A patient of mine has been spending many of his sessions speaking about how quickly his 3 girls are growing up. He is already thinking of how time is flying and soon they will be in college. His oldest will be turning 8 in May. He is in his early forties, just celebrated his 10th wedding anniversary, and his youngest child has not even started school. Why would someone with such young children be fretting about the departure of their children when they haven't even begun school? He had mentioned seeing 'Toy Story' with his oldest daughter. He said he enjoyed it very much and found it very poignant. I asked him to write me something about it.
What follows is his writing:
I saw Toy Story 3 with my two kids last summer. It was one of the few movies that actually caused my hardened heart to tremble and a jaded soul to stir. I couldn't remember the last time I openly wept, and I don't think I ever did that in front of my kids. The movie was terrific (as Toy Story 1 and 2 were) but it was especially the last scene that was so heart-tugging. This was the scene that depicted Andy, the main character, about to leave for college but making one last stop, to play with his treasured toys one final time and then, to give them away.
What about this scene provoked such a reaction? For me, there was a deep, poignant sense of loss that was detailed in this scene, and it came not just from a loss of the toys. It was a loss of something much larger, and Andy himself seemed to realize it. Watching that particular scene, those of us who were now adults realized how brief and fleeting that period of our lives lasted. And those who of us who were now adults with children realized how little time we had left with our kids. They too, would be leaving for college, before we knew it.
Leaving the movie theater, I looked at my older daughter, Emily, now 8 years old.
How fast did the last 10 years of my life go by? It went by like a flash of lightning. And so the next ten years - she was going to be leaving for college - within that same flash of lighting. I reached for her hand and she grabbed it as we walked to our car. Her other hand clutched the same teddy bear that she had been holding on to for the past five years. We still had some time.
John's marriage is tentative at best. He is not a great communicator and is a workaholic. He spends little time away from his computer- running a multitude of ventures at once. He is extremely bright, and very well organized. He seems to be the main caretaker of his children, deals with all child related emergencies, as well as parties and play dates. He works a great deal from home, and it seems the children have become his assumed responsibility most of the time.
His wife is very bright, and seems to be the one in charge of discipline. She is a 'yeller', and most of the time it is directed at the oldest child, who is shy and somewhat withdrawn. The middle child is comical, outgoing and extremely precocious. The baby enjoys being adorable and is slightly rambunctious.
What I think John is really doing is rehearsing the empty nest syndrome. As many people realize, children are a tremendous distraction in a marriage. During the child rearing years, many couples forget why they were drawn to each other. Usually, this occurs closer to the time the children will be departing from the familial home.
Most people have to reinvent themselves as a couple-into a relationship that involves just the two of them. For some it is a rekindling of the relationship. For others, it is a not so gentle reminder that the children may have been the reason that the marriage was intact up until this point.
I think what John needs to do is fix it before it is not able to be fixed. Couples need to spend time alone, strengthening their relationship and not losing the focus on the initial bond that brought them together.
Make special time for the two of you. Although difficult, do whatever you can along the way to keep your love alive and be each other's friend. Then the ultimate separation will not be so painful. The mark of a healthy child is to be able to leave the nest and make a life of their own. The mark of a healthy relationship is to still have a good one after the children have made lives of their own.
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