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Kathryn E. Livingston Headshot

Empty Nest? Fill It With Choices

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I remember, back in the day, when my three now-grown sons were little boys and I was reading scads of parenting books. I'd often come across the advice, particularly in the toddler years, that one of the ways to avoid tantrums and meltdowns and give kids a sense of empowerment is to offer choices. For instance, instead of struggling with a three-year-old who refuses to take off his Batman pajamas and get dressed, mommy would say, "Honey, would you like to wear your blue shirt today, or the red one?" Or, if a child is hell-bent on noshing on candy: "Would you like an apple today for your snack, or an orange?"

This tactic (aka ploy) may or may not work (I personally have not done the research), but I'd like to point out that when my kids were toddlers, my own choices seemed fairly limited, and I didn't see any fairy godmothers showing up to ask me, "Would you like to get a pedicure today or a haircut?" Or, "Would you like a sauna or a personal chef?"

In fact, now that I'm an empty nester with a world full of possibilities, I think back to the days when my choices were almost nil, and in some ways I think my then-toddler sons had more options than I did. For many years, until my third son went off to college, it seemed that my choices were limited indeed.

For instance, if you're a mom, no doubt you've been invited to the obligatory pre-school "Mother's Day Tea." Even if you're a working mom (i.e. outside the house) no doubt your only "choice" is either to take the morning off or feel incredible guilt. In fact, do parents really have any choice at all when it comes to these matters? (I suppose some women do, but I'm not among them.) Judging by the number of working and non-working mothers who showed up at just such a tea I attended last year as a speaker (every mom on the roster!), it seems that these moms really had no choice about attending. They knew they just had to be there, period.

Then there's the other stuff, like the spring concert, the first tee-ball practice, the swim meet, or your kid's debut as drum major of the marching band. One mother I know went to every football game her son played over a four-year period (never mind that she stood behind the bleachers, because she couldn't bear to watch). She felt she had no choice, but to be there.

Of course, as mothers (and fathers) we want to be there for our children. We strive whenever possible to be there, whether it's the pre-school Mother's Day Tea or the senior prom picture-taking fiasco. These are our children and we love them. But let's not kid ourselves. When it comes to choices, three-year-olds have plenty more than parents.

If you're a parent, however, don't despair, because the empty nest is the ticket. The kids are gone, and when you wake up in the morning the day stretches before you. You can do whatever you want (within limits). Of course, you may have to show up for your job or a doctor's appointment. But there are no more mandatory trips to sloppy water parks, techno-action movies, petting zoos or mommy & me classes. You are the queen or king of your day as never before.

Yes, yes, I know. We miss all those things (on some level). But choice in the empty-nest years is a beautiful thing: Hmmm... leisurely stroll or cappuccino in bed... Batman PJ's or sexy negligee?

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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10 Fun Ways For Empty Nesters To Spend Their Time
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