Adventures in Empty-Nesting

Photo by Judit Peter from Pexels

“The job did come with a strange disclaimer which escaped my notice at the time.” -Alison Swan

The interview for my dream job couldn’t have gone better! I was a young 25 years old and had envisioned this moment a dozen times. It was the position of a lifetime. I knew as soon as the offer came, I had been entrusted with a tremendous responsibility. 

In some cases, I would be expected to use personal funds for travel and other work-related necessities. The firm couldn’t provide training, but I was welcome to seek assistance from more seasoned partners. 

The hours would be long, the starting pay minimal, and the schedule demanding. Yet I recognized the experience’s value would far exceed the firm’s ability to compensate. 

The job did come with a strange disclaimer that escaped my notice at the time: “Other industries may fail to recognize the transferability of your acquired skills.” 

These minor detractions did nothing to diminish my interest in the position, and I immediately accepted the job. After which, I was forced to endure a 9-month probationary period of waiting. During this period, I was permitted to decorate my office and wait. To this day, I am perplexed by the waiting. 

After the waiting period was complete, I was immediately thrown into the most demanding sector of the position. 

For the first three months, I was allowed less than 3-4 hours of sleep per night. Arriving each morning extremely exhausted had me wondering if my blurry-eyed negligence might result in a co-worker’s fatality. Thankfully there were no deaths to report.

You would think I might have quit from the stress of it all, but actually, I became quite good at juggling the requirements. Soon, what had been stressful became an enjoyable conglomerate of challenges to overcome. 

The best part of the juggling act was that no two days were the same. On a Monday, efficiency might be the best plan to achieve desired results. On a Wednesday, deep wells of patience might be needed. 

Those early years flew by—I was promoted and admired. (Well, not usually admired outwardly, but I understood, my co-workers were quite young.) The 22-year mark passed, and it felt good to know I had tenure—nothing to worry about when it came to job security with this position in the bag. 

What I am about to share next will come as a great surprise, as it did me…

I still have difficulty wrapping my mind around how it all unraveled. I was called into the head office one afternoon and told my expertise would no longer be needed. My position was being outsourced. 

I was welcome to retain my title, but every project I had worked on would be dismantled. My responsibilities outsourced to large academic institutions, and my office cleaned out. 

Years have passed since the day my position was eliminated. On most days, I hold such gratitude for the opportunity to have been offered the career of a lifetime. 

Once in a while, the memory of a position I loved so deeply leaves me wishing for what once was. In all honesty, my title became a significant part of my identity. 

It was a full and purposeful career to have raised our three beautiful and deserving children, now 25, 22, and 20. The role I accepted as a naive 25-year-old rookie resulted in greater fulfillment than I could have imagined and a lifetime of friendships with our young adults.

All grown!

An Afterword: In recent weeks, the firm asked me to return for minimal hours as a consultant—I was thrilled to be asked. Although the hours of work are greatly diminished and usually remote, it continues to be my greatest passion.

Photo by Julia Volk from Pexels

The in-between is where I reside these days. This strange place, not yet an empty-nester and not a young-mom anymore, either. Just here. 

Sometimes it seems like I’m just floating in ‘the in-between.’ Un-noticed. Fading into the background.

This wasn’t how I imagined this season of my life…

Don’t misunderstand…my husband and I have people in our lives, dinners out, events to attend, and parents we enjoy on the sidelines of our kid’s sporting events. Still, it doesn’t feel quite right. It’s like we’re just here, as spectators to all of it. Most of the time, I feel lonely— even in a gathering of friends.

We’ve talked about it, my husband feels it too. There used to be couples we’d get together with, at a moments notice, for game nights or spontaneous barbecues in our backyard. But as babies were born and our kids grew up, our social life began to revolve around their activities.

Slowly, without even realizing it, our couple friendships began to fade—maybe even taken for granted.  

You see, twenty-three years of marriage will do that sometimes. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, driving the kids around to all their activities, while my husband has been working long hours at the office. He’s been focused on our family-owned business, and I on our kids, and the business of everything running smoothly at home. 

