This is Part 2 of Peter McGraw’s conversation with two solo parents (with older children) about parenting alone. They continue their discussion of common challenges and opportunities that come from the transition to being a single parent, co-parenting, finding balance, dating (conventionally or not), and preparing for the transition to an empty nest. His guest close with advice for having a remarkable life as a solo parent.
Listen to Episode #110 here
How To Parent Alone – Part 2
Welcome back to part two of How To Parent Alone. I’m joined by Eric Elkins and Julie Nirvelli as we continue the conversation. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Let’s move on to something a little more uplifting. Anybody who frequents here knows I talked about this notion of having a good foundation in order to flourish. That foundation is made up of three components. Those are your health, your wealth which we’ve talked about being a challenge for solo parents, and then your team. I talked about how important it is for singles to build a team. I have to assume that’s even more critical for a single parent. Is that something that you did? Was it out of necessity? Did you anticipate it? Did you already have it? What was happening? What advice do you have about that notion of building a team? Eric, it sounds like you already had a team in terms of your mediator. I would call that a team. Team members can be friends, family or professionals. That person fits under the professional rubric.
I didn’t have much of a team early on. That was one of the biggest challenges. I have no family in the state. Our couple of friends were still trying to sort out who they were going to align with.
Were you the first in the group to get divorced?
Yeah. I was living in the suburbs and working downtown. My closest friends were the carousers that were growing into my life. I remember getting really sick a year in. I’m not able to leave the house. I was barely able to get my daughter dropped off at preschool and her mom was going to pick her up, and then being sick on my own for three days and nobody was able to help.
Welcome to my life. That’s pre-Grubhub, pre-Uber Eats, etc.
I had to take myself to the doctor. They said, “You got to go to the emergency room. Get a ride.” I went home, got my laptop, and drove myself to the emergency room because I can’t stop working, and there was nobody to call.
It makes me a little sad to hear that.
It was hard. It was also a kick in the ass to build a family of choice. There are so many people in Denver who I could turn to now. My family was always available but on the fringes. They would have flown out in a second if I had asked them to, but that’s not always super practical.
It feels like a big ask.
They’ve been there for advice. They’ve been there to tell me when I’m being an idiot. I’m super close to my sisters and my mom, and my dad when he was around. That was always the overarching thing. I had to build friendships. I had a lot of single mom friends with who we could support each other and be there for each other. Some single dad friends too, but that was rare.
Are you friends with benefits with these single mom friends?
Yeah, of course.
We have a very popular episode, Friends With Benefits.
This is a whole other thing, those adult relationships which we can come back to. I didn’t have it until I started to focus on it and find the right people who are interested in being part of Simone’s life and being a supportive part of it. Now she has aunties and uncles. She has people she could turn to. The job that she got offered was based on one of my best friends introducing her to someone else because he thinks she’s a magical being. It took a long time. I don’t know how I would survive without my chosen family.
It seems to me that being a single parent makes it challenging to make new friends in a lot of ways because you’re making new friends. I have to point this out. One of the good things about the relationship escalator is you have this person that you’re closely connected to that you can rely on in nearly any situation. The challenge of the relationship escalator beside the obvious one, which is that’s a lot to put on someone, is that when they go away, oftentimes the person is without because they have ignored their friends. They haven’t maintained their friends. They haven’t developed new friends.
Stereotypically, it’s more of a problem for men than for women because the heteronormative dynamic is the wife is in charge of the social life and setting things up and so on. There are many exceptions to this. Suddenly, the guy has nothing. Now you are half the time a full-time parent and that makes it hard to make friends. You are going to see 50% of the opportunity. Is there anything in particular that you did to try to cultivate these connections?
It’s hard as a grownup to make new friends. It’s especially harder for men in the sense that you have to make yourself more vulnerable and that’s not something that men have been taught to do historically. For me, the conscious decisions were being more socially active in environments where I thought I could find people to connect with. It was becoming more connected to the local Jewish community.
I was pulled into that from an app, Jdate, where I met a woman. It didn’t work out for us on the romantic side but she’s like, “You should come to this event. You should come and be a part of this.” That expanded my horizons besides my drinking buddies who just wanted to go out carousing all night and sleeping in the next morning. That helped open up new possibilities beyond that small crowd. Social media helped too. You start connecting with new people in new ways.
That’s how we met, via Twitter.
