A couple of weeks ago family counselor Ichel Alignay and preacher in blue jeans’ wife Marowe Sanchez asked me for tips on how to prepare for empty nesting.
Empty Nest Syndrome is the feeling of loneliness that parents may feel when their children leave home to either start college away from home or start living on their own. It is not a clinical condition and is sometimes loosely used as an expression to say that the kids have left home, even if the parents are not necessarily lonely.
In the US this happens when their children enter college but in the Philippines this is somewhat delayed because our children still stay with us even after college. For some, even while they are already building their own families. But that’s another story. So we loosely say, “We’re empty nesting.” when our children start to have their own gimmicks and are hardly at home. Nevertheless, it is something that married couples should prepare for. Don’t just prepare your children to eventually live away from home, but also prepare yourself to live away from your children.
As I write this piece all three sons are living away from our home. Son 1 who also rented a condominium when he was working at the BGC district is now back home since he put up his own consulting firm, but is now away for a two-week vacation. Son 2 recently moved to a new office located in Makati and is now renting a condominium walking distance from his office. Son 3 is away for a semester on an exchange student program. So it’s just my husband and me at home, what we loosely call as empty nesting.
My simple answer to Ichel and Marowe’s question on how to prepare for empty nesting was, “Make sure that your spouse is your favorite person in the world!” Yes that’s my cheesy description of my husband, and I thank God that even after 27 years of being married, I still mean it and happy that I’m spending a lot of time with him.
It’s important that we prepare for this stage because being unprepared may lead to sense of loss, depression, alcoholism, identity crisis, marital conflicts as you won’t be able to hide issues under your children anymore. Looking back here are some of the things that helped us prepare for this interesting stage. (Although a lot of the items below are for married couples, some are applicable to single parents.)
- FriDates. We started really doing our regular FriDates early on in our marriage. During a parenting talk given by my college batchmate, and now a very successful counseling psychologist in Singapore Lissy Ann Puno, I asked a question about feeling guilty every time my husband and I would go out and leave our babies behind. She said we owed it to ourselves to continue going out because our healthy marriage is essential to good parenting. And so from that time on, our irregular dates became a weekly date to look forward to. We chose Friday because on that day I didn’t have to tutor the boys and Friday afternoon after school was the start of their free weekend – i.e. free to watch TV and play with their video games. That way, Mama and Papa’s absence from dinner was not a big deal. They got used to it that when they grew up to be teenagers, they seemed to always go out on Friday nights too!
- Separate Bedrooms. When we built our house after five years of being married, we took it as an opportunity to tell them that they have to sleep in their own room, not in their parents’ room anymore. Those were the years when your little tots would always love to sleep with Mama and Papa and it was also difficult for us to let them go but we thought it was an important part of parenting and nurturing our marriage. Marvin and I needed alone time every night to reconnect and talk without the usual interruptions of three energetic boys. But we had what we called “den nights” when we would set up mattresses on the floor of our den on weekend nights, watch a movie together, then sleep together. This was also a special treat to the boys. Later on when they grew older, I felt it was more of a treat for mom!
- Continue to develop yourself. I decided to be a full-time mom in my late 20s but I continued to have projects on the side. It could be as simple as helping my mom prepare for their wedding anniversary, or attending photography, fine arts, writing classes, different workshops, or getting into a business with friends, and reading a lot. I never stopped feeding myself with self-development activities because I felt I owed it to the boys and myself to be the best me. Somehow, all these activities didn’t just help me parent them well but also prepared me to have something to do when they stopped needing my focused and undivided attention.
- Your next purpose. Our kids grow up fast. Before I knew it, they were all taller than my husband and me. So while they are growing up, we should also prepare for our next purpose. This is especially true for full-time mothers. That is why No. 3 is very important and getting ourselves occupied while they are in school should not just be about ballroom dancing, zumba, massages or what have you. I’m not saying you should not engage in these activities and other hobbies. Just don’t limit your activities to them. Find something that has a purpose beyond self-gratification, beyond your immediate family. You see, once you find your next purpose, letting go of your children will not be as hard.
