through some shifts. It’s not hard for me to treat her like an adult. She is a brave, compassionate human being whose point of view I respect. However, every now and then I slip back into ‘mother/child’ mode and she very quickly puts me in my place.

When she is at home I find myself arranging my life around her. She lives life at high velocity and with great intensity. This used to exhaust me. Now, I enjoy every minute I spend with her because I know I will have more than enough time to myself again once she leaves. She decides she will leave on Monday morning at 6am and on Sunday evening I help her fold her washing and pack. Once her car roars off early the next morning, I take stock and realize that I will have to spend some time cleaning up. The TV room is littered with crumbs, crisp packets,  water glasses and that’s just the beginning. However, once I have cleaned up, I know my empty nest will stay clean for the week without much further effort.

I feel elated as the silence settles around me once more. I look forward to being able to write without any distractions. She calls me several times during the week and I listen attentively. If she has a problem or is unhappy, I feel miserable too and do everything I can to ease her pain. However, my world no longer revolves entirely around her – and that’s a good thing. I know the days of her coming home for the weekend will soon be over too. It probably won’t be too long before she has her own children – my future grandchildren.

It has been a process for me to adjust to the empty nest phase. My daughter left home and I went through a divorce at the same time. My world as I knew it came to an end and I didn’t know how I was going to cope. I discovered that adversity can either crush you or create a determination in you to survive and even thrive. I am fortunate that I still see my daughter on a regular basis. I know many parents face not seeing their children for long periods of time. I am content with my current phase in life where I am able to make the most of the times when I do see my daughter and enjoy my solitary life when she’s not around. I know all too well that no phase in life is permanent, so I intend to enjoy this one while it lasts.

(This is a guest post I wrote that originally appeared on the Grown and Flown website http://grownandflown.com/empty-nest-best-both-worlds/  As I reread this post before posting it here on my website, I realized how rapidly life moves along and at the same time how some things never change. My daughter is now working but I still see her on weekends, we still cry over movies together and despite the fact that she is now an independent adult, we are still as close as ever).

Release My Grip by Kami Gilmour: a review

In Release My Grip,  Kami Gilmour shares her own journey and offers encouragement to all of those facing a time when their kids are leaving home and learning to fly.  She writes with humour, honesty and insight, offering wisdom that can only come from someone who has learned the hard way about “letting go”.  Her stories are told with a transparency that will make many other ’empty nesters’ smile and realize they are not alone.

What will you find in this book?

In the introduction, the author says “I felt alone. And crazy” and I think many of us can identify with those emotions. It’s no secret that our children will grow up and leave home and our goal is to raise capable, independent adults.  Why, then, do we feel as though our hearts are being ripped out of our bodies at times? I know that the roller coaster of emotions I experienced when “letting go” took me by surprise.  What the author discovered, as she went through her own heartache and shared on her blog, was that she was not alone. Thousands of parents contacted her to say ‘me too!”.  (Kami Gilmour runs a popular blog called SoulFeed where she shares her thoughts on parenting, life and faith). The response from other parents was her inspiration to write the book.

letting goIn Part One, Leaving the Nest,  you will find a touching prayer of a parent on graduation day. Here is an excerpt from that prayer:

There’s a cap and gown hanging in my son’s room and it’s taking my breath away. He’s graduating in a few days, and I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. (Did you maybe spin the earth a little faster on its axis for the past several years? )

He’s ready…but I’m not sure if I am.

Because since the day he was born and wrapped his tiny fingers around mine, my heart has been living outside of my body.  At that moment I understood the concept of unconditional love—including your love.”

In Part Two, Learning to Fly, the author speaks about how parenthood is never over and love never ends. She says ‘the finish line is just a myth. Parenthood is a lifelong journey – and it’s also a lifelong (often painful) practice of letting one season go as a new one begins.”  You will relate to what she shares and you may just realize for the first time, as she did, what your own mother must have felt when she had to let you go.

In the book you will also find:

  • Reflection questions that help you to dig deeper, face your fears and discover peace and hope for the new season that’s starting.
  • A devotional section with relevant Scriptures that reveal God’s loving heart and give you encouragement.
  • Practical challenges that help you to adjust and keep a meaningful connection with your adult children.
  • Journalling pages so you can capture your feelings about letting go. You will be able to look back and reflect on what you’ve written and see how far you have come.

Who is this book for?

It’s always good to know that we are not alone in this challenging phase of our lives when our children are becoming adults.   This book is for everyone who is experiencing this transition and it captures all its thrilling, terrifying and perplexing aspects. One of the valuable truths the author brings out is that ‘we tend to get stuck on the ‘goodbye’ part of the story, grieving our kids leaving the nest like it’s the final chapter of parenthood.”  She emphasizes that leaving the nest does not happen in a day and that while it is happening it can be messy. This is a great truth to remember as we navigate the transition and can help to prevent us from feeling like failures as parents. This book leaves you with a sense of peace that comes with understanding more about what you are going through and how to cope with it.

 

 

 

 

When you need help in your empty nest

empty nest struggle

Feeling mixed emotions when your children leave home is perfectly normal. Even those who thought they would handle the transition with ease may find it is more difficult than they expected. Some grieving is bound to occur. An empty nest often comes at the same time as various other challenges such as caring for ageing parents, divorce, retirement, lack of finances and menopause. This often compounds the problem.

