An Emptying NestNovember 2nd, 2009 at 20:39
Our son Eric lives out back in our guest house and our daughter Emma still has her bedroom in our house, so they are technically still “in the nest”. But they both are now so wrapped up in their own busy lives that we only manage to sit down and have a good conversation with them about what’s up maybe once a week. Since our daughter has such a busy schedule of work, various classes, and a boyfriend, we can go for days without seeing her at all. If it were not for our current severe recession, combined with the sky-high rents on apartments here in Los Angeles, our nest would be completely empty.
As I have written in another piece, there are what my partner Sally’s former family systems professor humorously labeled “suckee” and “blowee” families. Sally’s is definitely “suckee”, tending to live in the same locale, staying in close contact, having big family gatherings (including events that bring the larger family from all over the country), and always welcoming of in-laws and friends into a growing circle. Mine is much more “blowee”, just as loving and supportive, but tending more to encourage its members to scatter to different locals and maintain its bonds more loosely and remotely. It certainly seems that the two types work symbiotically, one scattering individuals to be gathered up by the other, mixing people and weaving connections together beyond the perhaps parochial local communities.
The family that Sally and I have created, with our two kids now young adults contributing their own vision to its orientation, seems to be more of the “suckee” variety, at least for now. Our son Eric in particular has several large circles of friends and is often a focal point for bringing them together. The guest house where he and his business partner Ian live is always abuzz with activity and people coming and going. Sally and I have become close with several of Eric’s and Emma’s friends, occasionally drawing them in to those wonderful long conversations around the kitchen table.
I think Sally and I feel a certain kinship with these young adults, who are in a phase of life not so settled with life partners and still searching and seeking for what they want to be “when they grow up”. Though Sally and I are by any conventional standards “settled” – 26 years into a marriage and 10 into a mortgage, with two grown kids – we are both still seekers in many ways, and maybe feel more connection with these recent “graduates” into adulthood than we do with many of the people our own age.
Though Sally and I have our own lives that don’t involve our kids or wearing the parent hat, we both have invested a lot of our psychic energy in raising our kids and have come to develop relationships with them closer to a “circle of equals” than the more hierarchical patriarch and matriarch. Relationships based on shared values and a shared journey, rather than obligation between the generations. As a result, there is no generational friction or personal issues between us and our kids that drive them to separate from us.
That said, maybe we are a more “blowee” family after all, in waiting as it were, since in a more favorable economic climate they both would choose to leave the nest and live on their own, maybe across town or even in another city, where they could begin building their own new “suckee” circles of friends and eventually family. Both our kids have a high level of independence, and though they seem to still enjoy the long conversations around the kitchen table (as schedules permit), more and more they handle the logistics of their lives without our help.
I ponder what it would be like if they both were to completely move out, maybe even to the point where our connections would become phone rather than kitchen table conversations. I recall my own weekly phone conversations with my mom after I moved to Los Angeles at age 23 to chart my course on my own, eventually hooking up with Sally and being woven into her “suckee” family circle. By the time I was 23 (our son Eric’s age now), my mom and I had a relationship more as peers than mother and son, our phone conversations more about our separate projects and shared remembrance rather than shared obligations or providing assistance. She had blown away from her own birth family and seemed completely comfortable with me having done the same from her.
Recalling those phone calls, I’m not sure I would be satisfied to have that extent of relationship with my own kids after leaving the nest. Though I can easily go a week without seeing them at all, I feel my batteries recharged by having them sitting across that round kitchen table of ours, that my mom bought originally at a garage sale, and worked many hours to sand and refinish, that Sally and I inherited when she came to live with us for the last seven years of her life. But both our kids being seekers like Sally and me, I have to be ready at some point to graciously accept that level of separation that I had with my own parents.
As I have said before, life is at its best an adventure, with each new chapter, new episode, bringing unique challenges and evolutionary opportunities. At this point we are living large as a “suckee” family, with all the resources and energies that need to be devoted to maintaining a big and busy extended household. Maybe when our kids move out, swinging our family pendulum in the “blowee” direction, we can live a next chapter much smaller, devoted to the kinds of activism that brought Sally and I together originally, before either of us conceived of raising a family in partnership.
Birthing and raising two kids was a project that both Sally and I freely chose, and there is certainly no aspect of my life that has brought more meaning to me, and I think Sally as well. But as activists at heart, we are committed to facilitate human evolution that involves empowering larger communities, beyond the bonds and bounds of clan. Has parenting just been a sojourn in a larger scheme, or have we been transformed by the experience?
Pretty surely both.