- Agree on meet-ups and call times. We experienced sending off our children to study abroad, away from home as early as grade school and high school. Their longest are their college stints for one semester. In order to set expectations, we agreed on call times. We don’t have to talk to each other everyday but at least once a week. Now with all the digital means of conversation, we make use of group chats to update each other and it’s all good. For our sons who lived/live away from home and close to place of work, we have weekend meals together for in-person catch up. My favorite activity in the world is sharing a meal with my family with everyone present and sharing stories in person. The schedules help us manage our bonding expectations.
- Agree on the nest departure dates of your “chicks.” Have an agreed upon time when your “chicks” (your children) should leave home. In our case, it’s a certain age or once they get married, whichever comes first. This way, you not only prepare them to be independent, but you also prepare yourself psychologically for that healthy parting of ways.
- Be a good company. I’m taking mental notes on what makes each son enjoy our company and hope to still have that, in fact, more of that as we grow old. I imagine that when they would be busy with their respective families and careers, it would be hard for them to come visit their old folks. Aside from having a set Sunday lunch, I’d like them to still want to enjoy our company. I still dream that my sons would call me/us and say, “Hey, are you free to have lunch with me?” And I guess, that would be easier for them to do if I’d still be a fun person to talk to, laugh with, get advice from, or just hang out with. This is again connected to no. 3.
- Do crazy things or learn new things with your spouse. When you’re not preoccupied with child rearing anymore, you can just pack up and go wherever you want, whenever you want it. Marvin and I call it “Tanan tayo!” (“Let’s elope!”) Use this time as your chance to do things at the spur of the moment guiltlessly because no kid will be left home sad. Last week, after attending a party with sing-along, Marvin said, “Let’s take up voice lessons together. Are you game?”
- Continue to dream big. Pursue huge dreams together. If you don’t have a partner, still pursue that crazy dream of yours, no matter how old you are. It’s what will keep you excited each day. Whether you attain your dream or not is beside the point because the primary purpose of these dreams is to set you in motion every single day. This is a much better alternative than just being worried about your illnesses as you grow old.
- Take care of your health. Connected to no. 9 is to be careful with our health. Health is indeed wealth. But have the right mindset and expectations about your body. If you do your annual check-up, bear in mind that you’re not spring chicken anymore so don’t expect to see the vital signs of a 25 year old! And when you talk to your children, maybe just give them a brief update on this in a not so dramatic tone then discuss other interesting topics. You just see each other on special occasions; don’t let your medical concerns monopolize the conversations.
- Prepare healthy financials. How can I not mention this? Of course, it’s always more enjoyable to go through your empty nesting if your Balance Sheet is healthy. It will be easier for you to just pack up and go, indulge in your hobbies, pursue your dreams, do crazy things, take care of your health, and most of all, spoil your grandchildren in the future! This way, if your own children will be too busy or lazy to visit you, you have your grandchildren to nag them to go see lolo and lola!
So parents, go ahead be generous with your time, effort and love for your children while they’re growing up, but remember to prepare well for this interesting stage called empty nesting!
It is in preparing well for empty nesting that you’ll find your “chicks and your grandchicks” coming back to your nest keeping it full regularly.
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- I will speak at the UST Financial Literacy Campaign and Promotion on October 24, 2016 at the Thomas Aquinas Research Complex Auditorium, University of Santo Tomas
- I will speak at the Ateneo Paradigm Entrepreneurship Crash Course on November 11, 2016 at the Oakwood Joy Nostalg Center, Manila, Pasig City
- I will speak at the Kerygma Conference on November 17, 2016 at the MOA Arena
- Watch out for the continuation of my FQ talks in cooperation with Security Bank. Dates and venues to be announced.
Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.
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