Dr. Carin Rubenstein, author of Beyond the Mommy Years: How to Live Happily Ever After…After the Kids Leave Home  reveals in her book how and why some mothers thrive and others do not. She did some intensive research and breaks down the time after the children leave the nest into three stages – grief, relief and joy. Most parents will go through the stage of grief and move on.  However, there are some who just cannot seem to stop grieving.

Who will find an empty nest more difficult?

  • If you are a single or divorced parent, you will usually find it more difficult. There is no-one else at home with whom you can share your initial grief and no-one to partner you in attempting new activities. Someone in a bad marriage may have exactly the same problem.
  • Empty nest grief is particularly prevalent in – but not exclusive to – women. It tends to occur mostly in women because traditionally women have been the primary care givers to children.
  • If you have already had problems with depression or anxiety in your life, an empty nest can precipitate a recurrence.
  • If you gave up having a career and stayed at home to look after your children, the gap in your life may feel huge when mothering becomes less hands-on.
  • You may have a lack of self-esteem that results from focusing exclusively on your children at the expense of your own personal growth.
  • If you battle to handle change, rather than looking forward to it and regarding it as a challenge, you are more likely to be affected.

However, it is always difficult to predict who will be most affected – sometimes a career woman may feel it just as much or more than a stay-at-home mom. Some men have voiced publically how much the empty nest has affected them – they are certainly not immune. For most parents, it  does take some time to adjust. You need to allow yourself to work through the grief. It is probably best not to rush into decisions like starting a new career, selling a home or buying a puppy. It does get better as you start to work through your grief, begin to make the most of your new freedom and enjoy the company of your adult children when you do see them.  However,  those who are simply unable to move on need to seek out help.

Signs that you may need help

  • You always feel sad
  • You are tearful throughout the day
  • You don’t have the energy to try new interests
  • You don’t even want to do the activities that you looked forward to doing when you had more time
  • You feel a lack of purpose in your life
  • You feel lonely and isolated

Negative ways of coping

A profound sense of loss that does not go away can make you vulnerable to an identity crisis,  depression, alcoholism,  and marital conflict. If you do not receive help, you might find yourself trying to fill the gap in ways that only make your situation worse in the long run.

Relying too heavily on your children

Sharing your grief with your children makes them feel guilty and puts unnecessary pressure on them.  It also makes it  difficult for them to talk about their own feelings for fear of making you even more upset. It is much better to talk to a trained, impartial professional if you are really battling.

Abusing alcohol

Research in the UK suggests that mothers whose children have left home are driving Britain’s alcohol epidemic. Their alcohol intake increases once their children fly the nest. They consume alcohol every day and often on their own.  They seem to think because they do not binge drink, they have nothing to worry about. Drinking offers them a temporary escape and helps them to numb the grief for a while. Unfortunately, the effect soon wears off. This often leads to more alcohol being consumed to achieve the same effect and dependence may develop.

Eating problems

It’s not surprising that eating problems may develop in an empty nest. Experiencing an overwhelming sense of loss often disturbs eating patterns. You may need to learn  how to enjoy eating alone after spending years eating with the whole family. There may be a tendency not to eat properly because you no longer have to prepare large family meals.  It is also easy to overindulge in comfort food to fill the gap and suffer from all the health problems related to being overweight.

Online liaisons

You may be so lonely that you look for love in all the wrong places. I have seen a number of adverts on Craigslist where men target women in an empty nest and offer them everything from a listening ear to a Spa-like massage treatment.  Some lonely women have become involved in online liaisons and this often opens them up to exploitation.   Meri Brown of Sister Wives admitted that this happened to her. This reality TV star is part of a polygamous family with four wives and 17 kids and said “usually, when people go through having an empty nest, it’s a couple doing this together, but in a plural marriage that’s not the case.”

Resources

When you feel that life in your empty nest is unbearable, don’t be afraid to find professional help.  Talking to a trained counsellor can help you get to the root of your feelings and move forward.

Natalie Caine  is the founder of Life in Transition which provides Empty Nest Support Services. She helps empty-nest families and is available for individual and phone consultations.

Counselling Directory – connects you with professional support if you live in the UK.

http://www.internationalcounsellingdirectory.com is a  worldwide counselling directory for all services, professionals, organizations on an international scale.

Talking  to others going through the same experiences can also help:

Join an empty nest support group online.

Join a Facebook empty nest support group.

 

 

 

The Tools: Book Review

reversal of desire

The book Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels is aptly named as it offers five life tools or techniques to unlock our potential. Phil Stutz is a psychiatrist and Barry Michels a psychotherapist and they have many years of experience between them. At the heart of this book is their belief that we have the ability to solve our problems by using tools to connect us with a world of limitless forces.

In the introductory chapter, Barry Michels describes his frustration as a young practicing psychotherapist. He had come to the realization that encouraging his patients to talk endlessly about past trauma wasn’t giving them any relief in the present day. When he met Dr. Phil Stutz this changed.  He began to learn from him and apply certain tools Stutz had developed over the years.

All five tools are clearly explained and simple to apply. In each chapter, stories about patients like Vinny, a talented but self-destructive stand-up comic, help to drive home how well the tools work. Each chapter ends with frequently asked questions and a helpful summary.

Summary of the Tools

The first tool is called “The Reversal of Desire”.   We tend to barricade ourselves behind an invisible wall and don’t venture out because beyond the wall is pain. This safe space is our ‘comfort zone’.  Life provides us with endless possibilities but along with them comes pain.  People who refuse to live limited lives drive through the pain and experience the possibilities. What gives them the strength to do this their sense of purpose. What they do in the present, no matter how painful, has meaning in terms of what they want for the future. The force this tool activates is the “Force of Forward Motion”. This force is the power of life itself.

