This past week I encountered a new thought. An epiphany, if you will. And here it is: In just a few short years, my week-to-week life will look very, very different. And, to be frank, it scares me.
Let’s just take last week, for example. My two teenagers had between them 5 baseball games, 4 lacrosse games, a couple of practices for each sport, 2 tutoring sessions, and an orthodontist appointment. It was also the last week for selecting classes for next year, which occupied several nights worth of discussion, especially for my daughter entering her uber-important junior year. And, of course, there were multiple homework assistance sessions, and a few disciplinary moments.
Now, in somewhat ScreamFree tradition, my wife and I did not each attend all of these games, and we did not allow all of our conversations to center on the kids. But my goodness, we certainly exhausted ourselves coordinating and supporting all of the above. And that’s what we’re supposed to do in this hectic season of launching our kids through adolescence and into adulthood. Right?
But in a few short years, our weeks will, most likely, look amazingly different. Unless I lose my mind and decide to keep coaching little league (without a kid on the team), I won’t be attending many youth baseball games. Unless my wife gets way overinvolved with one of her high school students, we won’t be taking a teenager to the orthodontist. And unless we both lose our minds and decide to somehow bring a new kid into our home, we won’t be centering so much of our schedules around theirs.
What are we going to do with ourselves? “Just the two of us” is a sweet song, but to be perfectly honest, it’s a scary thought. Are the majority of our nights going to be just Jenny and me, going out to the early bird dinner at 5pm ‘cos we got nuthin’ else better to do? For crying out loud, when my youngest is supposed to go off to college, we’ll only be 46 years old!
Of course, those of you empty-nesters are laughing at me right now. And I’m guessing there are two groups of you. One group is laughing, “Just you wait, Hal. You think you’ll have more time on your hands, but that just means more opportunities. You’ll find yourself busier than before, and struggling just as much to find quality time with your spouse.” The other group is laughing harder still (while crying at the same time): “Just you wait, Hal. You think you’ll have less of your kids in your life and on your mind, but after high school is when things start to get really interesting. Don’t make any grand plans yet!”
I hear you both. And I believe you both. I’ve worked with enough clients going through the launching phase to believe every word from both of you.
But despite my education and experience, and despite the increased anxiety I’m feeling these days as a parent of two teenagers, I don’t want to believe that a) my marriage will still struggle to find its place amidst the chaos; and b) my kids will still preoccupy my schedule and my conversations. Yes, you can call me naïve, and yes, you can call me idealistic and therefore, unrealistic.
But just because a hope-filled pursuit pits us against pain-filled probabilities doesn’t mean we should give up. Especially when we’re talking about the relationships that matter most. Especially when we’re talking about defying the odds against Jenny and I having a great post-kids life and marriage.
What I’m hoping to develop, at the very least, is an eyes-wide-open approach to our post-kids life, with all of its potential difficulties and actual temptations. Difficulties like: facing some very awkward nights wondering if we still like each other. Temptations like: wanting to helicopter over our college kids, hounding them with texts and calls and Skype invitations. Difficulties like: figuring out what to do when one spouse is missing the kids, and the old life, while the other one is starting to dream of a new one. Temptations like: taking on more and more work to avoid facing the discomfort of all of the above.
Thankfully, I’ve got some time to think on all of this. After all, we do have several more years before both kids are launching out of the nest. But maybe, just maybe, I shouldn’t rest on that knowledge. Maybe, just maybe, I should realize that a) their launching has already begun, and b) the kids aren’t the only ones launching into a new life.
Maybe I could prepare for that life then by altering things a bit right now. What if we both skipped a couple of games this week and went out to dinner instead? How about it, Jen? You in? I hear Golden Corral starts their buffet at 4:30.