How to Survive the Empty Nest
by Lisa Young Stiers
(Εpsilon Omicron, Indiana State University)
Ten years ago, Kathy Wise Butkiewicz’s life changed dramatically. “We went from having two teenagers in the house to an empty nest,” Butkiewicz says, as she remembers the fall her twins left for college. While she was proud of this new chapter in her children’s lives, there was also sadness. “I’m an emotional person. I definitely cried,” Butkiewicz remembers. “But it was really exciting to see them do this.”
Butkiewicz’s husband, Ray, often reminded her that her children were behaving exactly as they hoped they would —as independent college students, making their own decisions and choices. But she still enjoyed answering the occasional “mom” questions, such as how to cook a favorite food or what kind of water is used in the iron.
“A parent’s emotions can run the gamut when a child leaves home,” says Kimble Richardson, M.S., LMHC, LCSW, LMFT, Physician and Referral Liaison at St. Vincent Stress Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. “This transition is a process. There will be a myriad of emotions—some will be very sad, while others will be happy. That’s all normal.”
For both mothers and fathers, an empty nest is bittersweet, Richardson says. The realization that time has passed quickly and that your child is grown can be hard to accept. Mothers—both those who are employed outside the home and those who stay home full-time—often question their purpose, now that their primary responsibility of child rearing is complete. On the other hand, fathers often see the transition as a bit of an adventure, with excitement about potential plans and extra time available to spend on hobbies and with their spouse.
In a marriage, an empty nest can expose lingering issues, particularly for couples who have lost focus on their marriage and replaced it with a focus on their children and youth activities. “It’s an opportunity to redefine, rediscover, revisit the relationship with your mate,” Richardson says.
The key to a successful transition is to plan ahead, Richardson stresses. As your child’s date of departure approaches, start dreaming about how you might spend your extra time. “You should also include your children in the plans,” Richardson says. “Their role and status in your home is going to change, too.” For example, don’t remodel their childhood bedroom without giving fair warning. And set ground rules for weekend visits and summers home.
Butkiewicz encourages parents to learn as much as they can about college life before their children leave for campus. Times have changed since you attended college. “There are a great many things that are different,” Butkiewicz says of her years at Butler University, where she was initiated into the Alpha Chi chapter of Alpha Chi Omega in 1970. “Today’s students face different decisions, choices and demands on their time.” While her children were still in high school, Butkiewicz served as Epsilon Omicron’s chapter advisor, a position that gave her a first-hand glimpse into campus life. “I could talk to them about what was going on on their campus and what was going on in Greek life,” she says. Daughter Ann pledged Sigma Kappa, while John joined Phi Gamma Delta.
While not everyone can volunteer with local collegiate chapters, many universities offer parent orientation along with new student programs. Attend them, Butkiewicz urges. They can offer tips to effectively support your student and an introduction to student life and expectations. A trip to her son’s out-of-state campus helped ease the transition for Cindy Schaefer, an initiate of Gamma Delta at the University of Denver. “I had just started teaching again, so I couldn’t go down with him and my husband to drop him off,” Schaefer remembers. “I flew down over the weekend so I could see with my own eyes where he would be living, meet some folks and see the campus. I’m glad I did that. It helped me to be able to picture him on campus.”
While this likely won’t be your last chance for a family vacation, take advantage of the summer before college to plan a family trip or host a family celebration, Richardson recommends. Plan something symbolic as a send-off.
After your child leaves home, you might find yourself dwelling on an empty calendar and empty rooms. Instead of lamenting the loss of activities with your children, use your new-found free time to rekindle old interests, develop new hobbies, and spend time with family and friends.
“Think of it as the next stage in your life,” Butkiewicz explains. “We now had free time on weekends to visit our parents. While our social activities hadn’t necessarily revolved around the kids, now we had time to do things with our neighbors and go to ISU basketball games.” Butkiewicz also extended her Alpha Chi Omega volunteer activities—serving as a member of the Alpha Chi Omega Foundation Board of Trustees.
When her son, Christopher, started college, Schaefer had recently returned to her teaching career. “That definitely filled any void left from not having basketball games and other events to attend,” she remembers. “Plus, my daughter was still at home, and I had her events to attend.” When Tara began college two years later, Schaefer’s situation changed. The family had recently relocated from Washington to Virginia, combining the empty-nest transition with a new home, unemployment and few new friends—major life transitions she doesn’t recommend others undertake all at once. Schaefer deliberately found new endeavors to fill her time. “I didn’t mope around the house, as I had read some folks do,” she says. “I got on the substitute list and joined several organizations to meet people. That’s when I joined an Alpha Chi alumnae group. I eventually did some more volunteer work, which led to a job with a non-profit.”
