A Community for People Who's Children Have Outgrown Them

This is a blog for people who are reflecting on life after their children have flown the coop.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Making up is hard to do

There has always been a lot said and written about the challenges of communication between parents and children.  Parents love to marvel at how smart their children become when they enter their twenties and realize maybe mom and dad weren't so off base, ignorant or just dumb.  During the teen years we feel that the kids don't listen and the kids feel the parents don't understand.  Life is different than when you grew up, Dad.

The big challenge I face in the long distance relationship with inconsistent communication is that we speak a lot with our thumbs.  Between abbreviations, emoticons, incomplete sentences, and onomonpias,  there is a lot of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.  Not only do we miss the opportunity to look into one another's eyes to see if the message is being received as it is intended, now we can't hear the inflection in our child's voice to see if we are on the same wave length. So, this leads to faulty encoding and decoding.  Too often  I have said things (remember we talk with our thumbs) that was misconstrued.  A suggestion or piece of advice is viewed as criticism or lack of confidence.  This leads to walls going up, quick termination of the conversation or an extended period of non-communication.  Not that these things didn't happen through verbal discourse.  Many times have I misspoke and created anger or hurt.  However, it is much easier to tack back when you can utilize several senses to evaluate the situation.  

Too often when we are limited to tactile communication we miss the signs.  Eventually we learn that we temporarily alienated our loved one.  Righting this situation by text is harder.  We can apologize or try to explain what we meant.  But long winded SMS's rarely have the same impact as direct oral dialog that might include screaming or crying, but can more easily conclude with a better understand of the message that was intended and that was heard.  Certainly, it can't end in the much needed hug.

I am learning to select my keys carefully and hope that I string them together in an inoffensive manner.  Because making up is so much harder by text I am a little more reluctant to offer help, especially if it is unsolicited. The risk of misinterpretation and the consequences that this brings is high.  Sometimes it is easy to adopt the kids' communication style of short answers, rather than engage.  This might be the cowardly approach, but preserving peace because there isn't the easy ability to reach an understanding might be the more pragmatic strategy.

I am not sure the faster, 24/7 connected communication world that we live in today enables us to support our flown the coop children better.   I suppose it can, we just have to work a little harder, be a little bit more sensitive and know that we will probably make a few more mistakes.  Maybe it will all be easier when we can regularly video skype from our cell phones.   

I am sure our parents don't know how much harder we have it than they did supporting their children after they moved out.  :-)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Communicating in College

Yesterday I talked about the morning, today I reflect on my quieter Sundays.  We manage to fill most of the day with news shows, some sports, gardening and a couple of hours of work.  I do my best thinking away from the office and daily decision making.  Since I enjoy what I do, the time behind the computer is not a burden, just the opposite, my opportunity to make a break through on a problem that could get sufficient attention during the week.

Mid-afternoon the phone rings and it is Michael calling to share his weekend activities and to catch-up.  I immediately hear the tension in his voice. I know he is disappointed about how he is entering the finals period, so he is determined to raise his average.  The pressure is on and he is not sure whether he can rise to the occasion.  We catch-up on Philadelphia sports, family and friends, but there is no carefree chatter.  After 15 minutes when the phone call ends, he is back on his own.  In the old days, when he living here, I could do a fly-by and offer some encouragement or perhaps a little levity to break the stress.  Now, I just wonder, though confident in his abilities, how is coping with the pressure of achieving his goals.

At 5:15, while I was in the middle of making real progress on a project, the phone beeps with a text.  Wanna skype?  It was Jodi, looking to check in.  I was really on a roll and didn't want to lose momentum, but also didn't want to miss a touch point.  How about 6?  On the dot, the laptop starts to ring and a minute later we are staring at each other.  Technology is amazing.  She moves the laptop around to show how neat her room is and where she was studying.  Susan join us and the 3 of us are almost reunited in person.  We talk about each of our recent days.  Lots of laugh and teasing back and forth.  It is very light and carefree.  By 6:30, we, the adults, were ready for dinner and anxious to return to our respective projects.  I was conflicted about ending the relaxing family time and getting stuff done.  Who knows when we would be able to "hang out" without there being stresses of finals or competition with social time or just not being in the mood.  After several, two more minute warnings, just like when they were 8 years old, we disconnected.

Communicating with them while in they are in college, or now that they don't live at home, presents several issues.  If everything isn't covered in the conversation it is more difficult to pick it up.  When everyone is around, you just wander back, test the mood and raise the topic on not.  If you call back too soon after the conversation then the other person knows  you have a specific agenda and you are obligated to jump in, even if the timing isn't right. Often when you speak to them at school, one person isn't in the mood to converse.  Usually the parent wants to hear what is happening, explore their emotional state and provide guidance.  If the child isn't in the mood the parent gets disappointed.  Then there is the uncertainty of the next call.  College kids are busy.  When will we be able to grab quality time again.  So, I pretty much drop everything when one of them calls.  I am at peace accepting communication on their schedule.  Similarly, if we go too long without speaking, then I don't hesitate to dial them up.  If they don't want to speak they recognize the number and don't answer.  Gone is the casualness of easy communication.  We try to catch-up regularly by phone, text or skype, but it's not as easy a plopping of one of the beds and hanging out.  We're learning and adjusting.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend mornings

Probably the greatest regular lifestyle change is weekends mornings.  No more morning rush hours, off to the soccer field or to Hebrew School or to a playdate.  If it wasn't the race to head out, the youngins needed to be fed because one inevitably woke up hungry. Many a weekend morning was a fun food experience.  We made pancakes, waffles and eggs often and explored different ingredients that added variety.  Chocolate chip pancakes were always a favorite, while cheeses, lox and selected vegetables spiced up the eggs.  As they got older they each assumed cooking responsibilities and learned how to master the spatula.  The messes diminished as their physical coordination improved, but somehow, even till the end, it seemed like Dad had more of the clean-up duties than the culinary kids.