I read your amazing work in The Atlantic about humor. I was like, “This guy is in Colorado. I want to get to know him.”
I appreciate that. I did a whole series on Making Remarkable Friends. We kicked it off with Julie and we’re having a conversation about our love affairs, friends, and what it means to be a good friend. We’re talking through some of these kinds of issues. I don’t even know if she knows this. When I have to write down my emergency contact in this area, she’s often that person.
I had no idea.
I had a BFF, Allison. I wrote a whole blog post about emergency contact. You need that. That’s super cool when you have that.
I always do it, Julie. I spread it around a little. Someday, you’re going to get a call from a hospital.
We should probably talk about what I’m supposed to do after that.
Pull the plug.
I got to witness Julie’s transition because we were friends before her marriage. We’re friends during and friends after. I’m going to compliment you. Julie is very good at friendship. I never felt like our friendship was de-emphasized in any of those stages, which is difficult to do. I’m incredibly thankful for it. I know you have a broad network of family and friends. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Pete and I have known each other for a long time. I think of you as a brother. Talking about choosing your family, I’m an only child. That’s another PSA we’ve done.
We have an Only Child episode.
I am an only child and I’m raising an only child. Friendships are so extremely important to me. It’s something that even in marriage, I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my friends. In terms of building a network as a solo parent, it is interesting when you get divorced that the married friends with kids seem like they start inviting you to fewer things.
It’s like it’s contagious and they’re worried about catching it.
I don’t know what their logic is. They’re inviting all the couples over with their kids, and then they don’t want to invite a single over with a kid. I don’t know why that is. It would be something interesting to dive into. When we got divorced, my daughter even said, “No one else in my class has parents who are divorced.” In my head, I was like, “Give it some time. It’s coming.” You have to be proactive about making new friends. Look for opportunities out in public or at the library or something, to be more vulnerable and willing to start a conversation with someone who looks interesting or your kids are about the same age.
You’re at the solo salon and you’re having a nice conversation.
Especially when the kids are younger, you need so much more support. I’m lucky that my dad and stepmom live about 45 minutes away, so I had so much support. The first Friday night of every month and until the pandemic, my daughter would go to their house. She loves to be at their house if I had to travel for work or something. They want more time with her, not less, as much time as they can. I’m fortunate for that.
When your child starts to have activities that they like to do, I’m figuring out who the other single parents are within those activities. I’m like, “Do you want to carpool? Do you need any help? If you ever have a meeting or something, I can pick them up. I have a flexible schedule.” I feel like that’s been beneficial too. I went to a solo event and a single dad picked my daughter up from her dad’s house. He took them to the farm to go horseback riding and dropped her off at my house because it was our transition day. I still do it.
Is it fair to say that as a solo parent, other solo parents as friends is ideal?
I don’t socially do that much with a lot of these people, but we support each other more in terms of logistics.
It’s a little more quid pro quo.
Not that I wouldn’t. It just hasn’t happened.
Let’s be honest, solo non-parents are more fun. I can see how you can understand more. I have limits on the amount of support I can give my single-parent friends because I don’t have a kid. I don’t have experience.
You have a different mindset. There are things you can commiserate over with another single parent that nobody else is going to understand. I have friends who are newly single with little kids and they’re coming to me. They’re like, “Here’s what’s going on. How do I do this? Will you spend some time with us?”
I love my friends and I want to spend time with them. It’s also triggering to be like, “I was there eighteen years ago and it hurts so much. Now I’m watching you deal with it and trying to be there as a resource.” At the same time, I’m trying to not get sucked into that wallowing feeling that I had at that time and get flashbacks of how hard it was. I still hang out with my single-parent friends when our schedules coalesce. It’s also harder to do that because if you’re both single parenting, it can be rare that you can get together with them. Either you both have the kids or you both don’t have the kids. That makes it a little harder too.
There were times when Julie was like, “My first availability is five weeks from now. Let’s get it on the calendar.” That was when her daughter was younger.
I had more custody.
You had this business you are working on for long hours. I always appreciated that. Family and friends, and then Eric, you mentioned community, religious and spiritual organizations. Are there other places?
