They call it an empty nest. The sneakers are not left where you’ll trip over them and the laundry isn’t piled sky high. Loud music isn’t blaring. They took the squeaky violin with them when they left for college. And, praise God, their rooms stay neat and don’t reek of dirty smelly socks. Bottles of milk and cereal actually go past their expiration dates. And miracles do happen: you get up in the morning and find things exactly as you left them when you went to bed.
In the days when the children were underfoot, I used to dream of a time when I could go to the bathroom or shower—alone. Surely the day would come when ALL the laundry and dishes were done. Were there people who actually got more than four hours of sleep a night? EVER? When will tired cease to be the answer to “How are you?” Will there be a time when their eyes don’t roll back in their heads when you won’t let them do what they want to do because, of course, all the other kids are doing it? Will there be a time when the phrase “because I said so” doesn’t leap to mind?
Yes, aging has some advantages. And I look back and realize my mom was there to coach me through childhood, my youth, the early days of marriage and child rearing. But now that’s she’s gone and I’m traveling this stage of my life without her beside me, I find there are things she didn’t tell me. They were no doubt things she wanted me to know, but there were no blogs in those days where people shared their thoughts or gave advice. And I was too busy dealing with raising my family to stop and listen to advice about my “golden years”– we’d get to that when the time came. But as I look back on these last few years, I wish I’d known then what I know now. So here’s the blog I wish my mom had written.
Holidays are special to them. Holidays are a day when they can hold their memories just a little tighter if only for an hour or so. You’ve moved on and are now creating your own memories in your own home with your own family. Trying to get to see all the parents adds an element of crazy into your holidays. Slow down and remember that the greatest gift you give is your presence. They treasure the gift of you more than your friends ever will. Make them a priority. They’ll be gone soon and you’d give anything if you could have just one more of those Christmases with them.
They dream of all their kids under one roof, around one table or for a few days at the beach. With everything on your plate, their dreams feel like impossible expectations. Face it, it’s a hassle. Just do it. It’s how the best memories of your life will be made. Some day you’ll decorate your tree and pray the kids can make it this year. Then you’ll understand and wish you’d taught and modeled these principles for your children.
Sharing is hard. They are thrilled you have a spouse and are happy to share you with others. But they treasure moments with you, too. They don’t want to compete for your time and attention with in-laws. They want you to love and respect your spouse’s family—after all, they raised you to be that kind of person. And they will love your spouse the more for making sure that holidays and quality time are spent with both sets of parents.
When you said ‘I do” to our son or daughter, we dreamed of a great relationship with you. Oh, we won’t do things the way your parents did. You’ll be more sensitive to the things we say and will take offense even though none is meant. We’ll give advice when none is wanted, be too eager to help with the cooking, and may even buy you things for your house you wouldn’t even hang in the garage. We’re just trying too hard; you are important to our family. We are trying to turn loose. But it’s hard. Our enthusiasm will be mistaken for meddling. Differences will open the door to misunderstandings. Be a peacemaker. Open your heart. Love fiercely. Forgive. Say I’m sorry. Embrace your new family and the traditions important to them with joy. Work together toward understanding and appropriate boundaries.
Grandkids make it all worthwhile. The grandkids are the light of their lives. They love doing ANYTHING with and/or for them, but won’t push. Birthday parties and sleepovers, special activities and learning opportunities from swim class to gymnastics will crowd your schedule. They’ll wait; they can’t compete with the attractions of this world. Make time for grandparents in your child’s weekly schedule. Your children will thank you for their memories with their grandparents and it will model for them how you want to be treated. And just so you know, pictures are priceless.
They still celebrate you. Call them when you get a promotion or a raise. Tell them how your presentation went or that you made your sales goals this month. They love to hear of your successes. You can’t brag to someone who dreams bigger dreams for you than you do for yourself. Your successes are made possible by their sacrifices. Let them share in them with you.
They still pray for you. They see you take steps that will hurt you and your family but hold their tongue and wait to be asked for counsel. So when faced with the challenges of life, find time for coffee to lay out the decisions that keep you awake at night. You just might get some great advice you’ll treasure forever. Those moments with my parents spent over a cup of coffee are priceless memories and saved my behind on more than one occasion. Turns out they knew more than I thought they did.
