HOMETOWN Calgary, Alberta Canada
ON THE WEB Mon Nid Vide.blogpost.com
Editor’s note: Mon Nid Vide means “My Empty Nest” in French.
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Four
DAY JOB SAHM—now, empty nester—so I am in transition. I’m looking for something more to do with my time besides walking the dog and visiting my mother, who has dementia.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
I mostly stayed at home with the children while my husband built his practice. I did do some contract teaching in the evenings or on weekends . We would either have a babysitter or my husband would come home to care for the children. Full time employment was never an option as day care would have been too costly, we could not afford a nanny, and we did not live near our parents who might have been able to help. We moved every two years with my husband’s work. Though I was often frustrated staying home, I really did feel it was my priority and responsibility to nurture our kids—and in truth my own mother had worked all the time I was growing up and she missed so much of what we did at school. I didn’t want to miss out.
What I did not expect was the huge hole that existed when the children were gone. This emptiness filled my heart and mind. And in my late 50’s I didn’t want to give up the flexibility I had. I felt too old to go into the work place and was keenly aware of my limited marketability. These are self imposed limitations and I am slowly coming out of that mindset. The truth is I couldn’t imagine doing anything more challenging and more rewarding that being a parent. But at this stage of the game, I can see that having a career or really absorbing hobby really must be my priority. My children are now adults, spreading their wings. I can’t depend on them to fill all the hours in the day. Nor would I want them to do that. The goal now is to feel productive and useful and that I am growing.
At times I wish I had combined motherhood and career. It certainly would have made this stage less complicated and easier to transition into.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
I’m more tolerant and compassionate. When I see a child acting out at a store and watch a mother or father dealing with that, I don’t judge them. I know how hard it is in the trenches. I remember what I felt or needed or wanted when I was a young mother and so now when I give gifts, or give of my time or reach out to these young families, I do it with some thought. I suppose the other thing that has changed is that my interests have broadened. Children come with their own interests and talents which broadens your sphere. Because of their involvement in basketball, water polo, lacrosse, student government, plays and other musical concerts, hiking, skiing just to name a few, I was able to develop talents in fund raising, organizing, advocating, delegating, event managing. I am more because of them.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR MARRIAGE?
Fatigue and burn-out are the biggest challenges to having intimacy. Nothing could kill a mood quicker than a crying baby or a child with a cough. We discovered that we really did have to go away from the children in other to really be relaxed and intimate. Was it enough? Probably not at the time but we understood that it wouldn’t be like that forever. Parenting has strengthened us and united us in a way we didn’t have before. We both have made sacrifices and invested in these children. We are united on so many fronts because of how we wanted to rear our family.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
I am passionate about living a full life and so I took it upon myself to expose them to music, literature, sports, and cultural events, as well as serving in the community. I encouraged them to try things and to reach out to other people, and to not be a spectator in their lives. My weakness is that I sometimes pushed too much and perhaps projected my own wants on them.
WHAT ARE YOUR SPOUSE’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
My husband is very kind, and very generous. He doesn’t like contention. He taught them about hard work and about saving money and about putting in the second mile where the blessings are found. His own work ethic and example of diligence were exemplary. His weakness is that he avoided conflict and sometimes would avoid drawing the line in the sand.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
When I was finishing my undergraduate degree and had to complete my student teaching for a three week stint, we had a variety of friends from church who babysat for us for free. Later, when we needed help (if my contract position conflicted with my husband’s schedule) we would pay sitters or have friends take care of them. We did have a nanny for a semester when I was finishing a second degree.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
The moment when frustration at not knowing a better way to teach a particular child a concept gave way to anger. I was pregnant with our fourth child, my husband had already been transferred and I had been alone with the children for ten days. I was feeding them dinner and the eldest was spooning her food onto the floor because she hated beans. I became completely unglued. It was not my finest moment.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I would sit in the hallway at night after they had each been tucked into bed and would read to them for an hour. (You have to love those central-hallway planned homes where the bedrooms all lead off the hallway.) I did this for years. They called me the “hall witch”.
Things I Have Learned Along the Way
One day while reading to my toddler Josh to make the experience more meaningful, I encouraged him to draw an illustration of the story. This appealed to his creative nature and so with crayons and paper, he settled in beside me to make his interpretation of what we were reading. I soon had to stop reading because Josh’s frustration was becoming very distracting. When I asked what was the matter, he grew even more agitated and soon began pounding the crayon onto the paper with forceful intense strokes. “What is the matter?” I asked. He looked up with me with his big sad eyes and tear streaked cheeks, “It’s no good. I can’t make it look like I see it!”
I wanted him to explain what was on the paper. He was so critical of the crudeness of his design. His imagination and past experience with other illustrated books exceeded his physical coordination and ability. His abilities were that of a three year old, but his desire was that of a gifted and famous illustrator. I have recalled this experience many times over the years when my best efforts aren’t quite enough. Birthday parties organised or cakes made or trees decorated. I see photograph spreads in magazines and am inspired to do likewise. I imagine things a certain way but my ability to achieve it just doesn’t come quite together. Despite my effort, it is clear that my talent and ability fall short of my desires and imagination.
I knew this wonderful Jewish woman, recently widowed, who greeted each newcoming child in our complex with a request to find a rock and bring it to her. She then would proceed to embellish the rock with flowers and birds and trees and then inscribe the child’s name on the rock. Her drawings were simple and very immature by most standards and yet my daughters, recipients of these lovely gifts, kept them for years and years.
Coping with her grief, she reached out to the children and gave of herself. She felt proud of her efforts and was delighted to see the children’s acceptance of her humble welcoming gift. Can we each be accepting and proud of our accomplishments despite their crude and amateur conclusion? Can we accept that space between our imagination and our best effort? Can we do things that we may not master but delight in doing?