Richardson urges parents to reach out to other empty-nesters for support and encouragement. “Don’t feel guilty about asking for help or reaching out to others,” he says. “If you think it might be difficult the first few weeks, talk to people and make plans. Ask for what you need, and people are generally willing to help.” Take advantage of your support network, Schaefer agrees. “My biggest suggestion is not to move as you begin this stage,” she says. “It would be better not to lose a church support group or your neighbors or whatever you have that keeps you involved.”
Finally, be realistic about the involvement you will have in your child’s life on campus. Lack of communication doesn’t mean lack of caring. It can simply mean your child is adjusting well and thriving in campus life. “Try to take the hints your kids give as to how often they want to communicate and how,” Schaefer recommends. “They will let you know.”
Butkiewicz’s son, John, attended Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where the family was living at the time. Although John moved into the dorm, Butkiewicz hoped to see him often, an expectation not realized.
“Every once in a while we’d see evidence that he had come home to do laundry, but that was it,” she says. “With boys, you have to be more in tune and ask more questions. We had to make intentional plans to see him.” Daughter Ann attended Bradley University, a few hours drive from the Butkiewicz home, but she invited her parents to campus and sorority events often.
Soaring into Adulthood
Becoming an empty-nester is a parental right of passage. “The vast majority of people get through this transition just fine,” Richardson says. But it’s also important to recognize when it might be helpful to seek professional therapy—for example, if your emotions don’t stabilize after a couple of months or if you resort to alcohol or drugs to cope. “It’s common and reasonable for people to initiate therapy during life transitions, just like these,” Richardson says. Those who face severe depression or thoughts of suicide should seek professional help immediately. For most, a rewarding relationship awaits between parent and adult child— it’s a beginning, not an end. “We enjoy this phase immensely,” Schaefer says. “It feels like the proper culmination of parenting.”
Tips to Survive the Empty Nest
For the past 18 years, your goal has been to raise happy, healthy, responsible adults. Congratulations! You’ve succeeded; now, you’re left with an empty next. What do you do next?
- Make a wish list: What have you always wanted to do but never had the time?
- Reconnect: In the craziness of raising teenagers, it’s sometimes easy to lose touch with your spouse, old friends and family.
- Be ready for a range of emotions: Realize that a change has occurred in your life, and you are probably going to have to deal with a host of feelings. Understand that these emotions are a normal part of the transition.
- Take care of yourself: Don’t just sit around worrying about your child. Get up; get moving. Start an exercise program; take a yoga class; go for a walk.
- Celebrate your accomplishment: Although being a parent never ends, you have reached a major milestone —your child is independent and making her own way in the world. Celebrate that achievement.
- Know when to seek help: If you still feel unsettled after a couple of months, a professional therapist can help you through this transition. Using alcohol or drugs as a way to ease the transition might also indicate a need for professional therapy. If you face severe depression or thoughts of suicide, seek professional help immediately.
In August 2009, Melissa Donovan d’Arabian, alumna of the Alpha Iota chapter at the University of Vermont, beat out thousands of hopefuls to be the season five winner of The Next Food Network Star. Her prize: her very own show on Food Network! With four daughters all under the age of five, a working husband and a busy schedule, Melissa is a shining example of how to do it all and have it all.
An Average Day
Melissa will be heading back to the Food Network studios in New York City soon, meaning almost every minute of every day will be fully scheduled. In the car from the airport to the hotel, she will conduct interviews and conference calls. When she arrives at the Food Network studios, it will be immediately off to makeup and filming. The day will continue with cluster meetings and even more interviews and phone calls. These 14-hour-plus days begin very early and end very late, not allowing much in the way of down time. Surprisingly, these are the kinds of work days Melissa prefers. She is able to completely immerse herself in her work and focus only on the tasks at hand. However, these “average days” only last for a couple of weeks, and then it’s back to her home in Seattle.
Although the majority of Melissa’s “average days” are spent at her Seattle, Washington home, Melissa’s job knows no state boundaries. Once the older kids are off to preschool, Melissa’s day is full of testing and proofing recipes, interviews, phone calls and meetings, and work in her home office. Although the family utilizes a live-in au pair, life still happens—the phone rings, kids get sick, friends and neighbors visit. With kids in the kitchen, kids on her lap during interviews, and with all of the other normal day to day happenings, Melissa describes these working days as much more stressful than any of the others. But does she complain? Thanks to the constant support from her husband and her love for her family, she wouldn’t change a thing.
A Life Lesson
Melissa’s juggling and prioritizing skills have not come easy; it has definitely been a life-long learning process. When Melissa’s mother passed away while Melissa was still attending college, Melissa learned that it was ok to ask for help. Through the love and support from her Alpha Chi Omega sisters, it was the first time she truly let people in to see her vulnerability and imperfection. Melissa remarks on the lesson she learned, “I can feel good about myself, be confident in who I am and still ask for help from others—what a great door that opened.”