The second tool is “Active Love”. The force it releases is “Outflow”. Outflow is an infinite spiritual force that gives of itself without restraint.  The work that we do when we use this tool is to create a miniature flow of love inside us that puts us in sync with the Outflow.  This tool is used whenever someone enrages or provokes us.  In using it, we need to take three steps: concentration (gathering up love), transmission (conduct it) and penetration (feel it enter the other person). Every time we feel wronged, we have a choice. We can do nothing and enter a maze where we replay what the person did and become trapped in the past or we can use “Active Love” to unify ourselves with the “Outflow”, and move on with our lives, free of anger and hurt.

The next tool is all about finding confidence and inner authority.  The tool is “Inner Authority” and the higher force is the “Force of Self-Expression”.  Inside all of us is a Shadow we are ashamed of and that we can never get rid of no matter how hard we try. The Shadow is defined by the authors as ‘everything we don’t want to be but fear we are, represented in a single image’.  Our reaction to our Shadow is to turn away and look outside of ourselves for validation. The trouble is that no amount of validation from outside works in the long term. When our Shadow is brought out of hiding and we bond with it and speak with one voice, we are able to speak with authority. Human connection is made possible because the Shadow is the part we all share and without it we exaggerate our differences from others and feel separate from them.

The fourth tool is used to create peace of mind. When we worry all the time or have negative thoughts, we create a negative energy that hangs over us like a cloud. The sun is still shining but when we are under that black cloud, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. This is when we need to use the tool “The Grateful Flow” and release the higher force of “Gratefulness”.  We need to pick out things in our lives we can be grateful for – particularly those we normally take for granted.  In this state we are able to penetrate the black cloud and make connection with ‘the Source’, the power of infinite giving. In the material world, whatever we gain we can also lose so peace of mind never lasts for long. For peace of mind to be lasting, it has to come from an ongoing connection to the Source.

The fifth and final tool called “Jeopardy” helps us to build unstoppable “willpower”.  This is the tool that makes us keep using the other tools. We usually feel a sense of urgency when we’re in jeopardy of losing something important: a job, a relationship, physical safety.  To develop willpower, we need to find a permanent source of “Jeopardy” and the only thing we’re at risk of losing every moment is our future. Imagining our own death is a powerful reminder that there are only so many moments in our lives and every moment is priceless. We use the distractions of consumerism to avoid facing our fears.  Using “Jeopardy” breaks through our denial and turns our fear into an urgency to act. That urgency ignites our willpower.

What I liked about the book

The ideas behind most of these tools are not new. Pushing through pain to get to possibilities is a familiar concept to many, There’s nothing new about exuding love either. The idea of the Shadow is a familiar concept in psychology and Carl Jung’s work in this area is well known. Many people have realized that being constantly grateful can have a profound effect on their lives. Even the concept of imagining your death to give your life more purpose is far from revolutionary.  However, although these ideas are not new, the way they are put together and linked to higher forces, creates an entirely new perspective.

I also liked the fact that these tools seemed to work as more than just an ‘attitude adjustment’. They changed the behaviour of the patients who used them.  I think anyone who actually put them into practice and maintained this for a while would inevitably see changes in their lives.  The authors say they wrote the book with this in mind and have even created an app to help people apply the tools.

The authors describe ‘The Source’ as the force that created us and remains intimately involved with our wellbeing.  They espouse a new spirituality where external forces, like authority figures,  institutions or ceremonies no longer define spirituality for us. They have lost their influence through corruption, paralysis, or irrelevance. Individuals need to be empowered to replace them and change our society that lacks faith and purpose. They see personal problems as driving spiritual evolution and as we learn to embrace adversity, our relationship with higher forces is deepened. This was an interesting way of looking at the state of society and spirituality today and how it could be changed.

What I did not like

As a believer in God, I did not like the watered down terminology. The authors said readers could substitute the terms ‘higher forces’ and ‘The Source’ with other terms such as God but this felt like somewhat of a compromise. I think what they said would have had more impact if they had been more direct.

I could imagine how readers from an atheistic or scientific viewpoint would battle with supernatural aspect of the book. How can you release higher forces if you don’t believe in them? However, Michels himself came from an atheistic background and when he doggedly applied the tools, he found that his belief system changed.

I didn’t much like the cartoon-like, labelled diagrams. I decided to create my own diagrams based on their examples.

Some of the language used in the exercises made me want to scream but for all the wrong reasons.  “See the pain appear in front of you as a cloud. Scream silently at the cloud, ‘BRING IT ON!’ … Then, “Scream silently, ‘I LOVE PAIN!’ … as you leave the cloud, feel yourself propelled forward into a realm of pure light.”  I just couldn’t see myself doing this.

I personally did not like the use of the word ‘jeopardy’ for the final tool. This tool involved using a deathbed perspective to create an urgency not to waste the present.  Vinny makes a quip in the book “Doc, in a million years I would never have guessed the secret to happiness: just think about death all day.” I  found imagining my own death all the time was too difficult for me. I understood what this tool was meant to do but unfortunately in practice is just did not work for me.

My final word

I believe that these tools can work if they are applied consistently.  However, I do think that it is difficult to keep on applying them. The last tool is the one that apparently helps you to continue applying all the others. My failure with this tool probably explains why I didn’t have the willpower to persist with the others although I did try! Perhaps you will have more success than me. You can purchase the book on Amazon.

