The nest is more tidy, but it took about 2 weeks to get it that way after the last little birdie flew off. The refrigerator seems a little empty and I miss my youngest son's cooking adventures. I miss our conversations even more. It's a strange new reality after so many years with kids around.
The Pet Takeover
Last night at a party my friend told me his dogs have gained weight since his sons went off to college. Hmmm... "perhaps you should stop giving them table scraps and take them for more walks", I said. Come to think of it, my cats seem to be hanging around the kitchen a lot more these days, and one of them has taken to sleeping at our feet at night. The guinea pig follows us around the house if we leave her by herself for too long and we've resorted to food bribery to get her back in her cage.
They're all clearly lonely and wondering where the action is. Finally, the 2 cats and guinea pig have resorted to playing chase with each other, when they're not following us around and begging for food. It's entertaining, but also a subtle reminder that we are missing our 3 significant other members of the family.
Life doesn't stop...
We're always busy; working, planning, socializing and everything that's involved with daily life. But it's a very different space, this empty nest, full of memories and longing for the familiar presence of the ones I've poured my heart into for the past 25 years.
What will you do when your children leave home?
Will you have more time and money for all those things you've wanted to do? Or will you be too busy trying to make money to pay off all the bills of raising a family and sending kids to college? Will you spend more time with friends, do creative projects, or volunteer? Or will you spend endless hours on Facebook?
I love my children and my memories, but I also like to keep living life to the fullest in the present! That may mean different things to different people, but for me it means enjoying what I have and where I am and making the best of each moment. Even though I don't have the money to do all the things I'd love to be doing, there are a lot of things I can do that don't require money.
Visit a friend or neighbor on my days off
Volunteer at a local charity
Do yoga at home
Dance around the house to my favorite songs (even naked!)
If you thought diapers and baby equipment were expensive don't wait until they get to college age before you start a college fund. These days kids don't grow up and move out when they're 18 like they used to, they go to college and come home over and over again.
The food bill at home goes down, then it suddenly goes up when they come home for breaks. Expenses seem a bit lower when they're away, but then they call for money because they've run out or there's some new fee that's due. No one gets a free ride to college even with scholarships and grants, there are always loans, work study, and extra funds being sent from home for those emergencies that are just outside the budget.
I love my kids more than anything and I wanted them to go to college because I never got to finish college and that severely hindered my earning power. I just wanted them to have job opportunities that would keep them out of poverty and allow them to create a lifestyle that they could enjoy. What I didn't know was that putting 3 kids through college would bankrupt me (but I would still not be debt free because government loans are not forgivable).
Although my oldest has graduated, moved out, has a good job, and is paying off his own school loans ($40,000), our names are still attached to those loans if he defaults. Now he's putting himself through graduate school with more loans and I see a lifetime of debt ahead of him, but at least he'll have more earning power. I hope he doesn't regret this.
My daughter will graduate this year with about $35,000 in loans to pay off, and yes our names are attached to that by default as well. She's already stressed out about this because she's the frugal one, the careful one and the planner. Oh, did I mention that she's engaged and wants to get married within the next year? Just looking at wedding dresses has been the cause of emotional meltdowns. This is not the way it's meant to be.
My youngest is starting his second semester and there's a $4,000 bill that's due that will have to go on a Parent Plus Loan - that's the loan the government will give you if you're flat broke, in debt or bankruptcy but still breathing. I'm barely still breathing.
What would they be doing if they weren't going to college? My kids all have career goals, they've been good students, they're responsible, they're aiming high. Working for minimum wage in a no prospect job was never an option in their minds. They all want to do something valuable with their lives and live comfortably. Who doesn't want that? But why does it have to cost a fortune or more to get there?
Your kids will always be your kids even when they grow up, even when they are legally adults, and you'll always want what's best for them. That's the heart of a parent. They will pay off their own loans when they get out of school because they knew that was part of the bargain from the beginning. But this is a really stressful way to start off into adulthood, and from my perspective I don't see the possibility of retirement ever happening in my life.
That's today's rant. Love is not all you need, you need money too. So plan ahead.
This is the season of giving, but should giving be stressful? I've always struggles with this part of the season - the stressful part. we love to give, we want to make others happy, sometimes we feel obligated to meet expectations, and sometimes there are way too many expectations.
Here are a few ways to reduce Holiday stress that I've used over the past 10 years while my kids were growing up.
Reduce expectations by clarifying our family financial situation, and creating a budget together.
No last minute shopping, plan ahead & buy online whenever possible.
Encourage the gift of service
Encourage the gift of spending time together
Encourage creative gift-giving (making gifts)
Allowing everyone to help in meal preparation
Keeping the emphasis on the family experience of having fun together instead of on "getting presents".