Your kid’s friends. Sometimes if I have an event on a Friday night that I want to go to, and our schedule is I have her every Friday night, I’ll say, “I have an event on Friday night. Do you want to find a friend to spend the night at their house?” She’ll choose who she wants to stay with. When they hit the age of fourteen, it is so freeing because she can stay home and watch a movie or hang out. She’s more of an introvert so she likes time home alone. Tapping into your kid’s friends is another resource.
This playdate phenomenon didn’t exist when I was a kid. “Go figure it out,” was the thing. Does the playdate phenomenon change as a single parent?
We didn’t have very many because my daughter is also an introvert. For a single parent, at least in my experience, you have to be more intentional about it. You have to go out and try to set those up. They don’t happen organically. You’re like, “I need an afternoon. Does she have a friend who she can go play with?” Someone reaches out and says, “Can we get the girls together?” At least in my experience, it required a lot more effort. When you’re with a bunch of couple friends and you all have kids, you’re always getting together. It’s harder when you’re living this bifurcated life.
There are also Facebook groups. I found that more when the kids were little, like mommy groups where it was more support for the moms, but then the kids would be there too. I was married at the time.
One of the best support systems that I have are bartenders, chefs and restaurant owners. It’s being able to go to my favorite bars, sit down by myself, have a cocktail, and be greeted by people I know with love and affection, and I feel comfortable there. Denver has a lot of those super warm and wonderful people in the service industry.
There are a lot of happy people in Denver.
You can with them. My daughter thought it was normal to show up in a restaurant and have people know who she was. We forget sometimes that those ancillary relationships are meaningful as well. They add some validity and joy to your life if you’re willing to make those connections, ask their names and build relationships there. That’s served me so well. I feel so grateful for that opportunity to sit at a bar with one of my favorite bartenders. They are working and they come and say hi. You talk and you commiserate about your life. They are talking about their single parenting woes. It’s magical.
You’re a little more extroverted.
I’m an ambivert. I’ll just call it that.
I do have one more comment. I have a lot of single friends who have said, “If you ever need help, if you can’t pick up your daughter from something or you need to get her to something.” You were talking about socializing your daughter with your friends and they all think mine is a magical human being too. I’ve taken a friend up one time on, “Can you please go pick her up? I just can’t swing it.” Knowing that you have those options is super helpful. Solos, if you have a friend who’s a single parent, offer your help sometimes.
Offer in general or offer specifically, “Can I take your daughter to a movie and get some time? Can we go to the museum so that you can get some time to yourself?” If you could be specific about the help you can offer, that makes it easier to accept it. It’s always a weird thing when it’s like, “Do you remember three months ago, you said if I ever needed anything? Now I need it,” versus if you can be proactive and offer to help people. I try to do that now as an empty-nester.
That’s a great piece of advice. A little myth-busting from Bella DePaulo, there’s this belief that single parents are doing it alone. She writes, “Sociologists who have studied single mothers of different races, classes and sexual orientations have found that those mothers are rarely raising their children single-handedly. Instead, they have a network of friends, relatives and neighbors who care about them and their children, and have been part of their lives for years.”
I grew up in a neighborhood that had a bunch of single moms. We were in the poor part of town. When these relationships broke up, people downsized into these little townhouses. We had a network of kids and understanding parents that we could go hang out with there. My own experience was my mom leaned incredibly heavily on her parents. They were about 90 minutes away. We spent a lot of time on weekends with her parents and they helped.
They helped provide a lot of stability because she was an unstable person. They also provided some financial resources. Frankly, there were times when she was on the phone and they were turning the lights off on us. A check would come in the mail to keep the lights on. I’m sad to say this but this was later in her life. Especially when my grandfather passed, her life began to unravel in that sense.
Frankly, he was my dad in a sense. He was the only real positive male figure at that time in my life. I was glad that she was able to maintain that set of relationships that ended up being critical. She had a sister who had a traditional family unit, three kids, stable and loving relationship. They were incredibly generous to us in terms of having us over for the holidays, feeding us, welcoming us into their home, even though it wasn’t always the most comfortable dynamic there. I’m greatly appreciative of them.
At the time it was like, “We got to go do this.” In hindsight, it was also nice to have the distraction that was going on. Let’s talk a little bit about balance. This is hard. Being a parent is hard, then doing it on your own is harder in many ways. How do you do this with regard to being your most remarkable self? Is it only during the time that you’re not parenting? What’s going on?