 

What is end-of-life planning?

preparing for death

If you are terminally ill or are coming to the end of your life, talking about your wishes for your final months should be part of the process.  Nobody really wants to face the idea of planning for death.  However, when you have written down your personal preferences and wishes, it lightens the decision-making burden on your family. Planning ahead also means you receive medical care based on your own choices even if you can no longer speak for yourself.

Speaking about death

Medical advances have made us very efficient at preventing death but not quite as efficient at ensuring quality of life.  Preserving life at all costs often results in people dying in hospital beds going through unwanted procedures and treatments. As we are living longer, we need to talk about the subject of death and our rights when it comes to end-of-life care. Talking about death is not easy and we often choose to avoid the subject altogether.

The Conversation Project is an organization that helps people to talk about their wishes for end-of-life care.  Another website called Dying Matters is helping to raise awareness of dying, death and bereavement.  In an inspiring video on this site, Dr. Kate Granger talks about her experience of living with terminal cancer as well as how she has planned ahead for her future care.

If you are a taking care of elderly parents, don’t avoid the subject of death. If you have no idea about their wishes, discuss the subject openly. There is no right or wrong way to talk about it.  Sometimes we go to great lengths to avoid conversations that can actually bring relief to someone who is dying. I recently went to the funeral of the mother of a friend – she had planned her whole funeral down to the glass of sherry we all received afterwards. It was as though she was right there, thoroughly enjoying the event. Do you know your elderly parents wishes when it comes to their funerals?

End-of-life checklists

Most people, when asked, say they would like their death to be quick, painless, at home and surrounded by loved ones. However, planning for death is often ignored – as if by planning for it we hasten its coming.  Two years ago my elderly mother handed me a newsletter about living wills and said she would like to make one. I recently found the newsletter buried under a stack of other correspondence and faced the fact that I did not want to think about the death of my mother.  I realized that ignoring my mother’s wishes was only part of my reluctance. I didn’t want to face my own mortality either.

A website called Everplans  allows you to create, share and store important documents that your loved ones might need. An Advance Health Care Directive (also called a Living Will), End-of-Life Housing, Estate Planning, Funeral Planning and even an Obituary and Death Notice form part of the end-of-life checklists found on the site.

Our decisions about what happens at the end of our lives is very personal and is based on our beliefs and values.   Caring Info is another helpful website with some useful resources that may help you to start that difficult conversation. You will find the answers on this site to many of the questions you might have when trying to make your decisions.

Books to read

The following books present some interesting perspectives on end-of-life and what matters most.

I’ll Have It My Way: Taking Control of End of Life Decisions: a Book about Freedom & Peace by Hattie Bryant.
Inspired by the peaceful death her mother was almost denied, Bryant began gathering information from national experts in palliative care, geriatrics, oncology, bio-ethics, psychology, and spirituality. This books presents the case for personal responsibility in decisions that all of us must make―if they are not to be made for us.

Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A Daughter’s Journey Through Old Age and New Medicine by Katy Butler
Most of us do not wish to die with a tube down our throats but the cruel fact is, as Katy Butler reminds us, that a fifth of American deaths now take place in intensive care and at great expense.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande is a New York Times bestseller. Gawande is a practicing surgeon and he tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. 

Not just a good life but a good end

Planning for death can have a positive impact not only on your own life but on the lives of those you care about. Online resources will give you all the guidelines on how to approach the conversation about death and your end-of-life wishes. Many documents are also available to help you record your wishes in a legal way so they can be implemented.  Take the time to do it while you still have the time.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create a living will

living will

When you create a living will, you take responsibility for the manner in which you choose to die. It comes into effect when you are no longer able to voice your own wishes or make your own decisions.  Everyone has a legal right to sign a living will (as long as you are older than 18). It means that death can occur naturally by withdrawing or withholding artificial life-support. Medical personnel have a duty to obey your wishes if you have signed a living will.

What is a Living Will?

A living will is a legal document that gives instructions for your end-of-life care and medical treatment. It is not like a traditional will – it comes into effect when you are still alive.

You living will comes into effect when the following conditions are met:

  • Terminal illness certified by a physician
  • Permanent unconsciousness or coma
  • Later stages of dementia
  • Near the end of life

Other names can be used for a living will such as an advanced health care directive. Executing the provisions of a living will should not be confused with ‘active euthanasia’ or ‘mercy killing’ which is illegal in many countries.

End-of-Life Issues

There are various end-of-life issues that are dealt with in a living will.

Treatments that prolong life

Living wills will usually state whether you want to receive treatments to prolong your life or not. These procedures may include:

  • CPR (cadiopulmonary resuscitation)
  • blood transfusions
  • using a respirator
  • giving drugs
  • dialysis
  • surgery

Food and Water

Medical personnel give patients nutrients and fluids intravenously when they are no longer able to eat or drink.  A patient who is permanently unconscious can live indefinitely being fed and hydrated artificially.  If food and water are no longer administered, death due to dehydration occurs in a relatively short time.  It is hard for children to accept that a parent doesn’t want food and water – this decision is probably the most difficult one to make.

Palliative Care (Pain Relief)

Palliative care helps a patient to remain as free of pain and as comfortable as possible until life ends naturally. Feelings and preferences about palliative care can be included in a living will.  This type of care does not prolong life but helps a patient to face the dying process with dignity.

Drawing up a Living Will

Prior to drawing it up

Before drawing up a living will, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor about the choices you will have to make. These are not decisions that can be taken lightly and its important to understand the various medical terms. For example, there is a difference between life support and resuscitation. Life support means using equipment like a feeding tube or ventilator to keep you alive. Resuscitation occurs when your heart has stopped beating to make it start beating again.

Speaking to your family is also important.  It can put an incredible burden on your family to make a decision to “pull the plug,” or decide not to continue with life-prolonging treatment. Drawing up a living will takes away this burden.

Main components

  •  Full legal name, street address and telephone number.
  • Date on which your will takes effect. A statement like “If and when the writer cannot make health care decisions” is usually used and this is determined by a doctor. You can specify if you would like two doctors to determine your incapacity.
  • Full name, address and telephone number of a health agent who will carry out your wishes. You need to make sure that who you consider appointing is not uncomfortable with your choices. Typically, people decide on a spouse or an adult child as their agent.
  • Instructions on issues such as blood transfusions, resuscitation, surgery etc.
  • You can specify if you want to donate your organs at the time of your death.  If you are already an organ donor, you do not have to specify this.
  • Witness information – a witness has to verify the will and should have no vested interest in the declining health of the person. The full legal name and address of the witness should appear.
  • Signatures – both the person and the witness.

To fill in the living will form, you will have to answer questions such as the one that follows, choosing which option you prefer.


If my doctors certify that my death from a terminal condition is imminent, even if life-sustaining procedures are used:

  1. Keep me comfortable and allow natural death to occur. I do not want medical interventions used to try and extend my life. I do not want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.
  2. Keep me comfortable and allow natural death to occur. I do not want medical interventions used to try and extend my life. However, I do want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.
  3. Try to extend my life for as long as possible, using all available interventions that in reasonable medical judgement would prevent or delay my death. If I am unable to take enough nourishment by mouth, I want to receive nutrition and fluids by tube or other medical means.

Living will forms are available from various different sources such as attorneys, living will societies, senior centres and hospitals.  It is possible to download free templates online but internet forms may be outdated (the laws are changing all the time) and you have to make sure they are applicable to the laws of your state or country.  Could you just write out your wishes? Theoretically, this is possible, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and using some kind of template helps you to cover all the areas that need to be addressed. A Five Wishes living will created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit organization, is popular as it is written in everyday language and it’s inexpensive.  Once you register online, you can create, access, change and print your living will at a minimal cost.

What to do with your signed living will?

You should give a copy of your signed living will to your family members, your physician and your hospital or care facility. It will always be difficult to bring up this subject with your loved ones but they need to know your wishes.  You can’t just file it and forget about it. You can change or cancel your living will at any time and for any reason. If you do decide to cancel, you should immediately notify anyone who has a copy.

Deciding what kind of care you want is not easy. You are able to state your own preferences but you will also have to carefully consider how your choices will affect your loved ones.  Making a living will can often help to reduce the stress of an already stressful situation.

Don’t judge empty nesters who feel sad!

sorrow and joy

The word ‘whine’ immediately evokes images of a child complaining in an annoying way.  Nobody wants to listen to people who whine and complain about their circumstances, no matter how dire. However, I recently came across a blog with the title ‘Stop whining about your empty nest’ in the Huffington Post. I had to write about my reaction to this post because I felt that many empty nesters feeling sad about their children leaving could feel judged.

Ronna Benjamin says “I’m tired of women (because it is hardly ever men, I’ve noticed) whining about their Empty Nest “Syndrome” like it’s a degenerative disease – a time to mourn, fester in loneliness and abandonment.” She tells parents to lighten up, and not make such a big deal of it. If she had just left out some of the judgmental comments, I would have enjoyed the rest of the post because she brings out some very good reasons to rejoice when your children leave the nest.

You can definitely rejoice about the fact that they are independent enough to leave. You can rejoice that technological advancements have made it easier than ever to communicate with them. You certainly will have much more time on your hands to follow your own interests and spend more time with your partner.  I believe you must rejoice but I also believe in allowing yourself time to grieve and process the changes taking place in your life.

For those who are struggling to come to terms with this phase in their lives, words Ronna Benjamin uses like ‘wallowing’ and ‘fester’ take away from the genuine grieving that does take place at this time.  Everyone reacts differently and those who battle and take a little longer have the right to do so – they should not be judged. Very few parents can just brush away the fact that a certain intense phase of parenting has come to an end. And it’s not just women who experience these emotions either! Some fathers, especially those who have been very involved with their children, have expressed how difficult they find it when they leave home.

Of course we have to let go and move on. It’s just not as easy as flipping a switch or turning a page. Our attitude is important – I am not denying that.  But I think that many of us find that this phase is a little harder than we expected it to be. It’s a time of transition and any transition brings with it mixed emotions. It is possible to experience pain and rejoice at the same time. I love it that my children are living their own lives and I do rejoice in that. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel the pain of not having them around on a daily basis.

I know this phase will pass and there are certainly ways to make the transition easier. However, an empty nest does leave some empty holes. These holes will be filled and you may find yourself moving on into one of the best periods of your life. But filling those holes does not happen instantly and I don’t believe that denying they exist is helpful.

Why is it we think we have to be upbeat all the time?  Is it because there are so many self-help books devoted to positivity around today? Don’t get me wrong – I love reading those books. But I also believe we need to succumb to the rhythm of life instead of fighting against it. There will be many occasions to rejoice but there will always be times when we feel sad too. Winter, spring, summer, autumn – the seasons in nature are reflected in our lives.

“We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness. – David Weatherford.

