Host: Sheryl Glick R.M.T.
Special Guest: Wendy Aronsson
In today’s episode of Healing from Within, your host, Sheryl Glick, author of her newest book, The Living Spirit: Answers for Healing and Infinite Love, welcomes special guest Wendy Aronsson, author of Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave. Sheryl and Wendy hope to offer new thoughts on a cycle all parents go through and how this time represents a profound shift from the rigors of everyday interactions with one’s children to a period of self-reflection and reorientation. With suggestions of how to do it well, in order to support yourselves and your children at this exciting time in your life, we hope you may discover that every cycle in your life is an opportunity to grow and find joy and a greater love of life. Wendy Aronsson has been a licensed psychotherapist since 1981 and is in a private practice in Greenwich, Connecticut, has consulted with local schools and is an active charter member of the Special Education section of the Greenwich Parent-Teacher Association.
In today’s episode, Wendy and Sheryl will discuss the normal flow and cycles of our lives and how each period offers tremendous possibilities for the creation of stronger self-values and a motivating force for a healthy and curious exploration of ourselves, our relationships, love and the world around us. Wendy will offer key advice for parents as they make the Shift- taking them from the rigors of daily parenting to a period of self-reflection and reorientation. We will also discuss how to move forward productively in new parenting roles with grown up children and in our roles as spouse, employee, friend, neighbor and self.
In Refeathering the Empty Nest, Wendy says there are approximately 25 million parents living in America who are classified as “empty nesters” according to a survey by Datamonitor. When parents no longer have to shuffle kids to soccer practice and attend to other robotic chores of daily living, many parents actually dread the changes, while other parents are able to enjoy their freedom. This might be because many people are afraid of becoming old and are also living vicariously through their children’s zestful activities and successes. Some may have lost the Spirit or direction of their own life and for a time been willing to mindlessly co-exist thinking change would never come and they will never grow old. Sheryl says this new Hovering generation of parents is different from the way she was raised by parents who encouraged independence, self-investigation and appreciated a simplified way of loving their children, allowing them more freedom to explore the world and its options. Today, many parents are intent on providing what is necessary to excel in the materialistic world and this focus has many implications on how they will view themselves, work opportunities, marriage choices and health concerns. Regardless of technological advancements, a longer life span and other modern day changes, there are still certain basic ways to help our children and ourselves realize that all cycles and change are actually necessary, unavoidable, and could be seen as self-fulfilling if we allow and accept everything without judgment and fear. Sheryl points out there are only two emotions that guide us in life- Love and Fear and everything positive is a variation of Love and everything negative is a variation of fear. Choosing whether we succumb to fear and suffering or hold our state of peace and harmony is indeed up to each of us.
One of the reasons for Wendy writing this book was that she was becoming aware that the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are facing challenges as their children mature and that these challenges are very different from parents in previous generations. Some of these changes include, a change in the economic systems, a lack of jobs, and parents who have their own aging parents. Many are care takers for two generations. For parents born after World War II, a life phase Wendy describes as “The Shift” has taken shape and has led to a new style of parenting where there is such an increased amount of involvement that both parents and children are not well suited for allowing independence. Is this good parenting? Or is this an exasperated need for control and a fear brought on by a fast moving world of too much information and an exaggeration of over stimulated thinking because of excessive materialistic concerns. Making the adjustment to the departure of the kids as they leave for college or enter into marriage and then move to new locations, need not be hard for parents. Sheryl believes that the children and parents need space at this time to enter a new cycle of their life which can be thoroughly rewarding for all concerned. The idea here is perception- what we perceive to be true becomes reality, this is the Law of Energy. Therefore, if one perceives the advantages and benefits of these changes it will lead to these desired results.
If we look at the nest or initial home base from a 360 degree perspective, we can realize it is evolving rather than empty and as our children find new interests so do we as parents. The fibers of our relationships, feelings, plans and accomplishments can bring us more wisdom joy and growth. Living in the past and pining away for what was, diminishes our energy and life force and serves no one. Sheryl believes as spiritual beings, we are here to gather experiences without judging them as good or bad, but just to live through them and to find each experience a way to understand ourselves and the world. Wendy suggests that an important purpose in writing this book was to provide information, support and understanding about an important phase of life’s journey.
Wendy, as a psychologist, is aware that some parents move quickly and easily to embrace life as soon as children leave home while others struggle to see the possibilities that lie beyond the many years devoted to parenting. Twenty three percent indicated profound unhappiness when their young adults left. Sheryl suggests that these are possibly people who have limited their life experiences due to health, financial or emotional restrictions. Being with their children in a modified life style without reaching out to the bigger values of the world has limited their perceptions. They may have fewer goals or dreams other than their family life, but then there are 75 percent of parents who immediately get a new lease on life when their children leave. So, we would encourage good mental health- social, emotional and soul development and for everyone to work past their comfort zone and explore anything that gives them joy and a sense of adventure or creativity in their lives. Examples might be to take a cooking class, volunteer for a charity, develop an exercise program, read enjoyable books, get out into nature, go on vacations, and start to see the possibilities in the joy of new experiences.
The shift described by Wendy affects both men and women although they may experience it differently. The notion that men are unaffected emotionally is not accurate. They have been the financial supporter of the family deriving satisfaction from this major role in sustaining the family structure supporting their ego and sense of worth or self-confidence. Aging is for some now seen as diminishing their power. An example in Refeathering the Nest would be a father who plays golf every weekend with his son but now his son is now living on his own and doing his own thing and is too tired to play golf on Sunday with his father. The father may say to his friend when he is asked where the son is, “He blew me off”. The friend might say “Get used to that.” The father is now feeling the shift.
