As a parent, you usually live your life with one goal in mind, the end. Preschool graduation, Middle School Graduation, High School Graduation, College Graduation and then, the wedding; the End, finish line crossed. You are semi-prepared for the “Empty Nest” syndrome to settle in when they leave for college or into their apartments, but you are only prepared for the physical effect of the empty nest. I was NOT prepared for the mental impact of the empty nest, which happens long after those chickens have flown the coop. My children have been out of the house now for four years. My daughter is graduating from college in a few short weeks. My son is getting married in a few short months. So when it comes to an empty apartment, in which my husband and I live, we are well adjusted. We enjoy living in our apartment, just the two of us. No kids to pick up after, no worrying about when they are coming home, no worrying if there is enough food in the apartment, no worrying if we just want cereal for dinner.
What I was not prepared for, nor was my husband, was the MENTAL empty nest. No one tells you that it’s a syndrome entirely created by the parent that is if, your parenting was done well. The mental empty nest is when one Wednesday morning it dawns on you that you haven’t heard from your child in a week. You realize that it’s not because they are in a ditch somewhere, it’s because they have a life, and it is a life that doesn’t revolve around you. That is a hard realization, really hard. It’s how it is supposed to be, but no one warned me that it would turn out this way.
What I’m also learning is that the empty mental nest is even harder on a stepparent. Being a child of divorce, I know the mental anguish that the child goes through when all the significant life events occur, but it never occurred to me how it affected my stepfather. So, having a husband who is a very involved stepfather, I never realized how the empty mental nest would change him in an entirely different way. As a stepparent, you often do all the hard work of helping raise kids who aren’t yours biologically. You often have to stand on the sidelines when the child hits all the major accomplishments and don’t often get the pat on the back for helping in the achievement. The stepparent has to endure the teenage child screaming, telling them they have no idea what it is like to have their heart broken by some girl or boy. But on graduation days or wedding days, the stepparent is usually the least person acknowledged.
I suppose if two divorced people could “co-parent” well, the stepparents and natural parents would all be recognized equally. But I think “co-parenting” is a myth, much like the unicorn, created by lawyers, to assure their donkey on the edge client that things will be okay after the divorce. But let’s face it, if you could “co-parent” when you were married, you wouldn’t be getting a divorce, now would you.
I guess my point, as a parent, you plan for the finish line. You just don’t plan on how hard the finish line is when it’s crossed. You don’t plan on the amount of sadness that is mixed with joy. I have said it a million times before, raising children, whether they are biologically yours, adopted, or your stepchild is the hardest job out there. If you are doing it right, it is really, really hard, and I think being a stepparent is the hardest job of them all.