The last thing we need is to feel bad about the fact that we are sad. The sadness does not last forever.  There is a  Chinese proverb that says “You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair.” Don’t feel judged if you feel sad – it is only when it persists for a long period and prevents you from moving on that you may need to get some help.

Kahlil Gibran, in his poem On Joy and Sorrow,  expresses more perfectly than I ever could the nature of the relationship between joy and sorrow. Here is an extract from the poem, describing how inseparable they are:

On Joy and Sorrow

 Kahlil Gibran
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Take heart – if you are experiencing a time of sorrow, it will pass and you will be able to contain more joy as a result of it. Don’t feel judged and don’t judge yourself. What you are experiencing has been experienced by parents throughout the world and in many different times, cultures and places. It is a perfectly natural stage for parents to experience when they have accomplished a certain part of their job as parents. You will move on to the next phase and learn to rejoice again but don’t be ashamed if you’re not quite there yet. You have the right to take however long you feel you need, without being made to feel that you are ‘wallowing’ in your empty nest. Giving voice to your experience is different from ‘whining’ and you have a right to do that too. In fact, it will help you to come to terms with it and move on.

Empty nest families in India

empty nesting in India

Does empty nesting only apply in Western cultures?  This question is asked because in many other cultures it is common for adult children to continue living with parents and grandparents.  Some research being done in India is very interesting because it shows that parents are going through  similar empty nest challenges to their Western counterparts.

Study of empty nesters in Visakhapatnum, India

Researcher Kamala Varuda of Andhra University has been studying empty nest families in Visakhapatnam, India under the guidance of his professor. His research began in 2014 and is expected to be completed in 2017. By then 1,000 families will have been surveyed.  The 200 families already identified and interviewed come mostly from the middle and upper class and their ages range from 45 to 90.

Kamala has found that children tend to move to other Indian cities or go abroad to pursue higher education. They often settle in foreign countries after finding good jobs. The elderly parents are then left alone as they do not want to move. They visit their children once a year or so and the children usually return home for visits.

Negative aspects

The parents seem to go through the same type of challenges as parents in Western cultures. They also experience anxiety, depression and loneliness. Kamala found that mothers whose role had revolved around their children felt a vacuum when they left, just like their Western counterparts.  Age-related health problems added to their insecurities. He also found that some of the younger couples believed it was a temporary stage and that their children would return after a while and the family would all be together again.

Embracing technology

On the positive side, he found that 40-50% of the couples had learned how to use the latest technology for communication. They were comfortable using Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp.  They owned smartphones and laptops and with internet access they were able to stay in touch with their children on a regular basis. Social media also helped them to stay in touch with their friends.

Improved relationships

Another positive outcome was that the relationship between husband and wife improved as they had more time together.  They would watch movies, take up projects and go on trips. When researchers at Berkeley in America followed 72 Mills College graduates through their 40s, 50s and 60s, they too found that the empty nesters were happier in their relationships than those with children still at home.  The women voiced that it was the quality time they could spend with their spouses that strengthened their relationships – they experienced fewer interruptions and less stress.

Time for hobbies and new interests

Both the men and women in Visakhapatnam took up new hobbies. The retired men would spend time in kitchen gardens or other activities around the home while the women learned a new art like ikebana or became involved in charitable and social activities. Some of the couples remarked that their empty nest was peaceful – they were spared daily arguments with children.

Conclusion

It appears that empty nest syndrome is universal.  We are more alike than we realize, even if we are separated by oceans, cultures and religion. In the west, children who have left the nest are returning to live at home. ‘Boomerang’ children are a common phenomenon in an uncertain economy.  On the other hand, in a culture where children have traditionally remained at home, they are leaving for foreign countries where they have more opportunities. Parents are parents no matter where they live or who they are – they have to learn to let go and move on.

Do dads experience empty nest syndrome?

dads and empty nest

In his book, Love Life, Rob Lowe expresses what he felt when his sons left the nest. He says “I’m trying to remember when I felt like this before. Like an el­ephant is sitting on my chest, like my throat is so tight and constricted that I can feel its tendons, like my eyes are 100 percent water, spilling out at will, down pathways on my face that have been dry for as long as I can think of. I’m trying to remember: When was the last time my heart was breaking?”

Men don’t cry

For many men, it is still socially taboo to express their feelings. They don’t give voice to their sadness and find it hard to open up. They will often do the macho thing and make statements like  “Thank God the kids have finally left home. Now we can get on with our lives”.

The fact is that an empty nest may be harder on fathers than conventional wisdom suggests.  The departure of their children is an emotional experience for many fathers and it’s still mostly unacknowledged.

Hands-on fatherhood

Fathers are far more hands-on than they were in the past.  They are doing more household chores and spending more time with their children. According to a Pew Research Center analysis,  fathers have nearly tripled the time they spend with their children since 1965.  They are no longer the sole earners in the household with many more women holding down full-time jobs. The number of stay-at-home fathers has increased and many men admit that they would stay at home if they could afford it. They are now seeing themselves as far more than just financial providers and want to be as involved as possible in all the activities of their children’s lives.

Stay-at-home dads are often devastated when their children leave the nest.  Michael, a stay-at-home dad says “Suddenly I no longer had to ferry children to activities, make them food and and listen to what had happened that day at school.  The worst time for me was the late afternoon and early evening when we usually spent time together: that was when I missed them most.”

Walking Away

When reading the poem ‘Walking Away’ by Cecil Day-Lewis, Great Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death, one realizes that the pain of letting go of a child is pretty much a universal language. It is not restricted to one gender or one generation. This poem was written in 1956 about Sean, Day-Lewis’ son.

