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On love and respect: reflections from an empty nest

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AP Photo/Indiana State University via The Indianapolis Star, Rachel Keyes

(Read caption) Peggy Kenworthy, 67, helps move her grandson, 18-year-old Lane Swanson, into the same dorm room she lived in 50 years ago at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Ind., August 16, 2013.

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As of this afternoon, my nest will be empty. My youngest heads off to the dorms to begin her freshman year of college, while my oldest moved to Seattle last month. I suppose it’s logical that this is a time to reflect upon the parenting I’ve done in the last 22 years.

I feel fortunate that my husband and I have had excellent relationships with our kids. Every time someone has wanted to commiserate with me on the difficulties of raising teenagers, I haven’t been able to reciprocate. I thoroughly enjoyed my kids’ teenage years. There was no door-slamming, no yelling, no tears as a result of conflicts at home. The kids’ rooms were disaster areas, but I really didn’t mind. There was some foot-dragging about household chores, but they got done without fighting and only a soupçon of attitude.

One theme I’ve heard from my peers has been a general sense that their children haven’t given them the respect they owe them, haven’t demonstrated love and concern the way they were expected to. I have generally listened sympathetically and thanked my lucky stars. But I’ve thought more deeply about that, simply because, as I lose my kids’ constant presence, I’ve thought more deeply about what their presence has meant to me. I’ve come to appreciate even more what their love and respect have meant.

The more I thought about that, the more I realized I didn’t really “expect” these things. I mean, I guess I did – I certainly hoped for them – but I didn’t think about them much, about what I expected love and respect to look like. And I realize that perhaps that is why I appreciate them so much. They have felt more like gifts freely given than like something paid because they are owed.

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