dear Dr. abby

Relationship Breakthrough: Power in Tough Times, Parenting Adult Children, and Empty Nesting

It’s tough being a woman! We fight the good fight, carry the burdens, and power through difficulties.  But we’re also human.  Dr. Abby advises these women to navigate challenges and rise gracefully.

Dear Dr. Abby,

I’m a woman who has to be strong for the family, for my employees, and for my friends. I just received news that I have pre-cancerous cells. My surgery is in 2 weeks. How do I stay strong for others and still be honest with my feelings?

Mrs. Strong

Dear Mrs. Strong,

As women, we feel the exhilarating accomplishment of establishing a distinguished place of authority in our family, workplace, and friend circles. We realize our value and our strength, and so does everyone else.   You are the one that family members go to for advice.   You are the only employee that can see the whole picture and provide the best solutions. You are the friend that the others look to as a role model.

Then one day, you receive the news of pre-cancerous cells from your doctor, and your surgery is in 2 weeks. Your mind is telling you that you need to suck it up and power through so that no one has to see the completely crushed and terrified real you at this moment. 

  • First of all, be thankful for this reminder that you are human.  When you get settled into a power position, it causes you to feel the pressure to be the best at everything.  It’s time to let people, especially yourself, know that you are human. Don’t be afraid to share what is happening in whatever way you feel most comfortable. An example would be, “I wanted to let you know I have some health issues that I am taking care of right now, so I am here, but I might be a little less hype than usual.” Don’t feel embarrassed to say something.   It might even make you more effective in your role when others see that you are a real person.
  • Second, allow yourself to go through the feelings.  You are not sure what this diagnosis really means.  You might have all the questions, uncertainties, and fears that come from unwanted health results, and that is expected.   Cry if you have to, talk to someone who will listen to your thoughts and feelings, and journal.
  • Third, gather the information you need from the doctor and your test results. Ask about pre-and post-surgery care. Make the appointments that you need. Buy the supplies that you need. Make arrangements for carpools, meals, meetings, etc. Be organized so that you can prevent any issues while you are out of commission. For many women, this kind of scrambling and organizing is a good distraction.

You have always been a superwoman in everyone’s eyes, and when they see how real you are through this situation, your vulnerability will make you even more SUPER! My love and prayers for your successful surgery and recovery!

Dear Dr. Abby,

My adult son has decided that he can save money if he lives out of his car for a few months. How do I tell him that this is not okay?

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned Mom,

You raised this little boy to tie his shoes so he doesn’t fall down. Your life’s mission for so many years was to raise him to one day become happy, healthy, and successful. You did the best you could, and now that he is a grownup, you are hoping the best for him.   You are also observing him make decisions for himself. He is an adult now, and he is responsible for himself. He knows he has to provide for his own personal needs, such as food and shelter.   He also knows his financial situation at this time.  

Based on his current circumstances, he has made the decision to live out of his car. Any normal mother would WANT to say, “No way, not my son! What are you? Crazy?”  BUT a smart mother would know her role as someone who can offer support in the form of offering help or asking if he would be safe.   She would also take a moment to think that her son has thought this out, and it was probably hard for him to share this decision with his mother.   No son wants to tell his mother that he is going to live in his car.

The biggest part of your experience is one of the hardest things that mothers have to do: letting go of their children.  At some point, we need to step away and let our children experience life for themselves.   Think of some of the things that you have had to learn the hard way.   If you had not endured that difficult time, you might not have truly learned what you know now. We all make mistakes, and the best part is when we can learn from them.   That is what we want for our children, for them to grow and learn and be strong.   This is a growth moment for your son.  It is also a growth moment for you.   Be strong, Mom! You can do it!

Dear Dr. Abby,

My last child has moved out of the house, and my husband and I have an empty nest. There are so many feelings going on with no children in the house. It feels so strange with just me and my husband at home, especially during a pandemic! How do I deal with this?

Empty Nester

Dear Empty Nester,

When our children leave the house after being here for 18+ years, things get strange. You’ll definitely feel that something’s missing, and you have to decide how you will let this affect you. Of course, there will be emotions as you miss your child and as you feel the void. It can even be as extreme as staring down at your Domino’s pepperoni pizza and feeling like, “Oh, he loves pepperoni pizza. He would be eating this with me right now, but he’s not here.” The low points also come when you walk into his room. You may even appreciate the mess (and maybe even the smell!) because it represents the son you miss.  It’s okay to feel all the emotions, but be careful not to spiral down into a feeling of helplessness. Be intentional about what is going on right now and make a positive plan for survival.

The first thing to do is list your support system: family, friends, co-workers, etc. Even though they may not be as easy to connect with because of social distancing, you can reach out by phone, FaceTime, Messenger, and many other apps. This means you actually have to pick up the phone and make the call. Talk about anything and everything. You can laugh at the memories or have fun sharing new eating habits. You will find that connecting with these people will alleviate some of the negative feelings you are having and also reignite the happy feelings that you feel when you spend time with people that you love and care for so much.

The next thing to do is make a list of your hobbies and interests. Start riding your bike again, playing golf, or planting vegetables. Cook some of your favorite recipes or learn how to make your own YouTube videos.   Now you can focus on an activity that takes long periods of time because you have fewer obligations and people pulling you in different directions.   Many empty nesters love to start re-decorating. Your home is your palette.   It can make you feel positive and special rather than sad and empty when you walk around the house.

Lastly, don’t forget the other person who’s left in the house with you. Don’t just look at him and say, “Well, I guess you’re all that’s left.”  Re-acquaint yourself with this lifelong partner of yours.  Notice and learn things about him that you may not have noticed before. Maybe you didn’t know that he has been reading about workplace psychology or ancient history. Share some things about yourself, like what you think about manifestation or jazz music. Think of creative things to do together and meet the new version of each other: Amazing Empty Nesters.

This time of transition as an empty nester is just another growing pain in this thing called life.   As long as you approach this phase as a learning and growing experience and embrace the change, you will rise gracefully from this difficult time. Just like messy diapers and late-night feedings, this is a part of parenting that no one could really prepare you for.  You made it this far, and you’re doing great, Mom! 


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