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –

A sunny day with leaves just turning,

The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play

Your first game of football, then, like a satellite

Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see

You walking away from me towards the school

With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free

Into a wilderness, the gait of one

Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away

Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,

Has something I never quite grasp to convey

About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching

Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so

Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly

Saying what God alone could perfectly show –

How selfhood begins with a walking away,

And love is proved in the letting go.

Men are often unprepared

My daughter’s friend says she had expected her mother to miss her the most when she left home – she was taken aback that her dad found it so difficult. He didn’t want her to know how much he was suffering but she couldn’t help noticing his anguish. He would make excuses to go and visit her at college and she never had the heart to tell him that she found it embarrassing to have him hanging around.

Helen M. DeVries, PhD, an associate professor of psychology who has done some research on empty nesting  says  “Everything said the empty nest is supposed to be this terrible loss and terrible transition for women. I started wondering if I was just unusual and my friends were all unusual because we just weren’t seeing our children leaving home as a terrible thing.” According to her research, it is actually men who are more likely to have a hard time when their children leave home.

In the sample she studied, the men did not talk at all about preparing for the next phase because they did not see their children leaving home as a major transition. This meant that they were caught by surprise by their feelings. They were more affected than their wives who had planned, prepared and communicated about the empty nest phase. She found that many fathers had regrets about not spending enough time with their children before they left home.

Let them talk

Dads should be able to talk about how they feel when their children leave home. We need to acknowledge that they too suffer from empty nest syndrome – sometimes even more than women. They may just respond rather differently to women.  Women going through empty nesting and menopause at the same time often find it harder to cope with an empty nest. For men it often comes at the same time as a general ‘mid-life crisis’ when they are already reevaluating their lives.

Men have every right to feel some emotion when their children leave home and should not feel ashamed about expressing it and even getting some help if they find it difficult to adjust.

 

Thriving in an empty nest

time for change

Bringing up children is often an all-consuming, unselfish phase of life. This is why when our children leave home it can be so hard to readjust and settle into the next phase. Some children stay close, taking more and more frequent trips out of the nest, making it somewhat easier for their parents to adjust.  For other parents it is a swift severing as their children leave for distant shores.

At home in our empty nests, we go through mixed emotions – there is some pining and at the same time, we enjoy our quiet, orderly space and new opportunities.  I have discovered that my empty nest is full of surprises – sometimes I am ambushed by sorrow and at other times I revel in my newfound spontaneity and flexibility.

Learning how to let go and move on is essential if we are to make the most of the empty nest phase. On this website I offer ways to help with the transition, gleaned from my own experience.  Changes are never easy but I believe that if we flow with the rhythm of those changes in our life instead of resisting them, we are able to reap the benefits.

I am also passionate about living the best life possible as we start to age. This means caring for our bodies, our minds and our spirits. It also means that we never stop learning and continue to stay productive. I believe that rather than succumbing to the prospect of going downhill after the age of 50,  our attitude can make a huge difference. A simple shift in attitude can make the second phase of our lives one of the most meaningful and fulfilling phases.

Love: letting go, fear and freedom

love

Many of us know the Khalil Gibran quote “If you love somebody, let them go ….”. We don’t usually think of applying it to letting go of our children as they begin to mature. It is perfectly natural for us to experience some fears and worries when the time comes for them to leave home. At the same time, we want them to become healthy, happy, independent adults. These conflicting emotions are unsettling.

Roots and Wings

According to folk wisdom the two lasting gifts parents give their children are roots and wings. This is just one of the metaphors parents use to describe what happens when their children leave home. Another one is that of a bow and arrow.  The child-rearing part is when parents draw the bow in preparation for launching those arrows one day. The purpose of the parenting is to guide them correctly so the launch is successful.

And then, of course, there are the kids who are like boomerangs. They may leave but they end up living back at home again.

Erma Bombeck says that children are like kits –

“You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. You run with them until you’re both breathless. They crash. They hit the rooftop. You patch and comfort, adjust and teach. You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly.

Finally, they are airborne. They need more string and you keep letting it out. But with each twist of the ball of  twine, there is a sadness that goes with joy. The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful creature will snap the lifeline that binds you two together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone. Only then do you know that you did your job.”

I love this for the most part but I don’t like the idea that the lifeline is snapped. I personally don’t think that the bond ever breaks completely – it just changes in nature.  It is no longer an umbilical cord where your child receives food and sustenance from you. It becomes more of a bond of friendship and mutual respect.  The rocket metaphor also leaves me with the impression that my kids are going to go off on their own trajectory, never to make their way back again.  Of course,  boomerang kids are the opposite end of the scale. Adult children living at home with their parents is becoming more and more common in today’s tough economic climate and it certainly has its own set of challenges.

Shifting relationships

When our children are born, we are no longer a couple but a family. We do not simply become a couple once again once they have all left – it is far more complex than that. A shift occurs and the whole family has to start functioning differently.  Boundaries have to be renegotiated. For some parents, having more time for one another improves their relationship but for others it spells the end of the marriage. Now that women no longer have such a hands-on parenting role, they have time to pursue goals they may have put to one side while raising children.

The healthier our bonds are with our children as they grow towards complete independence, the less we need to fear that they will simply cut us out of their lives. Studies have shown that children grow most successfully towards independence in the context of strong bonds with their parents.

