on being a family of four

When our older daughter moved out, officially reducing us to a family of four, I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. With just two kids at home, would I be bored? Would I feel incomplete? Would I feel disconnected from the children who’d moved out? Would I lose my sense of purpose? Would an endless stream of regrets rise up to overwhelm me? Would I turn hopelessly melancholy and bereft, constantly thinking back to the days when all my kids were under one roof? Would the younger two turn glum and despondent? Would I lose my drive to cook?

Well, now that we’ve been a family of four for nearly four months, I can tell you this: I absolutely love it.

Let’s break it down, shall we? 

Am I bored? 
Yes. Now, then, and always. It’s a constant battle. I could have a million kids and I’d still be bored. Moving on.

Do I feel incomplete with just half my kids? 
Not at all. It’s gratifying to watch the older two go after the things they want without my time, supervision, or money. (I recently read an article that said there’s an increase in dissatisfaction for mothers with young adult children, primarily if/when those children are still financially dependent, which makes me so glad that we began requiring the kids to pay for a whole bunch of stuff starting when they were sixteen. Kinda feels like I dodged a bullet on that one.) 

Am I disconnected from the older two? 
Yes and no. Yes, because when my son’s school is in session, we sometimes don’t see him for days on end, and, in my daughter’s case, because she lives nine hours away in a foreign (to us) world of equestrians. No, because my son lives only 15 minutes away so he’s in and out of our lives, showing up to our pick-up Ultimate games or popping in to the coffee shop where I’m writing just to chat (and he’s working with my husband full-time over the summer so they’re basically best buds), and my daughter calls home almost daily to tell us about her day in great details. In other words, while we’re definitely separated from the older kids — and they clearly have their own lives — they’re still very much a part of our family. 

Have I lost my sense of purpose?
A little bit, yes. For me, creating “home” means living in it. And now that there is less living in our house — we all work out of the home — the sense of “home” is less concentrated. (But this may have more to do with transitioning to an empty nest, combined with COVID’s lingering ramifications on our social lives, than being a family of four….)

Have I become melancholy about “the good old days”?  
Nope! They had their nice moments, but I sure do like it — prefer it — where I am now, thank you very much. 

Is being a family of four hard for the younger two kids?
To a certain degree, yes. They’re the ones who get to experience the gradual fragmentation of a family. With their older sibs gone, there are fewer people for them to bounce up against, which also means there’s less to pull them out of themselves. Sometimes it feels like it’s not just the family size that’s diminished, but our actual selves. (Or maybe it’s just that we’re all getting older and our energy levels are tanking?) The older two gone, I can focus on the youngers, actually pay attention to them, which, in their opinions, may not always be a good thing. On the other hand, I think the younger kids do appreciate the less-frenzied vibe and slower pace.

Have I lost my drive to cook?
Not really, but there’s no need to, and that makes me crotchety. It doesn’t take much to feed the family anymore, and we’re crazy food-rich to boot, what with my daughter’s occasional contributions from the veggie farm, scraps I bring home from the bakery, our beef-stocked freezers, and now all the milk and dairy we could possibly want. I’m saving a ton of money, but I do miss cooking.

So, in conclusion, do I enjoy having just two kids at home? 
Yes, yes, and YES. The house feels spacious — we have empty rooms! — and stays cleaner. We have more money and less people to spend it on; going out for ice cream doesn’t break the bank. There are fewer demands on me, so I’m pulled in fewer directions and am less harried and distracted. Going somewhere is less of a production; we are less of a production. There is more time, fewer disruptions and interruptions. I can let down my guard — i.e. sit around a lot. You know the saying about how firstborn children have different parents from the last borns? It’s so true.  

Sometimes, now that the kids are mostly grown, I’m tempted to do All The Things. I want to write more, bake more, try new (as yet unknown to me) things. But then I stop myself. This little window of time as a family of four — we have about two years, I’m guessing, before the next child takes off — is special. It’s like having a second family, almost, and after 20-plus years of hardcore parenting, the lull feels sweet. I’m savoring it.

This same time, years previous: garlic flatbreads with fresh herbs, the quotidian (5.21.18), the quotidian (5.22.17), ice cream supper, the trouble with Mother’s Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), chocolate-kissed chili.

2 Comments

  • suburbancorrespondent

    With the last 2 at home, and our being older, we are completely different parents! When one of the older kids drops by and sees what is going on, they’re all, “Hey! WE never got ice cream just by asking!” The youngest is referred to as “the grandchild,” because she is treated like one.

  • Charlsey

    This post was such a beautifully written piece of work. My kids are 9 and 5, so I’ve got some time before they will be out in the world. But it does help me put in perspective to savor the moments. I have been following your blog for several years now, and it has been bittersweet to see your children grow and the oldest two now on their own. As a mother, too, I can only imagine the mixed bag of feelings that must bring. Thank you for your honesty in this. Enjoy the lull 🙂

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