“We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
But it is the emptiness inside
That holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
But it is the inner space
That makes it livable.

We work with being,
But non-being is what we use.”

–Tao Te Ching

Empty nester parents remember cutting doilies into hearts; glue sticks on tables, making heart shaped mail bags with our kids to take to school so they can collect their valentines, and putting hearts all around the house when they were asleep. I made pancakes and tried to cut them into heart shapes but mine never rose. At least I didn\’t forget the chocolate chips and cartoon valentines that come in a box with a lollipop sticking out. I always had a silly red heart sticker on my blouse to wear to work. No, I don\’t do that now!

As Tao Te Ching expresses in his words, what we can‘t see holds great value. I am so grateful for those years of making hearts, writing poems, plucking daisies saying he loves me he loves me not.

I remember volunteering in the classrooms, bringing heart shaped iced cookies for the party. I use to make valentines, but not this year. I don\’t want to do that. I do want to send Valentines and put on my red lipstick to kiss the envelopes.

Kate, a mom of a Freshman daughter, said during a session, “My heart feels like it has been ripped out of my chest since she left. I just want to skip Valentine\’s Day. I don\’t think she will call or send me a card and I can\’t make her a special heart dinner. I know I sound so needy. What the heck is wrong with me?

How brave of her to feel her pain and talk about it. She is not needy. She is painfully feeling the end of a long cycle in their relationship. She no longer has her little one at home. The symbol of her daughter off to college is just that….the child who left home to grow her garden is not coming back as the child. Those days are over. That is part of why we grieve and pain. It is like the mother who says goodbye to her son headed out to become a warrior, traveling on a vision quest for his adulthood. The mother knows, “I have lost my little boy for he will return as a man.”

Even though we know they grow up and we want that independence for them, we cry.

Truth is our kids deeply love us even when they don\’t show it. Maturity will help them get outside of themselves. Were you sending cards and calling home when you were over eighteen?

Love brings appreciation. Appreciate all that you have given your little ones. Give to yourself.

Parents have shared they tried: salsa dancing, pottery classes, jazz night , museum tours, going on dates, hockey games, and having friends over for wine and cheese. They still miss their kids at times, but they keep on keeping on.

Truth is our kids think about us with deep love because they too have the great memories to visit. Who knows when the emptiness is there for them, but maybe it will be when they walk across campus and see parents holding their kids\’ hands coming out of the pre-school or they pass the windows full of chocolates and hearts. They know the daisy from their parents is never a question of they love me, they love me not,

What we can\’t see holds deep value in our home.

Natalie Caine

Send me your story of your new Valentine\’s Day. Maybe you bought yourself a yellow rose, simply watched TV and ate Chinese food . . . mailto:%20natalie@emptynestsupport.com

Natalie Caine is the founder of Empty Nest Support Services. When her daughter was a senior in high school, she realized that as a soon-to-be “empty nester,” she would be undergoing a major life shift. Not wanting to confront this transition alone nor have her many friends face this abyss without strong support, she created a support services group, which quickly grew into a new career and an exciting full-time business.