Treading tricky watersPosted: June 27, 2012
The empty nest. The empty home. The empty heart. I seem to be hyper-focusing on this subject and yet this summer season, it seems to be omnipresent. I once again refer to
my bible Facebook where I saw many of my friends talk about their kids’ first summer at sleep-away camp (my Northern roots had me calling it “overnight” camp, yet down in these parts of the MidAtlantic, it seems to have morphed into sleep-away camp). Whether they are 7-9 or older tweens or teens, it is still hard (mostly for the parents) to have that first extended period of time away from home.
The FB pages showed happy kids getting on buses and waving good-bye while the parents lament their departure. The following day (or that evening, if they were lucky) those same parents were posting the pictures of their kids that the camp had uploaded. “Does she look happy?” “I think that is a smile” was the caption du jour. Today, just 3 days after the ‘great departure’, I read that two parents had received that first letter home; luckily BOTH of these letters confirmed the happiness that the parents were so hoping for.
Whether it’s a week long scouting camp, a 4 day soccer camp or some other combination of weeks of an all-around summer camp, we want our kids to thrive, have fun and learn some skills. We want them to get a sense of independence, build positive relationships both with their peers and counselors and learn a thing or two about tennis, pottery or pitching a tent.
So, what’s a mom to do when she can hear the silence in her house? notes that the mess that she cleaned up in the morning remains in tact by nightfall or yearns for a hug from her child? What about when she sees that man in the kitchen that she realizes is the guy she married 10+ years ago? Some moms do the happy dance and relish in their free time while still missing their happy campers, but many parents, particularly mothers, experience a profound sense of emptiness. Their identity as a mom has become their sole identity; the status of woman or wife slipped away amidst the diapers and backpacks.
This is that part again when I talk to my clients about filling up themselves and taking care of their needs as individuals and as couples. I feel it is really important to have a sense of self: who you are, what you like/dislike and what brings you joy aside from just where your daughter dances or what your son gets on his report card. It makes for a better parent to have the appropriate boundaries that separate the you from your kids. Kids like that their parents have interests and hobbies. They can feel overwhelmed if their parents are too enmeshed in their own lives. I have had teen clients that want their parents to “get a life”, in other words, develop their own personal activities that enable them to grow as a person rather than simply as a parent. It is great to be the band parent, but being the chaperone for every band trip can rob your child of some independence and autonomy.
If you find that you are pacing around the playroom while your child is safely ensconced in his bunk this summer, it is time to put the focus back on you. Take a class, join a group, or call a friend. There is this great site called Meetup that connects people that have common interests who live in the same area, the offerings are endless. I have some friends that go out almost every night after work when their kids are at camp. They go to free concerts, museums, not necessarily big ticket items, they just get out and remember that they are a couple. I know many couples that take their own vacation while the kids are at camp. Many times we forget that we were adults before we were parents, the parenting thing just came in and swept us up.
Imagine the stories you can share with the kids when they come back and tell you about every last bunk raid and Color War? They may be quite surprised to learn that mom and dad had as much fun, while still missing them, this summer as they did.