I know. I AM a baby boomer but that doesn't stop me from realizing we are a generation of whiny, entitled brats. That has to be true; otherwise there is no explanation for something like this.
Yes, I've been posting several pieces about my own misgivings and fears about having all my sons out of the house this fall for the first time. But that doesn't mean I'm inclined to sign up for an "empty nest workshop." How is it that our parents were able to send their children off without the "benefit" of counselors who promised to help them cope? Were they just that much smarter or just that much more sensible?
There are choices here. You can attend a seminar in person; you can take a course on how to overcome your angst. One of the couples teaching a course just happens to have a book ready to sell you, one conveniently titled 10 Great Dates for Empty Nesters. It gives a couple helpful little exercises to do together in what I'm guessing is an effort to reclaim their couplehood. Fun, right? Sure, if confronting each other about money, sex and anger is your idea of a good time. And if that doesn't sound like quite enough fun packed into a date for you, you can spend time reassigning the tasks that seem to be going undone since your children left home. Sounds like a dream date to me.
This entire article is aggravating on a lot of levels but one of my favorite parts discusses a phone service empty nest moms (particularly "stay-at-home empty nest" moms, the most tragic figures in this scenario) can call for some help. Please don't misunderstand me. I am not opposed to therapy; I am opposed to elitist, exclusionary therapy that seems directed toward a certain demographic (women with considerable disposable income.) Their pain must be more acute than the loss and anxiety experienced by other women. If you take this article at face value, it would seem that lower middle class or women living right on the poverty line do not seem to experience a moment or two of the empty nest syndrome. And if they do, they're out of luck. I guess they don't have the resources to take advantage of this "counseling." After all, this is how the service is described (bold my own):
Empty Nest Support Services offers private phone sessions and seminars that rely on art therapy and journaling. "This is a grieving process for some parents," says Caine, who in October will counsel empty nesters at a spa retreat in California. "They can't just 'get over it.' " (One suggestion for moms in mourning: throw a party and ask the guests to bring a card on which they've written what their empty-nester pal would be "fabulous at giving the world now.")
I'm almost speechless. Turning to artistic pursuits sometimes helps people navigate a new chapter in their lives. (I'm threatening my own "Mommy's ceramic period" to distract and engage me this fall. Everyone will get a lopsided candy dish for Christmas. They'll look at it fondly years many from now and remark: Remember when Mommy took those art classes when we all moved out, bless her heart? And remember when she gave us each one of us these?") As far as "journaling" - well, it's called blogging. You get no argument from me about putting your feelings down to try to understand them. But the rest? Honestly, you have to be living on another planet in order to even conceive the idea of throwing a party where women gather to hand each other cards about what each one of the would be "fabulous at giving the world right now."
Here's my very favorite headline from the article. Take a moment before you read it because it may shock you. Here it is: turns out, parents who "feel good about the way their children have turned out" are less inclined to get all worked up about the whole idea of an empty nest. ('Turned out?' Kind of like they're a room being redecorated or a backyard deck being completed?) Parents with a little less confidence in their children are a little more worried. I'm stunned. That's very, very surprising, isn't it?
Who researches this stuff? Who writes it with such conviction? Fact: I'm having a hard time about my boys leaving because I'll miss them! Fact: I really like them! Fact: I think they "turned out" pretty darn well but that doesn't stop me from feeling sad.
Headline to anyone even thinking about taking one of these courses: not everything requires a support group. Not everything is a seminar for God's sake, complete with a workbook and exercises. I can't say exactly how I'll move through this stage but ultimately, I feel like it will all be okay. I'll turn to friends and family, and yes, I'll call the boys once in a while, and we'll all be okay. You can do the same, in your own way, with your own circle of friends and family. Without having even one private phone counseling session.