Older women would see my children and say, “Enjoy them while they’re young. They grow up in a hurry.” I’d smile and think, “That’s sweet,” but what I didn’t understand was they were actually revealing the secret for not losing my mind years later when my children walked out the door into the world. The ultimate secret for having a happy transition to an empty nest isn’t anything you can do the last few months before they leave, but instead, it’s something you have to work on for 18 years.
These women knew the secret to successfully launching teenagers into the world is connected to what you do when they’re much younger.
Imagine that, those older women really were wiser.
If they had been more specific, these ladies would have explained that when we walk away and leave them sitting in the dorm or put them on the bus for basic training, it won’t be as gut-wrenching if we’ve really and truly enjoyed our time with them. Not so much repetitive sporting events or dance recitals, but real, honest to goodness time spent with silly, crying, foot-stomping, hugging and giggling children.
The first few times you choke up as you set the table with one less plate, you won’t think of the expensive vacations you took. Instead, you’ll smile at the memory of them hiding their lima beans under their plates or spilling milk or telling knock-knock jokes while slurping spaghetti.
The small quick moments of parenting meld together and form a fortress of strength for the breaking heart of a lonely parent. The memory of a dirty faced little boy falling asleep in your arms with his stinky little head on your chest is the perfect antidote for that empty chair at the table.
Taking time away from your desk, phone and computer to spend time with your children is like stocking up the pantry before a hurricane. When others are starving for just a little more time and crying for one more memory or one more experience, you’ll be satisfied with bountiful plenty because you’ve enjoyed them. You’ve delighted in their achievements and secretly smiled at their mistakes, because you know (hope) it’s how they learn.
When your son calls to say he’s taking a girl to a dance, you’ll be comforted by the memory of being his first dance partner, twirling around the kitchen to the dreamy smell of chicken pot pie. When your daughter tells you she’s pledged a sorority and they had the fanciest party in the world, you’ll know she secretly compared it to the princess party you threw for her 8thbirthday.
Parents of young children don’t realize that when they fall into bed exhausted every single night after chasing naked children around the house begging them to put on their pajamas before they freeze to death are really making it easier to let go in a few years. A story book here, a broken lamp there, bouncing on the bed and Eskimo kisses will ultimately help you send them on their way.
The older moms were trying to tell me it’s all about making memories and not taking a moment for granted. Trading a few business meetings for marshmallow roasts or tee times for teddy bear picnics will leave both you and your teen fulfilled and regret-free. Enjoy them while they’re young because graduation is closer than you think.