In some ways, this may sound a little circa 1950, but that’s just how it worked out for us, in terms of sharing the workload. I feel our marriage is solid. We’ve enjoyed a date night almost every week for twenty-one years, and we have fun together. But still, we’re both finding ourselves in ‘the in-between.’ Is it a mid-life crisis? Perhaps. But neither of us is vying to buy a little red convertible any time soon—this feels different somehow.

We have one who just headed off to college and one who is currently managing his days wading through the muddy waters of middle school. So, empty-nesting may be a little further off for us than many of the people we know who have kids heading off to college. 

Our kids and their activities have filled up our lives in so many ways and yet, I am not sure where I fit in anymore. 

I feel like I’m floating between two different friendship groups—the parents of college-age kids and the middle school parents. It is a strange place to find one’s self. Not knowing where I’ll land.

At 48 years young, I consider myself the pretty typical age for a parent of a college freshman. Yet, I didn’t make many deep connections with the moms in that group while my daughter was in high school. Many of them are empty-nesters now, and we never found enough in common to move our friendship forward—I never felt like they got me. 

No matter how many walks, coffee dates, or days I spent volunteering at school events, I never really felt a deeper connection with any of them.

I also have insecurities about feeling like the “old mom” in my middle-schooler’s class. For many of these parents, their middle-schooler is their oldest child, and most have more littles at home. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel any younger to have to pull my readers out in front of them, every time I want to look at my phone or read something.

While they are discussing American Girl dolls, Magic Tree House, and the intricacies of making slime, I am thinking about my daughter off in her dorm room. I’m hopeful she’s headed to her classes and college parties are not her main focus. So, college is not on many of the middle school mom’s radar yet; I wouldn’t expect it to be.

Whenever I talk to the moms in each of the groups, I don’t feel like I fit into either one. Don’t get me wrong—everyone is friendly, everyone is nice.

The ‘middle school and younger moms’ are in the thick of busy, driving every which way with car snacks and activity-filled days. The ‘college-age moms’ are mostly empty-nesters, focused on how well their college students will fair away from home. And a few seem concerned about how they’re going to reconnect with their partner after so many years of focusing on their kids.

I’m finding the rush of activities for my middle-schooler is humming along at a pretty relaxed pace for us right now. It’s low stress since he’s the only one in sports and after school activities. We drive around, talk easily, and have great conversations. I enjoy all of it. The craziness seems to have calmed.

But here is the real deal; my days are full spending time with family. I am content, yet still, I have a sense of loneliness—a sense of not belonging. My deep-rooted insecurity of wondering if anyone really “gets me” still nags at me from time to time.

I turn will be turning 50 in what feels like a minute, and my husband and I are still looking for “our people.” People to connect with on a deeper level, fewer surface friendships, and more real connections. We would like to develop friendships with couples that have found themselves in this same place. 

We can’t be the only people feeling this way, can we? We feel like we missed the window when we were supposed to make these deeper friendships. What do we do now?

Are there any other couples out there, caught in ‘the in-between’ like us? How do we go about finding those people? Is there an app for that?

We told our college freshman to “put yourself out there, meet new people, join clubs, and get involved! That is how you will make new friends.” She has taken our advice and is thriving. We are working on taking our own advice. 

Being a “joiner” is hard after so many years of not working at it.

Maybe you are out there too, feeling the same way? I hope we meet you soon. I believe we can all benefit from deeper connections and more intimate friendships. So, we aren’t giving up on finding our people just yet.

Maybe in a few years, there will be an app for that, but in the meantime, we’re trying to take our own advice…

My husband and I have been making time for more outdoor adventures, and we’re trying to play at the local golf course more often. We’ve made it a priority to attend sporting events and concerts at local venues—where our kids are not the main attraction. 

Now we attend, hoping to meet people like us who are still floating…hoping to meet people like you. 

The magic of Christmas. Children looking out the window in excitement
Christmas Day by Norman Rockwell
“I make no apologies for the fact that my love and heightened anticipation for the holidays is a little off the charts.”
–Stephanie Riley

4 Minute Read

You remember that spark, right? That magical energy…when the child within your soul completely believed in the magic of Christmas.