I feel like it ties back into socializing your child with your friends. My friends will come over and she’ll sit around the dinner table with us and have great conversations. Some will even come and watch her horseback riding competitions and things like that. It’s good for her to see that balance that I have living a full life. When you said singles without kids are more fun, I would say no because when I had her 60% of the time, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights were my free nights. Saturday night is the one night a week I could do something fun. That was my big night.
You stored it up.
In terms of balance, having a flexible schedule helps because I could go for a mountain bike ride during the day while she’s at school, which takes care of my needs and what I want to do and keeps me in balance, and then having that friend time and then focusing on her. During the pandemic, I bought longboards for us, so we learned the longboard together. Also trying to keep her life rich. I used to take her to the grocery store with me. Now I don’t because she’s gotten to that point where I have less time with her. Now I want to take care of that stuff when I don’t have her, and then she and I can do more things together and keep our relationship.
Be more growth-oriented.
One of my early blog posts was about this compressed conflict where when I was with my daughter, I had total FOMO about what was going on. My friends were out and people were reaching out saying, “We’re doing this tonight,” or “This is happening this weekend,” or potential for a date. I’d be like, “Sorry, I’m parenting.” I would have that FOMO.
When I was out and having a great time, I would have this little pointy piece of guilt about being happy, joyful, and loving my time away from my daughter. It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t have to feel guilty. That time was good for me and made me a better parent. It was also good for my soul to be out and to have that time away from her, and to be able to make the most of it. I learned over the long term that there are going to be other events and there are going to be other nights of drinking. You’re missing out on this cool bar opening, but that bar is going to be open for a while and you can go after the opening.
It would be less crowded anyway.
There’s always more stuff to do. For me, it was less about balance and more about moderation. My thought was all things in moderation, even moderation. There would be wild nights like one night, I didn’t get home until 1:00 AM because it was one of those nights. I would have wild nights. What’s important to me that I probably didn’t realize until much later was not going out, being home by myself, making some dinner, and watching TV.
I’m having that me-time and being able to say no when friends are like, “You’re not parenting. We’re all going out. You should come.” I’d be like, “Fireplace is on and it’s fourteen degrees. I’m just going to stay here.” Being comfortable with that and happy with it, and being able to weave those two lives together in a meaningful way. My daughter will socialize with me and my friends if that’s what we’re going to do, but we’re also going to find remarkable things to do together. I’ve taken her all over the world. She’s an amazing traveler and one of the best people I’ve ever traveled with. That has enhanced both of our lives and it’s made me appreciate her as a person.
It’s finding those adventures that we could have together and taking the slug out of parenting. There are days when you’re like, “This is rough,” or “This is so annoying,” or “How am I going to make it through this weekend of parenting? There’s so much else I want to do.” You find ways to add magic and interesting things and brighten up the day. That carries over to both sides and that helps weave the whole thing together.
A hundred episodes into this project, I have covered a lot of topics so I’m going to make another little PSA for the value of solitude. I did a series on solitude and its benefits for creative work, rejuvenation, reflection and so on. Hearing you talk makes me think about how oppressive my mother’s 100% custody was. It was her choice.
She probably never led on. I love my daughter and I love my time with her, but there were days I was like, “I’m so glad she’s going home tomorrow. I need some me-time.” It’s exhausting.
The only thing my mom had besides the visits to family, which helped with the parenting but it didn’t give her time to herself, was that she was so regimented about us going to bed and napping.
It’s time for me-time.
She forced us to nap and go to bed at unusually early hours, which we resented. In hindsight, I understand because that was her only quiet time. I’m glad she did it because kids need to sleep. It’s incredibly important developmentally for children to sleep. I hated it and I would secretly read my Stephen King novels up in my bed. I get it and now I’m appreciative of her doing that in that way. I do like the idea that it’s not selfish to take care of yourself because it allows you to be the best parent that you can be. Let’s be honest, your kid needs a diversity of experiences. Only you is not going to be right because the rest of their lives won’t be only you.
Let’s talk a little bit about dating. Obviously, the Dating Dad did some dating. I know Julie has done some dating too and had relationships. I’ll tell a quick story. I will match with women on the apps who are single moms. I dated single moms. I’ll have a conversation early on with them and it goes something like this. It’s been my experience that a single mom with a child or children has 1 of 2 orientations. One is, “I need to find a co-parent. I need to find someone and we’re going to team up. Ideally, he has kids also. We are going to divide and conquer. We’re going to have our week together. It will be just the two of us. We’re going to have our week with the kids. It’s going to be easier.” If you’re looking for that, I am not the right person for you.