The sign that the nest is evolving: children may have new friends, living arrangements, recreational interests, perhaps marriages, have their own children, OR like parents, who may try to maintain the status quo, children, by returning home may want life to be like it was before they left the home- dumping laundry near the washer and waiting for meals to be made by mother or father. This may be a conscious or unconscious way to recreate patterns, but this is the time to make changes to respect everyone’s responsibility to care for themselves and each other. Therefore, it has to be a balance. It sounds simple, but it is not easy to go through these changes if anyone-child or parent, is resisting the need to go forward and be independent. Without fighting, encourage children to participate as adults and to grow into more mature behaviors. If this has been happening as the children were gradually maturing, it will be an easier process than to simply say “Now your 21 so grow up”…it must be encouraged from early childhood.
The shift also starts when that awareness of having to readjust your thinking about parenthood and your methods or approaches to parenting are reflected upon…how do you relate to your child, your partner and your own parents now?
Tangible Signs the Nest is Evolving include…the high school calendar is gone, books on new subjects you always wanted to study are visible, or you invest in a tennis racquet. Since your children now require less of your time, you can add new events to your life. Charity, work, yoga classes or taking lessons you’ve always wanted to. As you peer into the future imagine the tangible evidence of events, people, and places that hold fulfillment and satisfaction for you as a person…NOT JUST AS A PARENT.
Wendy suggests there are four different ways to define American Parents from a study completed in 2012 by Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.
The four categories are:
- The Faithful Parent
- Engaged Progressive
- The Detached
- The American Dreamer (The largest group is American Dreamers which constitutes precision parenting tending to be optimistic about their children’s schooling and opportunities These parents expect their children to be as successful or more successful than they were. They have invested heavily in their children’s future and hope their investment will provide good results.)
Wendy describes the difference between “the Helicopter Parents” also known as “Intense Parental Support” and “The Precision or The American Dreamer type parenting.” The major difference between “the helicopter parent” and” the precision parent” lies in the phrase Intense Support…Sheryl observes that there seems to be a distinct growing number of helicopter parents and would suggest that it is because we are in the middle of major changes in all structures that support life- financial, educational, medical, and people are more concerned about their children being equipped to survive and thrive in this new technological and rapidly changing world economy and technological revolution. However, we must allow the personal needs of each individual children for finding their own soul fulfillment and destiny in life and that means not being on top of them all the time- respect, encourage, and honor their personal visions for their own life. Sheryl characterizes the type of support provided by Precision Parents as purposeful and mindful rather than intense…by definition intense means EXTREME. In contrast purposeful means focused and in this case focused on an outcome– the well-being of the child. The distinction is grounded in problem solving. A helicopter parent will land in a child’s life whenever a solution is needed.. A precision parent will use a method that allows for the child to find the solution on their own encouraging self-development and self-discovery.
Sheryl and Wendy discuss the impact on a marriage when one partner is more visibly and emotionally challenged by children leaving their family home or partially return as an adult children. It is possible that frustration or anger may play out as one spouse views the launch favorably and the other has a sense of complete loss which could lead to depression or an illness. In today’s time the males are more involved than ever before in the parenting process and may experience extreme anxiety and loss of motivation, either towards their spouse, job or lifestyle at this time of change in their life. Now couples can either have more time for each other and improve their marriage or drift apart.
Wendy suggests new ways to see your home and marriage as a new nest for encouraging new activities, fun and growing events. We can be excited about travelling with your husband and friends, we could share new activities with our children who have now moved to different locations and have the opportunity to explore new areas of interest and allow the children to develop their own way of building their own comfortable living place.
Wendy suggests better ways to create new channels of communication and interaction. Communication is being fueled by the great changes in technology and the internet…The Pew Research Project shows what most parents already know through experience. The number of texts is on the rise. Older girls are the most enthusiastic texters and most teens use texts twice as often as they make phone calls. Short texts mean we can communicate frequently without it seeming like an intrusion on their time or ours. Baby boomers had to call their parents from college, usually on a Sunday to check in. E-mails, texts or Facebook, make for more and easier ways with spontaneity and a quick casual basis. Sheryl believes this has certain negative implications also…For example, where is the personal and intimate connection and the love that can be seen or heard in real interactions as opposed to robotic non- personal texts? It seems there is a time and place for both to be used.
An important thought for consideration that Wendy makes is … “Stepping back and allowing our young adults to make mistakes and grow from them is the most important gift we can give them as they mature.”
Wendy and Sheryl have discussed the many emotions that surround each families involvement with their children’s developing maturity and self-actualization process. Some parents are more emotionally well suited to flow through parenting while adapting to the changing needs of their unique child. Indeed we are all unique and on special life paths which as we have discovered today may be honored more by Precision Parenting rather than a style of parenting known as “Hovering Parenting”, which is very prevalent at the present time and may be found to limit normal and necessary personal growth. Everyone in the family benefits from change if we accept change as inevitable and necessary for everyone’s personal wellbeing. Hopefully the entire family structure, parents and children, may eliminate much stress friction and separation anxiety if a positive state of mind and trust in ourselves and our children is honored. The goal is to love and be loved in return without expectations. This is a mature soul connection to our children and to life. Wendy and Sheryl encourage you to recognize your parenting style and to continually work on improving yourself first and being an example of love and acceptance for your children to emulate. Success in this shift in life when children leave the nest or first home will transition into the next stage of family life and can be joyful rather than fearful or limited.
Guest: Wendy Aronsson