Having gone through this experience, Melissa has been able to truly be aware of her own strengths and weaknesses. She accepts and understands weakness, but is always trying to improve. Melissa credits this in direct relation to her The Next Food Network Star win, “Being okay with what I don’t know and the strategy of what I do know… I call that playing a game I can win.”
Tips and Tricks
Melissa compares prioritizing life to buying a house, “What features do you need or want? What can you do without?” She recognizes that not everything is going to be done and not everyone is going to be seen. Her suggestion: find your mission statement and create a set of goals to make it reality. And from time to time when your priorities become askew, refocus to your mission. Don’t hesitate to ask for help—work together with your partner. But most important, enjoy the downtime because time is precious. At the end of her day, Melissa never misses Friday Night Date Night with her husband Philippe and always tries to reserve weekends for family and friends.
As important as goals and a mission are to Melissa, she really credits her success to one simple fact: “I became a morning person by choice.” Although she jokes, “I love my bed! I love sleep more than anything,” she understands that in order to get everything that needs to be done in the day, she needs the few extra hours in the morning. Once she committed to the earlier mornings, her body adjusted to the different hours, she had more energy and found that she was better able to accomplish what she needed to. Although this “secret to her success” is simple, she suggests it for every woman, man and child that needs that extra push.
Although juggling life’s responsibilities may seem difficult, it is simple to Melissa, “Find more time in the day or decrease the number of things to do. It is that easy… just do it and be done with it.” Many would think that going from a full-time stay-at-home mom to an overnight network star would be too much to handle, but Melissa accepts it with ease and grace. When asked if she ever saw life like this when she entered The Next Food Network Star competition in late 2008, “The good news is I’m just as happy now as I was before. I love my job. I love what I’m doing. I love my life!”
Chosen in recognition of its delicately beautiful design and Greek mythological musicality, our seven founders—Anna, Olive, Bertha, Amy, Nellie, Bessie and Estelle—chose the lyre to represent Alpha Chi Omega and her sisters. Whether it was encrusted with diamonds and pearls or made of aluminum, for over a century, women have loyally and proudly worn the lyre over their heart in the form of the lyre badge. Today, the lyre badge is consistent from member to member, having been molded and set from uniform plates and dies, but this was not always the process. Many Alpha Chi Omegas are unaware of the transformation—the evolution—the badge has undergone.
In the beginning, the badge was an item of personalization. The size was generally larger and the jewels used were of the owner’s choice. The strings of the lyre were plain and the scroll was flat with the letters “ΑΧΩ” in gold on a black background. Although many badges were similar in style, the standardization of the badge did not begin until 1897. The first standard passed: all badges were required to have three jewels.
As the times changed and the years progressed, so did the badge. The first official jeweler, J. F. Newman, was appointed, allowing more and more badges to be made. Yet, the process was still by hand. As the badge was still based on personal preference in regards to size and jewels, the beginning of 1906 saw a surge in popularity for the miniature sizes— badges measuring only a half an inch or so. Still heavy in the popularity of the “miniature” trend—a trend that would not find its decline for another six years— the 1910 convention delegates recognized a new standard: all badges were restricted to only the use of pearls and/or diamonds as jewel accents.
The 1920s brought with them a new official jeweler, L.G. Balfour, and a greater production of handmade badges. In 1929 a new regulation was passed: all badges had to have 22 pearls and/or diamonds. It was not until 1940 that the badge saw its next change—mass production from dies began.
Since then, Alpha Chi Omega has appointed two more official jewelers— Burr Patterson and Auld in 1986 and Herff Jones in 2004. Members once again have the choice of featuring three jewels, but are restricted to the use of only 10 karat yellow or white gold. And now, there are even more ways members can display their Alpha Chi Omega loyalty—vintage style badges, rings and necklaces are available.
The badge has undergone quite the transformation since our founding in 1885, but it has never lost its “shape.” The lyre continues to be our symbol—a symbol of friendship, kindness and sisterhood.
Badge Basics You May Not Know
- All new initiates must purchase a badge, except if the new initiate is a legacy. She may choose to wear the badge of her family member.
- There are 22 different badges a member can choose from, including the most recent addition—a 1934 vintage replica badge.
- Herff Jones makes about 5,000 badges yearly for Alpha Chi Omega. Membership is verified with each badge order. This means that any reorders or multiple badge purchases must first be verified through Headquarters.
- Pre-1950s badges are engraved with the member’s name, chapter and year of initiation on the back. Badges from the 1960s and 1970s have a number (such as AB203) on the base—these badges are traceable. After the 1970s, badges were engraved with only the member’s initials, making it very difficult, if not impossible to trace.
