Quite often some young mom or dad will come up after a speech and say something like, "You must be so relieved now that your children are raised and you are done with your parenting."
They assume that once kids are grown and gone, parenting is finished! Could anything be further from the truth? We usually answer with something like, "Well, what you have to know is that you're never done AND the problems do get bigger and more expensive!"
However, having said that, empty-nest parenting is marvelous. There are grandkids. You can go visit your kids and they will feed you. You can leave when you want to (unless they happen to be living with you).
One of the best things for us is the two "clubs" we have set up with our children after they have left home. One is called M&FME (Mothers and Future Mothers of Eyrealm) and the other is F&FFE (Fathers and Future Fathers of Eyrealm). M&FME is just me (Linda) and my daughters and daughters-in-law, and F&FFE is just me (Richard) and my sons and sons-in law.
We get together when we can, sometimes online and once a year or so in person for some kind of outing. We talk about dreams, about balance, about families, about parenting, about finances, about our best and worst events of the year, about books we've read and movies we've loved as well as offering condolences and encouragement on current issues and about whatever else comes up. Bonds deepen, minds expand. In a way, we are living the beliefs that "blood is thicker than water" and "family matters even more than friends" and "whatever you need, look first to family."
Sometimes we splurge a bit on M&FME and F&FFE because we basically believe that whatever modest amount of money we have is best spent on being together and better spent on family stuff now than being saved for inheritance. In fact, we kind of like the motto of "die broke."
I (Linda) have four daughters and four daughters-in-law, five who are mothers and three who aren't, and will reserve the details of our adventures for another column. But my (Richard's) most recent F&FFE outing was earlier this month in Cozumel on a scuba trip with all eight of my boys (five sons and three sons-in-laws). It was just a long weekend, but for three glorious days, all we did was dive, eat and talk. (Well, except for playing a basketball game with a local semi-pro team who saw some of our tall boys in the airport there and challenged them to a game — which we won, and in which I got to be the point guard because at 6 feet 4 inches, I was the shortest guy on the Eyre team.)
The accompanying photo is worth a thousand words. Being together with my best friends who also happen to be my sons is truly a bit of heaven, whether we are below water or above. You can see in the photo that it put a smile on my face, not to mention theirs.
On Sunday, everyone headed for home except for me. I stayed an extra day and just reflected on each of these noble men whom I call my boys, thinking about each of them, pondering what I could do to help each one (and all that they are each doing to help me and to help each other.)
The only other "big" thing we try to do each year is the annual family reunion at Bear Lake. Altogether we will have 40 of us there this year, counting all the in-laws and the grandkids.
Now let's remember family togetherness and empty-nest parenting are not about how many kids or grandkids there are or how small or how elaborate your get-togethers are. But it is about staying in close touch and about always being there for each other.
We admire how various families find their own formulas. Some, who all live close enough, get together every Sunday for dinner. Others have joint family home evenings once a month. And still other families (like ours), where kids are spread all around the country or world, have Skype meetings or blogs or email groups or constant Facebook exchanges and try to stay as close and in touch as if they all lived on the same street.
The bottom line is that family is, now and for eternity, what matters most.
The Eyres are the founders of Joy Schools and of valuesparenting.com and the authors of numerous bestselling books on marriage, parenting and family. Their mission statement, developed while presiding over the England London South Mission, is "FORTIFY FAMILIES by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance and validating values."
Their newest book, now available in stores and online, is "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges," and their blog can be found at http://www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com.