The other category is, “I got this kid thing under control. During my week, I want some adult fun.” I’m like, “If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m your guy.” Whether it’s yes or no, whether it’s category 1 or 2, it’s an appreciated conversation in this sense. First of all, in your dating, were you 1 or 2? Were you the former or the latter? After that, did you develop best practices around disclosure, discussing this, whatever else it may be? How did you approach this?
I’ve sworn off dating apps but when I was on the dating apps, I wouldn’t even say that I was a single parent.
You automatically have to be a category 2 because, in category 1, there are at least 1 to 3 photos of the children.
Don’t put photos of your children on dating apps. There are so many creepers out there. Why would you do that? That’s such a horrible invasion of the kid’s privacy. That’s my little PSA.
The benefit is that it sends a message, which is, “Here we are. This is a package deal.”
Don’t show their face or put it in your bio. Those kids don’t need to be seen by the weirdos who are out there, in my opinion.
I was always in the “I’m just looking for adult fun.” To me, it was irrelevant if I had a child or not. When people would ask, then I would say yes, and then it was not a big deal. I was always in the more “I’m just looking for adult fun” when I didn’t have my parenting time.
Have you developed best practices around dating, developing relationships, and so on? Do you have any bad practices? Let me lead a little bit. There seems to be a moment in time where there’s a choice to introduce or not introduce this person, for example.
I have a strong opinion about this. It took me a long time to figure this out. I don’t know why it took me so long. When you’re dating, there’s magic. Something happens in the 2 to 3-month timeframe when people start to show their real personality. Within the two months, it’s all fun and games and happiness, and then some of the behaviors start to show themselves.
Having learned that when kids are younger, I would be more cautious about introducing someone before you suss out what kind of person they are. Now that she’s older, it’s not that big of a deal to me. Especially with all the work that you’ve done with Solo and how my philosophies have shifted, her dad’s remarried so she has that relationship escalator example in her life. I want her to have this ultimate example of you don’t have to get married and have kids, which is what I thought we were supposed to do. I’ll share stories with her sometimes. I feel like she can learn about dating through some of my experiences. When she knows of someone and then not dating him anymore, she’s sharing, “He wasn’t supportive of my independence,” or “He had controlling behavior,” or things like that.
“He’s a liar. Mom doesn’t date liars.”
That sounds like a whole other story.
It’s a very fresh story. I like presenting her with a different view of dating and relationships. When I grew up, I was like, “If I like you, I should be in a relationship with you.” That wasn’t just growing up. That’s even in adulthood. Now I’m finally realizing, just because you liked someone doesn’t mean that it’s meant to be a certain type of relationship. I’m trying to model that for her.
I did not introduce someone to anybody unless I thought they were going to be in the picture for a while. It’s usually months in. Even when I first introduced her, and it was rare, she met three people in the eighteen years that she was home. I introduced that person as my friend. If things coalesced and she was going to be around for a little bit and we are doing stuff together, there might be more of some intention behind it. For the most part, I kept it vague.
As she got older and there were women in my life or the single mom thing where your schedules coalesce and you get together because you can, she might meet those people again and I would say, “This is my friend,” or talk about, “I’m going to go out with my friend.” She knew that there was some dating involved or some romance involved.
I like your idea, Julie, of being a good example and showing a good example of dating. Now that she’s older, she’s more integrated into that. She was always curious. She would say, “Dad, if you don’t introduce me to someone, how are you going to know if I like them?” I’d be like, “If I like them and they get to the point where I want them to be in your life, I’m sure you’re going to like them too.” It was a black box, which may have been a bit of a miscalculation on my part because she thought I was alone or with my friends and didn’t realize I had this happening.
You’re crushing it on the dating part.
I have a super funny story like that. My daughter’s job is to empty the dishwasher. She’s emptying the dishwasher and then she goes, “Mom.” I said, “What?” She said, “There are two wine glasses.”
My daughter was changing the laundry from the washer to the dryer and a condom dropped out.
How old was she?
Fourteen or fifteen. She said, “Dad.” I had a practice of carrying condoms in my pocket. I didn’t even know what the circumstance was that I had that.
Was it in a wrapper?