I’ve felt that thrill since childhood. My twin sister and I were the only children to our parents who were both only children-so we were lavished with love and attention from not only our parents, but all sets of grandparents. 

Early in our courtship, my husband, John, shared that Christmas was a big deal in his home too.

So when I unveiled my plans for the holidays, he gave me the green light to aspire to make our family the living representation of the nostalgic Norman Rockwell paintings you see depicting the joy of Christmas.

I’m not just being “P.C.” here, using the word “holidays.” I’m simply pointing out that from September/Harvest time on…through Halloween and Thanksgiving; it’s all just the Opening Act leading to the crescendo of Christmas. 

As soon as our children were old enough to understand, a “24-day Countdown Calendar” filled with all the activities one could think of was hung in our home.

Each day a different adventure: ice skating 90-miles away in a mall adorned with Christmas décor, baking cookies, and cutting down our own tree in the snowy foothills to name a few.

For years, I tried to capture these “perfect Norman Rockwell moments” in photographs, and quite often, even hit the mark. I have an enormous collection of treasured memories, capturing genuinely beautiful moments in our family’s life.

But, what you see in these Instagram-worthy photos are just snapshots of moments –there are literally thousands of pictures that didn’t even make the cut.

It’s been a work-in-progress over the years to accept that life doesn’t always fit into my expectations and carefully designed plans-as our holiday season very rarely resembles Norman Rockwell’s idyllic artwork.

Sometimes it’s not a white Christmas. (It’s only been one perhaps three times in my 47 years of life…)

Sometimes we get sick on Christmas.

Sometimes we suffer loss on Christmas.

Sometimes we fight on Christmas.

Sometimes we just don’t get what we want on Christmas.

And, all of those losses and disappointments mean I haven’t gotten what I’ve really wanted on Christmas – many, many times over.

But, still I hope…and over the years I’ve have tried to model to my children that just because one thing doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean “everything’s ruined”. 

My children are now 20 and almost 18. And while my son once insisted he’d NEVER want to give up on all the adventures the Countdown Calendar has taken us on over the years, this will be the year we drastically scale back.

My daughter is excited to share the magic with our best friend’s young daughter, and we’ll save some of my kid’s favorites for when our twenty-yearold comes home to stay with us for a few weeks in December.  

Years ago, I thought I’d be shedding tears at this conclusion; but it’s simply a beginning of a new chapter. I find myself excited to see my daughter sprinkling some magic of her own for our young friend. 

I’m finding the time and energy to be present and enjoy the moments as they come…instead of totally preoccupied with planning the next event.

As I embark on this new season, I’ve found myself conducting an inventory. A review of all the other “traditions” I’ve not only instituted, but expanded on each year. It’s had me asking:

Does this activity bring me personal joy – either in the act itself or the joy it would bring to others?

Is this activity causing more stress than good?  

Is this planned adventure adding value to our family, or… is it just one more thing keeping my husband and kids from experiencing the wonder of unexpected joy this season?

This last one is especially important as my husband lives for spontaneous fun, but the reality is that over the years- my capacity for anything spontaneous run completely empty.  

Whether it was from lack of energy, physical or social energy (I’m a natural introvert, so my reserves need to be overflowing to engage in anything spontaneous), all of the gallant efforts I make the last four months of the year deplete me from showing up for my husband in the way he’d appreciate most.  

Even more than no time for last minute fun, this packed schedule and hectic pace often brings irritability, rigidness and defensiveness…all of my “go-to behaviors” when I have no margin to pause and unwind. 

As I write this, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped notice, that striving for “magic” during a holiday that only exists because of a God-given MIRACLE, might be the problem in and of itself.  

This “magic” I ascribe to, has been fostered only to further the celebration of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  

Truly, to us, it is not a “one or the other” but an expansion of the fullness of the joy of the season.  

Which leads me to the biggest reason to be Reinventing the Magic…to recognize what fills my family the fullest is to be living vessels of that miraculous joy.

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