Refilling the EMPTY-NEST with Dignity & Grace

Reframing expectations once the kids return home is key to maintaining sanity.  When your 24 year old is preparing to launch into his or her career, but not yet able to make ends meet on the entry-level salary (even though there is a prestigious Master’s degree on the resume), the desire for independence on the part of the young adult might clash with the desire for ‘freedom from children’ on the part of the parents.  Add to this mix aging grandparents – both hard of hearing, one of whom suffers with vascular dementia, and the other in a massive state of denial about all that is happening.

So what can YOU do if you are a member of the sandwich generation – surrounded in your home by YOUR kids as well as YOUR (or your spouse’s) parent(s)?   Two main goals to establish:  COMMUNICATION & BOUNDARIES.

  1. COMMUNICATION: Open communication about expectations regarding computer use, showering, and meals
    • If sharing computers, get passwords and internet security protection (the LAST thing you need is a computer virus – especially if you share WiFi or actual laptops)
    • Timing of showering needs to be considered – especially if one or more people need to go to work, and also in case washing machine or dishwasher interfere.
    • Are there food sensitivities or preferences? Is there medication that requires refrigeration? Will you each purchase your own food? Does more than one person enjoy cooking? Will the microwave, countertops and/or stove or oven be shared?
      • Consider assigning space in the refrigerator & freezer for special needs.
      • Perhaps you need a schedule of who eats when (the elders may require meals earlier or snacks more often; work schedules often dictate who will eat together and who will eat alone).
      • Is there room at the kitchen table for everyone at once?
  1. BOUNDARIES: Parents who are accustomed to being the ‘back-up’ either emotionally, health wise or financially, may find it difficult to separate with clearly defined boundaries.  Here are a few points to consider:
    1. Privacy: If the master bedroom shares a wall with the bathroom used by the adult child, and you hear the toilet flush in the middle of the night – assume all is well unless your child knocks on your bedroom door. If you were awakened and have difficulty getting back to sleep, wait until morning or later in the day to bring it up.  Nobody needs a confrontation in the wee hours of the morning.
    2. Responsibility: Don’t assume your adult child needs money whenever s/he leaves the house. Stop yourself from asking how much s/he has in the wallet whenever heading out.
    3. Laundry: Assume your adult child does his/her own laundry. By request, of course, a few additional garments may be added on occasion to your load – but don’t make this a habit.
    4. Food shopping: This blends communication with boundaries. Establish rules that suit your family rhythm and stick to them until a new conversation helps reestablish guidelines.

Important note: You and your spouse deserve your own special protected time away from the circus – and this needs to be scheduled in.

  • If finances permit an extravagant getaway – go for it GUILT-FREE, as long as you effectively hand off all responsibilities (including mail, care of the dog/ cat/gold-fish . . . you get the idea) and provide emergency contact information – get up and GO when you need that very essential self-care.
  • If time and money are not readily available, create a safe space in your home – off limits to all, to give yourselves that uninterrupted time/space. If physical space is an issue, try taking a walk, going to a movie or just getting OUT together – once a week. It may also be helpful to make an effort to go to bed an hour early during the week to just catch up, watch the news or a favorite comedy or movie on television . . . or just cuddle & relax in the silence you create for yourselves.

Keep unspoken ‘assumptions’ to a minimum, self-reflect often, and take lots of deep breaths to keep yourself on track.  This is a learning experience for ALL of you, simultaneously.

One of my favorite quotes (paraphrased here) is by Vivian Greene, and it goes something like this:  Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about learning to dance in the rain.  So here’s to your successful adventure through life, and to all those deep breaths to which you are about to treat yourself.  ~Dr. Iankowitz


If you have hints and tips to share, I invite you to add your wisdom from either personal experience or observation.   ~Dr. Iankowitz

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