Yeah. It was a moment where I was like, “I got to be careful.” One day, she was wearing a pair of pants to school and it turned out it was a pair of pants that had been left at the house by someone who had slept over and I had thrown them in the laundry. I didn’t know they were this woman’s. She ended up with them on because they were in her drawer. I had to explain that, “I was doing laundry for a friend and that got mixed up.” I just left it at that.
Julie, has there ever been a case where she’s like, “Mom, there are three wine glasses.”
That’s funny. You want to model diverse, but responsible behavior. There’s not just one way to live. That’s useful for children to know there are multiple paths to living a remarkable life. One that you don’t have to be embarrassed about or hide away. It’s great that you can model that safe sex is important. You don’t have to hide who you are as a result of this. This is a situation that is sensitive and delicate. I have a question from the audience that I wanted to ask. It says, “What if the person you’re dating complains about your focus on your kids?”
Out. That’s a big red flag.
It’s not only a red flag because they don’t want you to focus on your kids. It’s a red flag of the amount of attention that they require, and that they don’t have other ways in their life to fill their needs. Has that ever happened to you, Eric? That has not happened to me.
I don’t tend to date younger on purpose.
I date older and younger, so we’ve covered the full gamut here.
I don’t actively pursue much younger than me. If it happens, it happens. It tended to be with women who didn’t already have kids or were still in their late 20s, 30s, and had their lives and wanted me to be more integrated into it. When someone says, “I love how dedicated you are to your child,” that’s like, “You’re a keeper,” versus one who’s like, “You’re always talking about her,” which I’m not.
When we were together, the biggest thing was when I was in a relationship, there was Simone time and relationship time. There were moments when I had to say to her, “I need Sunday night to myself. I haven’t had any time. I need to have Eric time,” or “I’m going to go out with my buddies Friday night and I’ll see you on Saturday.” She’d be like, “This is our only time together.” I’d have to say, “Yes, but I also need to balance that in.”
The women who were like, “I have other things to do. I’ll see you when I see you,” were the ones who had their own independence and remarkable life on their own. The ones who didn’t have anything else were much more dependent on me and that made it a lot harder. I would say that it’s a big red flag if they don’t understand the importance of your relationship with your child. They should be celebrating it, not complaining about it.
I can see how right out of the gate, you see it as a deal-breaker. I do believe that people can be adaptable. This happens to me. I live a rich life. I do lots of things. I travel a lot, which is appealing early in a relationship, but then can be seen as, “You’re leaving again? You’re doing this again. I never get to see you.” One, it’s a way to express affection. “I want to spend time with you” is reinforcing. On the other hand, it’s like, “I’m complaining. I’m hoping you’ll change your behavior.” I’m not changing my behavior. I’m like, “This is it. I can understand if this is not enough for you. When I’m with you, you get 100.” You get one mulligan in a sense of that “You’re leaving again” kind of a thing.
It’s a very attractive quality when a man is a great parent and involved in their child’s life. I dated a guy who didn’t see his daughter that often. It’s a big question mark like, “Can you not have a deep emotional connection? What is the deal here?” I’ve learned that a guy who’s involved with his kids is an appealing quality.
I would hope so.
It says a lot about the way someone interacts in life, can have relationships, make a relationship a priority, and all of those things.
There’s the generosity of spirit.
Let’s transition to the final transition and that is to an empty nest, as they say. There are two ways to think about an empty nest. The child is now eighteen, technically an adult, and then there’s the empty empty–nest. You no longer have your child living with you. Eric, you’ve done it. Julie, you’re a few years away. Let’s start with the plan. Let’s start with Julie. Have you started planning for this? Did it start at age one?
It started recently. I started realizing how I wasn’t traveling as much as I wanted to nor did I have the means to travel as much as I wanted to. I had this lightning bolt idea to Airbnb my house when I didn’t have my daughter. I have Western views of the mountains. I have a hot tub so I can get a premium price. It’s not the most beautiful house. It’s very modest but it has these features. I’ve put in a couple of extra beds so it can sleep with a lot of people. I started Airbnb-ing and it forced me to leave the house. Sometimes I couch-surf but mostly I would go to the mountains or fly somewhere. That got me thinking of opportunities when she goes to college. I could Airbnb my house for months at a time and go live in Europe for a month or two.
I look forward to you joining me there, Julie.
