As grandparents, we will experience the phenomenon of “empty - nesting” again. One would think, having been through it before, we would be used to the comings and goings of our grandchildren. But it is new every time. In the enforced interruption of their studies due to Covid, we have gotten to know them as emerging adults. We have enjoyed witnessing their evolving sense of responsibility and their increasing ease in moving about in the various worlds they encounter. In some ways this makes the next leave-taking a little easier on us. We don’t worry about them as much as we did when they were younger - - and yet, we still wait for news of their safe arrival at a new destination; we still sort of hold our breath when they are driving unfamiliar roads; we are conscious of holding them more closely in our hearts as they exit the nest again - each leave taking bringing them closer to the final one - - where they leave the nest and don’t return except for long awaited holiday visits.
Change is an accepted fact of life, but that doesn’t make it any less challenging or strenuous each time we go through it again. We are gradually learning that the transitions set in motion by change are constant and unsettling while at the same time offering opportunities for growth and transformation.
Transition is an emotional, spiritual and psychological work and somehow we are never quite prepared for it. Transition means an ending is happening or is about to happen. As I recall the first “empty-nesting” process, we witnessed our grandchildren leaving the nest as young, just out of high school, late adolescents. Between the beginning of September and the beginning of the winter holiday break, they became different people in so many ways - had their own opinions; were capable of making more decisions on their own; were ever more appreciative of the nest from which they had sprung.
Childhood had pretty much ended. They had done the strenuous work of transitioning to young adults. We, as the adults left behind, experienced that ending of their childhood and had our own transition to go through. Letting go of the precious life of “hands-on” grand-parenting of young children meant we needed to grow up a bit ourselves. Now there were new young adults in our lives and that meant learning new ways of loving without condition; new ways of witnessing their lives in the present; new ways of being present to our grandchildren as they become adults.
I find myself feeling grateful for what William Bridges, in his book Transitions:Making Sense of Life’s Changes, labeled “the neutral zone,” that time between what was and what is to come, a sort of “gap in the continuity of life” where we might take time to process the change and gradually get re-oriented to the new way of being on the other side of the transition. Making use of this “dead zone” seems to be the key to making a successful transition to what life will be like when the familiarity of the old is stripped away by change. It made see me appreciate more the common sense of the advice to newly widowed people not to make any big decisions in the first year after the death of a spouse, but rather allow for the time required to adapt and adjust to the loss and to being a single person again. I also have a new appreciation for the meaning of a “gap year” that so many students wisely take whether after high school or between college and graduate school. Far from “wasting time,” spending that period in a sort of “neutral zone” allows for a successful transition from one way of being to another.