They need help with technology. They thank God for technology so they can be connected with you in any small way. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come naturally to them. It’s frustrating. Help them.
You will age, too. All those supplements they take that you make fun of now. . .guess what, there will be a day when you (and all your friends) start scouring the internet to find advice on how to feel better. You’ll actually change your diet and have your own pill box filled with supplements. WHY? Your body stops making all the good stuff that makes you feel good and you will need to buy it from a shelf and ingest it. So make sure your mom and dad bequeath that big health book to you and not your siblings because they’ve marked up all the good stuff. My sister and I now copy and send each other pages from mom’s book. We would have sworn this wasn’t even a remote possibility when we were in our 40’s and it’s only by the grace of God that we found her book.
Car doors are heavy. I took for granted I could run up and down stairs, jump in and out of cars and drive at night. If you can still do these things without a passing thought, be thankful. Time changes that all too quickly. Be sensitive. Joints give out, muscles lose their flexibility—stuff just happens. Maybe it’s gravity or maybe it’s age—doesn’t matter. It’s hard. Show up to help them with chores some day just because you can make a memory. They won’t ask, but you might just find it will be a memory you’ll treasure throughout your life.
They want you to care about what’s going on in their lives. As my mother aged, she would regale me with the details of everything she had cooked for the entire day via a long distance call (a call that cost me big $’s in those days). I would hold the phone and think, “I’ve fed a household today and moved worlds. I cannot sit here for 20 minutes and actually pay to listen to how you prepared your eggs for breakfast (which is exactly as you prepared them yesterday and last week and last month), how you made your soup or sandwich for lunch and how you put the foil on the baked potatoes tonight—and how you will peel an apple for snack.” I’m glad I bit my tongue, listened as if it was the best story ever, and paid those phone bills anyway, because now I’d give a lot just to have her tell me her stories—even if it was only about how she prepared her meals for today. You won’t have your parents much longer. Time flies by. Slow down. Cherish the moments. Learn their stories. Tell them yours. It’s the stuff relationships are made of.
Respect their decisions. Parents will do things you don’t approve of. Try to understand them and their decisions. If you are still baffled why they do what they do, at the very least, respect their decisions. They have traveled some roads you have not even turned on to yet. Values and priorities have deepened. Give them your support and encouragement.
Don’t be critical; be thankful. You’ll have children and feel that you are so much better at this parenting thing than they were. And then you’ll have teenagers and all the drama they can bring to a household. And then. . . you’ll have an empty nest. And your children will begin their journey as parents. They’ll read a book on parenting and learn to change diapers and sing lullabies and make lists of all your mistakes they won’t make with their children. And the cycle continues. Your parents gave it their best shot. Oh, they made their share of mistakes they wish they could change, and–drum roll–so will you. Children don’t come with instructions and what works for one won’t work on the next one. Human beings are complicated and you will be able to fill a library with the things your children will teach you. Parenting will be your greatest challenge. So do your best and leave the rest to God.
Phone calls are the best part of their day/week. Oh, the person wanting to help them refinance their home, give them a fabulous vacation or remind them of their doctor’s appointment will provide a jingle or two. But it’s not the same as when you call. Every word you say, every story you tell, every ‘I love you’ uttered before hanging up is sweet music to their ears and fills their hearts with joy–until the next time you call. Who else hangs on your every word—call them–often.
Mom and dad are walking streets of gold now. I wonder what they’d tell me about dying and my new life in heaven. So would someone up there please hand them the phone. There was a time when I cringed when someone said I was just like my mom–she was old (probably in her 40’s) and I was young (and thought I knew it all). Now I see life and the world as they saw it. Now, my sister and I laugh when we open our mouths and mom or dad’s words come flying out. We chuckle when we look in the mirror and see their faces shining back at us. I couldn’t have been more blessed than to have these wonderful people for my mom and dad. Please tell them I love them to the moon and farthest stars. Tell them I’ll see them soon.