That’s my plan. I work for myself so I can work remotely. I would go plant myself somewhere and immerse myself in a new place for a month or two. That’s my empty-nest plan.
It’s a solid plan.
Eric, what is she missing as she’s contemplating this?
There’s a whole emotional component that you don’t even realize until it happened. It even takes some time to settle in. That’s what happened to me. The summer before she left for college, I was a disaster. I told people I was dating. It’d be like, “Just so you know, my daughter’s leaving for college in the fall. This summer is about her, but also my emotional state.” I’m not starting anything new because I don’t know how it’s going to be once she leaves. I was like, “We can date and see how things go, but I’m not going to be in something until I get through this transition because I don’t want to lean on anybody. I want to be in it.”
You’re like, “I want to savor these last few moments.”
There were so many emotions. I’m excited for my daughter because she’s going to be leaving for college. Also, I’m terrified for my daughter because she’s going to be leaving for college. I was excited that I’m going to get all this free time, not have parenting nights, have that flexibility, and not have to negotiate to travel and go to Thailand for 2 or 3 weeks, or whatever it is. I also knew that it was going to be a big shift in my emotions because I love this girl and I love my time with her, and suddenly, there weren’t going to be parenting nights.
It was hard to start thinking about that and how much I was going to miss her. She was worried about me too. She was like, “Are you going to be okay?” I was like, “Yeah, but it’s not going to be easy.” Those first few weeks were always that back and forth. There were days when it was like, “I miss her. I hope she’s okay. What am I supposed to do with myself?”
She’s part of your identity.
There are other days where I was like, “I have a bonus night off every night.” I could miss stuff because I’d be like, “I don’t have to do that tonight because I can do it this weekend.” It went from the scarcity mindset on both sides like scarcity of my free time and of my time parenting to an abundance mindset. I would get her back on Wednesdays. What I’d usually do is leave the office early at 2:30, run to the store, grab groceries for the weekend and for the time together, and then go pick her up at the bus stop. It would be Simone time and it was this awesome thing. Wednesdays were always her favorite day of the week. I remember Wednesday at the office at 2:30, I’m like, “I can stay.”
Some mixed emotions.
I’m like, “If I’m not already going to be in the car, when do I go to the grocery store?” Little logistical things that were built into the schedule that I didn’t have a schedule anymore. I also remember the biggest one was I’d go to the gym in the afternoon, come home, take a shower, and I was like, “I have a free night off. I should do something.” There was a freedom to be like, “I could just get my pajamas at 6:00 and be home.”
Realizing that there were nights and endless weekends to do whatever I wanted made that time off felt still precious but less fraught with, “I got to fill this time. I’ve got to get to the grocery store. I got to see my friends. I need to go out on dates.” That’s been wonderful. She was home for ten months for COVID and that screwed everything up.
A lot of families are struggling with that.
She called me one night to ask for advice. That reconnection feels good and I could go visit her. There are definitely days when I wake up super sad and miss her. There are days when I wake up and I’m like, “I can do anything I want with my life.”
I’m getting emotional thinking about it.
You won’t know how it feels until you’re in it. We can all plan. I was like, “I’m moving to someplace warm when Simone graduates.” By now I’m like, “No, I love it here. I can be in places for months at a time and still have my base here with my friends and my family of choice.” You don’t know until you get there, but it’s cool that you have some stuff in place so you have that flexibility and that opportunity to do that when the time comes.
It’s something to look forward to a little bit, especially when it can be a little difficult.
I can relate, especially when I had her 60% of the time and I had those three nights a week where it’s like, “I am going to maximize this. Every night is going to be planned.” If someone would cancel on me at the last minute, I would get so upset. It’s like, “You don’t understand how valuable that time is for me.” If someone is like, “I’m too tired to do something tonight.” I’m like, “You can’t do that.”
You got to power through. The last two questions are about empty nesting. One is your identity changes.
I stopped writing my blog because I wasn’t the Dating Dad anymore.
You’re still a parent but you’re not parenting in the same way. That’s an observation. The other one is, depending on the college thing, suddenly there’s going to be more money perhaps available because they should be on their shoulders.
I just made my last tuition payment. It was amazing.
That’s a big celebration.
The housing changes. Maybe you could downsize, for example. I’m having a conversation with my sister because my niece and nephew are close to being adults. I see my sister’s wheels turning, even thinking about what retirement might look like. She got a little place. She got a little condo by the shore. She’s like, “I want to spend more time there.” I sense the excitement that she has. She adores her kids.
