Lessons learned on the way to that empty nest

Parenting…. I’ve been thinking about parenting lately. Last week we put our youngest daughter on the plane to finish off her senior year of college on the west coast. For some reason it felt so final. I realize that when she graduates in June she will be heading off for her own adventure. We will always be her parents, here for her when she needs us, but the role changes. My nest is almost empty. My husband says we got married to be together and we are now back to the original plan. Yes, that is wonderful, but we miss our girls.

I heard plenty of people tell me this and I totally get it now: the active daily parenting job is short-term. There comes a day when they don’t need you to zip up their winter coat, wipe their nose, or sign their permission forms. From the day they are born, our job is to nurture and support them and prepare them to launch out in life on their own. It is a slow and gradual process as we first entrust them with their lunch money, then sleepovers, then the car keys and finally helping them pack their bags for their own life adventure.

I remember sending our oldest daughter off to kindergarten. I was a mess. If the first five years of a child’s life are the most important, did we do it right? Did we give her everything she needed to launch out into the scary world of school?

Well, no, I didn’t do it all right. I was impatient, used bribes, cried, locked myself in the bathroom to calm myself down, held unreasonable expectations. But, we did many things right. We surrounded ourselves and our girls with other parents and families that supported and encouraged us all. We loved our girls and treasured them. We did let them go to those sleepovers within cautious reason. We were present and supportive and tried not to be overbearing. The jury is still out. They may have different stories to tell, but we tried our best and sought good input from others who had parented before us.

The River Center is a Family and Community Resource Center. Parenting classes, workshops and support has been available here since the early 1990s. Bonnie Harris started the Parent Guidance Center in 1990 to be a resource for parents. Later the name changed to The Family Center of Greater Peterborough. Today we are known as The River Center: A Family and Community Resource Center. Part of our mission is to strengthen families through our parenting support programs.

Did you know that you could join with other parents on a weekly basis to learn about parenting strategies and discuss the everyday realities of parenting in your life? We have parenting groups meeting four days a week right now. New programs are offered periodically throughout the year. Our home visiting program visits and supports young pregnant women and new moms and their babies in homes.

Are you a parent? Do you know someone who is a parent? My guess is you answered yes to at least one of those questions. The River Center has a program for you run by excellent, experienced parent educators. Give us a call and join one of our parenting groups. We are always planning new programs to meet our community needs as well. What is your special parenting need? Are you a single parent? A grandparent wondering about your role? An adoptive parent? Parent of a teen? We would love to hear about your particular need. Just contact me at 924-6800 or mnelson@rivercenter.us.

Here’s my advice: give your children a big hug. Love them. Enjoy them. They do grow up.

Margaret Nelson is the executive director of The River Center in Peterborough.

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