How to Remain Interesting to Your Grown Children
An empty nester hopes her reinvention can set a good example
(This story was originally published on BoomerPub.)
I'm pretty grateful for the healthy, mostly content people my children have become. I'm not particularly proud of all the life choices I have made over the years. For example, why did I wait until I purchased my first condo in the New York suburbs before I learned how to drive? Or what was I thinking when my husband cajoled me into moving to a rural 1830s farmhouse in Northern Vermont while my kids were small?
My husband and I seem to have gotten it mostly right with our kids, at least enough of the time to prepare them for the bumps and bruises they will, no doubt, encounter throughout their young adult lives.
Now that they're living on their own, we visit with them weekly via FaceTime — a technological godsend for empty nesters that keeps us connected with our geographically far-flung family. Last summer, I started to notice a pattern in our Sunday exchanges with the kids. After we'd chatted about my daughter's recent milestones and accomplishments at her job and how she was expanding her creative side hustle, our conversation drifted into the silly antics of our dogs and cats.
The weekly dialogue with our laconic son, while a bit less breezy, focused on the drama of his demanding consulting job. We would offer him our hard-earned wisdom about how to combat the illusive work-life balance and I'd share coping strategies on office politics I'd gleaned from years as one of the working wounded. Sometimes the conversation would drift to finances or what happened on the latest episode of our shared favorite HBO series. There wasn't much new for me to share about myself, aside from the ever-steady rhythm of a typical week.
More to Impart to Kids
Don't get me wrong — all of us look forward to these Sunday night meetups — but I wish I had something more to share with them. I guess there's still more I want to impart to my kids.
It seems that we've left our children with a healthy legacy of thriftiness, a strong ethic of working hard and hopefully the legacy of kindness that it takes to be good citizens of this planet. But I want to leave one more thing, and that is a legacy of living a life that's interesting. Of course I selfishly want this for myself as well — who doesn't want to live a varied, interesting life? But I want to have an interesting life for the sake of my kids, too.
It took a long time for me to hone my skills as a successful recruiter; a career I've been immersed in since I answered an ad in The New York Times after I graduated from college. There have been relatively few variations along the way. Over the years, the industries I've recruited for have certainly changed, as well as the types of vacancies I've been tasked to fill and the candidates I've engaged in conversation. I've worked from home since my kids were babies, meaning that when I changed jobs over the years, I still sat at the same desk in the same chair in the same home office. The only varying factors were my laptop and a new phone number. My daily commute from bedroom to home office, donning slippers, remained at one solid minute.
It wasn't until about 15 years ago that I resurrected my childhood passion for writing, starting with writing a couple of novels — a hobby I indulged in so I'd have something to do in the same room as my kids while they played video games. I'm now writing professionally about a variety of interesting topics. I've also devoted time to creating art, spending time with my dogs and immersing myself in nature.
Many Definitions of Interesting
These days I tell my children about new strides I've made in my writing adventures. I sometimes share incremental advances that I've made in the autumn of my recruiting career, too. But I'm itching to take more risks — perhaps big ones — so our Sunday exchanges are inspiring to my children. And I wonder: While I'm responsibly paying the mortgage and helping them repay their college tuition, will there always be interesting stories for me to tell?
Everyone's definition of interesting has its own spin. I've never been an adrenaline junkie — fast cars or extreme sports were never my inclination, even in my twenties. But I still get a rush from the idea of traveling across the country, immersing myself in landscapes different from my own in northeast Pennsylvania. I love meeting new people and figuring out what makes them tick. And if you bring up the possibility of an exotic bird-watching tour in Costa Rica, I'm going to be all ears.
When she was four or five years old, I remember how my daughter became upset if I cut my hair drastically or if I wore makeup. She resisted any sudden change I'd make to myself. It made sense to me at the time, since young children crave stability and permanence. They need their parents to stay exactly the same.
Now that I'm creating my own next chapter, I need exactly the opposite.
Sharing My Reinvention
What do my kids think of this? Despite a few eye rolls or dismissals of ideas I selectively share about my reinvention, I'd like to think they're excited for me. I acknowledge that I'm not the center of their lives any more. Yet while my kids are focused, as they should be, on navigating through their own busy professional and personal lives, it is my hope that sharing a few adventures of my own on a Sunday night might seep into their subconscious about how they might look forward to their own middle years one day.
The boomer generation, including myself as a late entry, is reinventing the idea of retirement (particularly for women) with no frame of reference from any previous generation. While we can never know what our children's lives will look like in middle age, I desperately want to set a good example.
Yes, I admit that it's important for me to lead a somewhat interesting life. Whether I do it for myself, to set an example for my kids or both, I'll never apologize for not being done with figuring out who I want to be and where and how I want to live.