For my Mother's eighty birthday I wanted to buy a painting from a local artist that we both enjoyed. This artist did beautifully animated watercolors of birds that we both loved. They were so full of life and some of them even made you laugh out loud. This was something that I thought Mom would enjoy having on her wall. Something to look at often and feel refreshed. Trusting that artist knowing us would choose something for the occasion, I asked her to just wrap it and send it to my Mother.
When I called to see if she had received the package she said she did and that she hated it. I was shocked and told her that I would be over the next day. My Mother had early stages of Alzheimer's and I was wondering if that was where the extreme reaction was coming from.
When I arrived the picture was shoved into the back of the closet with the wrapping paper crumpled around it. I took it out and understood immediately why she was repelled by it. The painting was an empty nest. The colors were dark and the nest was old and broken apart. It appeared to be between the change of seasons, perhaps from fall to winter. It had lost the brilliant colors of fall and had not yet been painted with the crystalline, bright white of the winter snow. This indeed was a sad picture. One would have to dig very deep into the memories that once held the joys of life in this nest.
The "empty nest" is more than just words or in this case a picture. The cycling of life, for women especially, around the home and children is powerful. Many societies prepare from birth the graduation and the moving forward with this family process. Yet in the western world, the birthing of the family unit dwells heavily in the continuation of this closely-knit unit. This comes to the detriment of the child and the parent when the time arrives for the growth to continue outside of "the nest".
I remember my mother telling me when my daughters were being very trying that this was preparation for their leaving. The discomfort of the clashing of ways was enabling the looking forward to their departure. It would be easier for everyone to live with a little distance. Of course in the heat of the moment, that feels like a great idea over the stinky gym bags, messy rooms, and returning the car with no gas again.
Nature has its way of emptying the nest for us if we do not. Often times we just do not feel like it is time...we are not ready or the child is not. The time does arrive and the nest is emptied.
Now what??? What to do with all of the time and especially those emotions? The only prerequisite for being a parent when having that first child is to have no experience. All the books and study and advise help a little...but in the face of this miraculous event is that it is all on you. You learn how to care for and nurture these innocent and virtually helpless beings. One moment..one day at a time. The same is applied when the child moves on. We are only here to protect them and teach them how to protect themselves. Then they move out and we must begin the work of building a new nest. The nest may already be remolded and perhaps exchanged for a larger one over the years. Now it is time to adjust the nest again.
At birth, we learn how to use the best skills to access or strengths and gifts. Then we do the same for our offspring. All of this experience becomes the wisdom that we use to usher in the brightest light of ourselves. For the ushering in the next generation. This space in life has been opened and expanded to allow for the use of the knowledge that has been accumulated all of these years. With each expansion, there is the discomfort of the stretch. That very tender memory of holding that child the first time. The fear of the first bump and bleed. The tears of disappointment they experience in first love and then all of the wins and joys. These tug at the heartstrings and bring tears of loss and some regret. Often time it brings irrational attempts to extend the close connection of the past. Like buying them new towels, plants, mixing bowls, pillows, or cooking for them. All of which they resent, because they were taught well and want to do it on their own now.
The reconnecting deeper within is the place to go. I assure you that there will be callings of crisis, be it money, or advice, a home-cooked meal or a hug. You will always be needed. They love and respect you more when you continue to lead the way with doing for yourself all of the things that you taught them to do. First of all, to stay grounded in the present moment and hold that vision of the future you dream of. Keep the memories in your heart and adjust the nest to fit yet again the family at hand. Emptiness is just the feeling before the excitement of the next new feeling. You get to choose what that feeling will be. Choose to fill your new nest well.