[OPINION] Family circles are endless, not seamless
Lisa Joshua Sonn ponders the life cycle of family relationships and how parenting plays a role in that cycle.
There are many practices observed but I grew up in an era where young people left their family home once they married, not before and not long after. I was 23-years-old, we set up our own home, we had careers and covered our costs. We had to cut many familiar corners because we had us to count on. We prioritised wants and needs, which was not easy as we wanted so many different things and needed all the things homes do.
Some people then, as they do now, moved in with their parents or their parents moved in with them. It is economically viable for many people, a sound support system, possibly, and they work with that.
Living with parents was not an option our parents promoted. We were encouraged to get ourselves educated, gainfully employed, independent and then married. These were lessons our parents learnt as they chose to marry when my mum was 18 and pregnant. The year 1968 was not a good time to have a child out of wedlock, the frowns and whispers were thick and loud, in that order!
They were invited to live with my disappointed but supportive grandparents. This enabled my dad to finish his university studies. Fortunately, for our family it worked out as we moved into our own home when I was a toddler. There are too many families who can’t work it out because there are many pressures. I think my young mum found it hard navigating between being one of the children in the house and a daughter-in-law. My dad found it tough shuffling between being a son and a father in his family home. Most of us still manage to become 8-years-old when our parents talk with us. It is natural and can cause a lot of conflict to any marital relationship unless the adults involved keep aware and make reasonable and sometimes uncomfortable choices.
Growing up, we often had relatives living with us. An uncle, aunt and their one to two children. This was a pleasure for us as cousins, being together. As an adult, I realise how generous it was to let people move into our home when they had no other options or until they were financially able to move out.
I have four children with seven years between the elder boys and the youngsters. For me, an empty nest syndrome sounds interesting, unfamiliar and peculiar. Why a syndrome!? It’s not a clinical condition, so your reaction to your adult children leaving home is a choice. Planning for it should be a group effort and exciting! I’ll be keeping our nest neat and warm but I hope it will be empty one day, as our children create their own lives independent of us.
I subscribe to the thinking that we must give our children roots and wings so they are free. We are free and we know where we can gather if necessary or for fun times! My wish is to raise adults who visit because they miss us, not because they need laundry done, home cooked meals or money. There is too much of that around. In fact, it would be great if they could pop over and cook for us and bring us presents!
A lot of consequences are there to be responsible for should we as parents, not create our own futures. A very big number of parents get so involved in raising their children that their marriage or relationship becomes vacuous. They lose track of one another and become alienated or resentful.
It is sad to witness how many of these marriages end in divorce, separation, infidelity or staying together until the children are grown and then breaking up!
On one hand, I believe there is a strong case for making your marriage work for the reasons you got married in the first place and for the sake of the children you chose to have. Naturally, children will rather come from a broken home than live in one but if they are not raised to be independent adults and we keep them dependent on us, we will not be doing any of ourselves a service.
It is possible for couples to stay focused on their future independently of supporting their growing children. Sadly, it has taken the examples of other peoples failed relationships to have me realise the importance of keeping my independence through interests and independent friendship circles, my husband and I keeping date nights or weekends away, supporting each other in our endeavours and showing an interest in what our children are up to over and above just dropping and fetching them from extra murals, housing, clothing and feeding them. This is what we signed up for, we choose it and we choose them but not at the same time. I’m not supermom! I never promised to be. I am not helicopter mom either. Thankfully, my children prefer that. I do take too many photos of them but I have other parental skill sets!
I am looking forward to having an empty nest that is still welcoming and home to my four adults and the people they will love and bring home. My husband and I married a few years after I was widowed, so we have always had children. We are planning a two-year break with no “slumming” after our youngest son leaves school! That is 2220 sleeps from today. We are saving, we are ensuring today’s children will be competent adults when we smile and wave from the highway, plane, train or boat!
In the event of anything happening to derail that plan, we are all also readying ourselves to pick up, reprogram and schedule plan b, c or d! Life is less of a box of chocolates and more of an endless cycle. First, you are the child, then the parent, then the grandparent and then you switch roles with your parents and have an opportunity to have them dependent on you. Mostly they don’t like it either; mostly there are no choices because people fail to plan.
Some become resentful of aging, sickly parents. Nobody signs up for looking after your own children and your elderly parents, it is, however, a responsibility and a reciprocation without any consideration for all they did or didn’t do for you.
Family circles don’t end, life does. Plan, live, do, be, take and give after you leave the nest and before you leave the world.
Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn