Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.
By the time my son got to high school I was highly involved in his sport’s career. He was a soccer player for the most part, but it was his career as a cross-country runner that most captivated me. I know the reason why I loved to watch him run. It was pure projection. I ran cross country in high school and now I was running all over again. Exactly what all the experts tell you not do. Don’t live vicariously through your child’s sports. Words only spoken by parents who were never athletes themselves or whose kids were not really that good at the sport. The catch for me, was that I was slow runner in high school and my son was really good at it and he was on a team that regularly competed for the State title. I was like a bourbon drinker hijacked to Kentucky. I tried be closet drinker version of a sports dad but it was hard. It was actually common for the parents of this cross country team to show up for the end of weekday practices and hang out and socialize. The boys and girls practiced together and the parents would hang around and riff with the coach, banter with the runners over typical school matters and beam over the fit youthful bodies of their children. More parents could attend the Saturday morning practices making it a highpoint for parent child obsession.
As far as I could tell there were no dark foreshadowing’s of why this should be a problem. Of course there were the parents that just couldn’t stay in line and would try to tell the coach how to coach, but cross-country isn’t like where you yell at the officials. In soccer, parents are always losing it and over the top. At one of my son’s travel soccer tournaments a dad from his team went on to the field and punched a referee. The weird thing was no one thought that was too crazy: crazy, but not too crazy. At cross country meet your kid runs into the woods and then comes around once goes back into the woods and then they cross the finish line. There are no officials or heartbreaking plays. The parents would usually encourage the slower runners from the other teams – something that never happened in soccer. It’s all pretty low-key. So, it was easy to not see the loss that would soon envelop me. Of course there was a talisman that my empty nest experience was just around corner. It was an observation I made about Kristy Swanson, a mom of a girl who ran for the team. Her daughter was not a very good runner but her son had been a star the year before. He had graduated and was away attending our State University. What was remarkable was that her daughter had an injury so she was not running, and yet here was Kristy watching practice. She was watching a practice that she did not have a child in! I found this strange…but really, I knew exactly what she was experiencing. She missed seeing her son run. I knew I would feel the same but I could never bring myself to watch a childless practice because it would hurt too much.
For years my wife I had been sports’ parents. My oldest daughter was a competitive swimmer. This meant practices twice a day throughout her entire middle and high school years. Think about it. Up at 5am every morning to drive to practice and wait till 7am and then drive to school. Then pick up after school and drive to practice and then home to dinner and homework. Swim, rinse and repeat. This pattern is broken only for weekend long meets which are phenomenally boring, and in South Florida very hot. It was fun to watch my son play soccer. You yelled and screamed and got caught up in all the drama that is universally known as football. In swimming the goal is to swim quicker and as the years passed the events themselves got shorter. A 200 meter event was something like 2 minutes long. So you waited all day in the hot sun for a two minute swim. You cheered, but not too much. Then, on Monday it all started over again. When my daughter left college we were very happy that she was accepted to her first choice school. And we were honestly happy to have those practice times redeemed. When we dropped her off – we were happy and sad. But I would lean toward a majority feeling of happy. But when our fourth and last child left for college it was different. Again, we were really happy for the college he was attending and that he was on the soccer team, but the sadness sent me over the edge. All of my kids played sports, involved themselves in school, some did art and some did music, and all were active in the church youth group. When my son left – all of that ended. It ended cold and flat. And I could not bring myself nor myself to hang out at the practice locations, it was just too sad and weird.
Two points. As you will learn on this website – the empty nest experience is a normal developmental period and our research has found that is time of profound happiness and, at the same time sadness. Second, like the Mark Twain quote above – all losses are losses, and we can expect to grieve.
WHAT’S YOUR EXPERIENCE? Go over to the section of this site to leave your story of empty nest.