There is definitely a symbolic weight to children leaving home – for some parents, it’s the ultimate test of their parenting skills. Will that child be able to survive and thrive on its own? We have been emotionally invested in our children for so many years that it’s not easy to find the delicate balance required in relating to them as independent adults.

Conflicting Emotions

As parents we often experience a sense of profound loss when our children leave home.  We still have the urge to protect and guide them but we know that we have to start allowing them to make their own decisions, even if they are the wrong ones. As parents it is difficult to stop worrying about our children, however completely and well they may have independently embarked on their own lives.  We may worry that we are no longer always there to catch them when they fall. We worry that they are not emotionally mature enough to cope with what life throws at them. We also worry about concrete events and situations they may encounter.

As Linda says “I think it’s really hard when they leave, particularly if it has been a very rewarding experience, and it has been central in your life. I think it’s hard, but it’s good because it’s the first step of the rest of their lives. So you walk that delicate line.”

A delicate line

Some of us are happiest if our children live as close to us as possible while others want their children to live a bit further afield so they can be more independent. Few of us want our children to be so far away from us that we hardly ever see them. We want them to live close enough so that they can return home for family events or in event of an emergency.

On the other hand, we also feel an increased sense of freedom. We have time to focus on ourselves for a change. Sometimes, it can be difficult to make that transition from constantly thinking about others to focusing on ourselves. We may even feel a sense of guilt because we are so unused to the idea. However, once we are finally at peace with the idea, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

I have left my daughter’s bedroom untouched since she left home. She still comes home over weekends at this stage so it is for practical reasons rather than sentimental ones. Eventually it will probably be transformed into a craft room or a study. I am lucky that I can get used to her leaving in stages. Other children leave abruptly for distant shores and I am glad I am not standing in the shoes of those parents they leave behind. Perhaps my daughter or son will move much further away in the future but at least I am becoming accustomed their absence step by step.  My daughter’s room still has a powerful significance for me while she is doing this delicate dance – flitting between college, her boyfriend’s home and my home. Eventually she will alight somewhere and I will accept it, knowing that we are one forever, no matter where she chooses to live.

 

A present of time on Mother’s Day

When your children are small, they usually come home from school with a handmade card or special poem for Mother’s Day.  I still have the card my daughter brought home in her first year at school with her tiny hand prints all over it. It said

hand printSometimes you get discouraged
Because I am so small
And always leave my fingerprint
On furniture and walls.
But every day I’m growing up
And soon I’ll be so tall
That all those little hand prints
Will be hard to recall
So here’s the special hand prints
Just so that you can say
This is how my fingers looked
When I placed them here today.”

But my favorite part of the card was her own carefully written words “You ar allwase there for me. You ar the best mom ever. I love you so much.” Every time I pull out that card, I have a little lump in my throat. (more…)

My Fixer Upper TV show addiction

Fixer upper DVDI have watched many a fixer upper TV show over the years but HGTV’s show,  Fixer Upper, hosted by Chip and Joanna Gaines is one of my favorites. This down-to-earth couple lives in Waco, Texas with their four children, Drake, Ella Rose, Duke and Emmie Kay. Drake, the oldest, is six and Emmie Kay, the youngest is only two. They manage to juggle their business of renovating houses and caring for their four young children with apparent ease.

Chip and Joanna have been married for 10 years and despite their busy life, still seem to have that romantic spark in their marriage. They work well together as a team and Joanna admits to being the one who worries, while Chip likes to take risks. She has big dreams and he always encourages her to pursue them.

Joanna is not a trained designer but has developed her own sense of style through the years.  Chip is the construction pro on the show. His boyish sense of humor irritated me a little in the beginning but he grew on me, particularly when I saw the way he treated Joanna.  As a boy, Chip wanted to be a baseball player or a politician.  Joanna dreamed of being a broadcast journalist but did not think her career would develop in the area of design or renovation. (more…)

My precious daughter is home for a season

My empty nest has been full for the holidays. As I sit down to write this, my daughter will soon be returning to university to do her honours in Psychology. She completed her degree at the end of last year, moved out of her flat and came home for a while. My empty nest was transformed overnight from a silent, orderly space into a noisy, messy space full of laughter.  She will soon be packing her bags again and I will have to get used to her not being around all over again.  At this stage her whole life still stretches out ahead of her, full of promise and possibilities. However, for this temporary period, she is happy to be at home and to settle in to some of her old routines.

at summitShe has made herself quite comfortable – rather too comfortable as a matter of fact. As I look up from my desk I can see a sleeping bag laid out on my living floor. She went on a hike with friends and slept in a cave for the night. She says she lay awake for hours with bats flying overhead and water dripping down on her face. She is still trying to clean dirty sand off the borrowed sleeping bag. On my diningroom table I can see her jogging pants, a bottle of deodorant, and a pair of socks. (more…)

A broken heart – a mother’s pain on parting

I found the poem below in a book by Shelley Bovey  The Empty Nest: When Children Leave Home.  It is a beautiful poem that describes a broken heart – a mother’s pain on parting. It reminded me of an article I read in the Daily Mail written by Maddy Paxman, author of The Great Below. She lost her husband, writer Michael Donaghy, as a result of a brain haemorrhage when she was 46 and was left to bring up her eight-year-old son on her own. In the article she writes about her agony, knowing her son Ruari will soon leave home. She says “moving on from motherhood is no laughing matter. Especially if this is your last – or, as in my case, only child – the transition brings with it a huge sense of loss and grief, largely unacknowledged in our society. We celebrate birth with flowers and presents, but the ending of hands-on motherhood is borne mostly in silent distress.” (more…)