Although I miss sharing breakfasts and the stress free time of catching up on teen weekend exploits or disappointments, I am learning to cherish my new morning ritual. I wake up, roll over, reach down and grab my iPad.  Before even brushing my teeth I am man of the world, immersed in The Times.  In an hour of lazily languishing in bed, I catch up on the news, business, sports and some gossip (yes the Times remains competitive by offering gossip).  One of my many parenting frustrations over the last 20 years was the inability to get to the Sunday paper.  There were far too many weekends when it was placed in the recycling bin, unopened.  Sometimes I would deceive myself and put aside the Sunday Business, magazine and Week in Review determined to get to it on Monday or Tuesday.  Inevitably that just meant it got to tossed unread a couple of days later.  I have learned to love lying around in bed, next to Susan, skimming the paper, er the digital version.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

How does it feel?

How does it feel to be an empty nester?  In the 7 months since we became empty nesters I have probably been asked that question a hundred times.  My answer is still the same, we're figuring it out.  It is taking a while to get used to it.  After almost 20 years of a life that revolved around the kids and the four of us, it is now just us two at home and them each in their own lives.  At this point we have made some progress, meaning, we have developed some new routines, learned how to manage weekend time differently and figured out how to stay in touch with our kids' lives.  We certainly haven't mastered it yet.  No doubt we will, because there is no other option.

Why a blog?  My hope is that when my experiences resonate, you will add your comments, personal experiences and thoughts so that we create a community of empty nesters.  If you are a veteran empty nester, you might be able to provide us rookies with insights from a longitudinal perspective.  For some of you, this might be a preview of coming attractions, so you might be better prepared than the rest of us who went into this cold turkey.  Empty nesterhood is non-optional, eventually the kids fly the coop and we are left navigate from a different perspective.  Let's share.

I will start with some of our story for the new visitors who are joining our lives.  

My nuclear family is my wife Susan, son, Michael (20) and daughter, Jodi (18).  We have been married since December 1987 and live in suburban NYC.  I work in media publishing and have intentionally structured my life to stay local, so I never had to travel much.  Susan is a business professional and around all the time when not working.  The kids were home for almost all summers, so for the most part, we have always been together as a foursome.  We are very close and the two kids are devoted to one another.  Until the the kids went off to college most weekends revolved around their lives, lots of sports for both, car pooling, family activities or just hanging as a family.  We made family a priority and explained during the teenage years it was a responsibility to one another and shouldn't be viewed as a burden.  Everyone mostly understood, but there were times when the concept was challenged.

In September of 2008 Michael went off to college approximately 4 hours away from home.  From the start of his senior year of high school a small part of me had a lingering sadness that this would be his last, High Holidays or Halloween or President's week vacation, etc.  The ache diminished as the year progressed and by the time we dropped him off at school we were both ready.  During the next two years Jodi and I sauved the pain of the missing brudder/son by breakfasting most mornings and dinners when both our schedules permitted.  When he returned for the first summer life resumed where it left off when he lived at home full time.  The foursome was reunited.  When her time came in Sept. 2010 to leave for the University I was more emotionally ready to say goodbye to her because I knew we would have summers, holidays and breaks.  

Our journey begins, we are empty nesters.  

How does it feel?  At first very strange.  As two working professionals with kids, Susan and I  didn't have much twosome time.  Other than the occasional dinner out together, we almost always had others around us, the kids or the friends.  Now, every night we come home, try to dinner together, which we rarely did before and talk to one another.  People said, "you will rediscover one another and remember why you got married."  There is truth to that.  We talk to each other now more than we have in the previous twenty years.  

Weekends are still a little strange.  We have 48 hours on our hands, there are far fewer chores to do, we can only get together with friends for so many hours, and daily activities, eating, sleeping and exercising only consume a limited amount of the day, so how do we pass the time?  Honestly, we are still figuring it out.  We try to do some exciting things together like go food shopping, weed the garden or clean the house.  But, there is an awkwardness between individual time and couple time.  Also, we are not in total sync on this topic.  Susan values her personal time more than I do.  I would prefer to hang out more, but need to respect her quiet time.  So, we are learning to balance, compromise, adjust and tolerate.  I can say, 7 months into this, we have made good progress.

The answer to "how does it feel?" we getting used to it.  Just like some of the nagging, recurring pains we have as fifty somethings, we are learning how get adapt. We adjust to having the kids mostly connected electronically and to each of us being around one another without any interference to insulate from unwanted interaction at that time.  It's OK.