You can be excited to be an empty-nester and also love your kids and be scared about it too.
It sounds like Julie, you’re like, “I’ll keep my place because it’s a resource. It’s an asset that can make money.” Eric, you said you consider moving to a new city.
I love my house so much. I can’t imagine getting rid of it. I’m looking at finding a beach home on a shore somewhere where the weather is warm and I can go for long weekends or longer periods of time.
I’m in a high-rise building in downtown Denver.
With a killer view, I might say.
It’s a nice place. It’s my box in the sky. The Solo studio that I built in it would have to be a kid’s room or something. Who knows? This building is filled with singles and then childless couples. There are almost no kids in this building. Lots of dogs, no kids, and a lot of empty–nesters. These folks were like, “We live down in South Denver, a four-bedroom place. We decided to downsize and have more walkable urban living.” You should see the glee on their face when they tell me about this. Let’s close with one piece of advice that you would give to solo parents to help them live a remarkable life. It’s okay to repeat something you’ve said before. What would you leave people with for a piece of advice?
Live both sides of your life fully and remarkably. Fill them with the things that make you happy. Try to stitch those two together. Love your solo time as much as you can, whether you’re out with friends or doing the damn laundry in front of the TV. All those things are important and wonderful. You can find appreciation and gratitude for those, and then live up your time with your kid in any way possible. Find ways to connect those two parts of your life whenever you can. The thing I always say is to look for the magic in every day. Find ways to spice up your life and also recognize the joys of the mundane things that make our life so interesting. That would be my advice.
One of the nice things about the mundane is you’re here to appreciate it. Most humans are no longer here to appreciate the mundane.
I cannot top what Eric said. I second that. You said it perfectly.
I’m going to leave with one as a behavioral scientist and this is something I witness a lot. I teach a lot of kids and I pay attention to what’s happening with familial dynamics, especially in this country. Mine is just to remember that a lot is out of your control. There’s this desire to see your children thrive to be successful and it can lead to overparenting. It’s hard. You can’t control everything. I was a child of a controlling parent. I recognize the motivation but I also recognize the risk.
First of all, trying to intervene, control and do everything to see that your child thrives is misguided because it assumes you know what is right and what matters in terms of that. There are some things that matter like good healthy food, sleep, keeping your kids safe, and exposing them to a diverse set of experiences. All of those things matter a lot for development, but it ignores the fact that challenges are good. Having a challenge and letting your kids solve the problem sets them up for lifelong success. Lastly, at least 40% of it is genetics. It’s already done. You chose your partner, your partner chose you, you combined those genes, and you gave them to your kid. That’s going to be a bunch of it, despite anything that you do. Be easy on yourself in that sense. That was just the roll of the dice in that way.
You’re going to make mistakes and you have to recognize that you’re human too.
Not all of it’s going to be perfect. The imperfections end up mattering in the long run. Chris Rock said, “Pressure makes diamonds.” It’s a friendly reminder that it’s not always going to be right, easy and that you have all the answers and you can be the sole fixer and solution for your kids.
Kids like to learn from your struggle too. When you make mistakes in front of them, apologize, take responsibility and say, “I screwed that up,” you’re showing them that it’s okay for them to fail as well.
Also, to teach some grace. Julie, it’s always fun to have you in the Solo studio.
Thanks for having me.
Eric, it’s great to make a Twitter friend into a real friend.
What a pleasure.
Thank you for both of your time, preparation, honesty and vulnerability.
It’s an honor to be here. Thank you so much, Peter.
- Friends With Benefits – past episode
- Making Remarkable Friends – past episode
- Only Child – past episode
- Solitude – past episode
- Bella DePaulo
About Eric Elkins
Eric Elkins is a strategist, author, professional speaker, and CEO of WideFoc.us, a social media agency. For more than a decade, his “Dating Dad” blog. Now an empty nester, he recently started exploring the digital nomad lifestyle.
About Julie Nirvelli
A friend and familiar voice, Julie Nirvelli has been Peter’s friend and Colorado resident for 17+ years. As a strong, independent and fun-loving person, Julie embraces the solo life. She is also a sponsor of the podcast, with her company Bachelor Girl productions, which offers you fun flirty t-shirts.