- Returned badges are acquired via online auctions, garage sales, death, resignations and other means. Arrangements should be made to insure the badge is returned safely to Headquarters upon a member’s death if an Alpha Chi Omega family member is not present.
by Leslie Abramsky Block
Local Convention Co-Chair
(Theta Tau, Rutgers University)
I attended my first convention in 1998. I clearly remember driving to Norfolk, Virginia from my home in Maryland, in my one week-old, shiny red Mustang. I remember feeling a little anxious; I didn’t know what to expect. Convention was as new to me as my first brand-new car.
That convention was a whirlwind. I made many amazing new friends and learned so much about “big” Alpha Chi Omega. As I drove back home, I promised myself that I’d attend another convention.
Now that I am looking forward to attending my seventh convention this summer, I know exactly what to expect:
I expect late nights reconnecting with sisters from across the country whom I’ve met through past conventions.
I expect to hear about the accomplished past and the promising future of our Fraternity.
I expect to make treasured new friends among the collegiate and alumnae members who will join together to celebrate 125 years of our sisterhood.
I expect to learn about the great works of the Foundation in supporting victims of domestic violence at the always emotional Foundation Luncheon.
I expect to find more than a few new “AXO goodies” at the Carnation Boutique and from the various vendors who’ll be in attendance.
I expect to hear news of exciting new housing projects across the country from the Housing Corporation.
I expect to buy “stars” at the “Star Booth” in honor of many special sisters, with the proceeds benefiting the Foundation.
I expect for the weekend to fly by in a flash, but to fill me with enough memories to last until the 2012 convention!
Although Alpha Chi Omega Convention may no longer have that “new car smell” for me, I am as excited for this one as I was for my first. I can’t wait to see you all this summer!
by Audra Levi Priluck
(Alpha Psi, UCLA and Epsilon, USC)
“Dear Alpha Chi Omega, I always will treasure…” — Do you know this song?
Listen to Dear Alpha Chi Omega now!
More than 10 years ago, I started leading song workshops for collegiate chapters in Southern California. It all started when I brought my portable tape cassette recording with me to the 2000 National Convention. I learned 50 Alpha Chi Omega songs that summer, simply by asking convention attendees to sing me their favorite song! And now, 10 years later, I have a digital audio recorder (which is half the size and weight of that tape cassette recorder), and I keep it in my purse 24/7.
My Maternal Grandmother, Estelle Karp, taught me how to sing when I was a very little girl. The first songs I learned included Annie’s “Tomorrow” and Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You.” Once I got a little older, and I developed my own musical tastes, my favorite tunes came from talented musicians like Huey Lewis & The News, Chicago, Kenny Loggins, the Indigo Girls and Broadway musicals. In college, a whole new world opened up to me when I joined Alpha Chi Omega and flipped through a Fraternity Songbook for the first time.
A few of our Fraternity’s songs have created unforgettable memories:
- When I performed “After All” at the 2002 National Convention’s final banquet…
- When I serenaded my husband with the “Sweetheart Song” at our wedding reception..
- When I participated in the UCLA recolonization preference ceremony, singing “In This Very Room” with collegians from multiple chapters across Southern California…
Music from our Fraternity is everywhere and easier than ever to share with your sisters. Our Fraternity’s music history is so rich, and filled with treasures that we don’t share often enough. Want to learn a new Alpha Chi song, but don’t know where to look? Now, thanks to new websites and easy electronic file sharing technology, there are several ways we can keep music “fresh” within our alumnae and collegiate chapters. Alumna Amy Zoldak has a page dedicated to Alpha Chi songs.
Perhaps one day, we can have a comprehensive archive of music files that are easily accessible by all members of Alpha Chi Omega. But until then, I can record and email anything! Technology has made it so incredibly easy and possible. I’ve even left cell phone voicemails with a song or two. I welcome you to contact me via email or Facebook with your song requests, and I will help however I can.
In recognition of MacDowell Month, learn a new Alpha Chi song! There are so many terrific melodies out there, original songs and parodies. I know your chapters will truly enjoy them, and the songs might even become part of your regular repertoire!
“…Dear Alpha Chi Omega spells beauty for me.”
Audra is one of the featured speakers at this summer’s National Convention in Washington D.C. Find out more!
by Jennifer Crotty
(Delta Mu, University of Massachusetts)
During my ten-plus years as an Alpha Chi Omega, I have often heard about our Foundation’s support of the MacDowell Colony in Petersborough, New Hampshire, particularly in February, which we celebrate as MacDowell Month. However, despite living only an hour or so away, I had never been there in person. So when the opportunity arose to visit the MacDowell Colony for their Medal Day in August 2009, I decided to go and experience Alpha Chi Omega’s first altruistic project for myself.
Two of my Zeta Zeta (Boston, Mass.) sisters, Rashmi Khare (Theta Omicron, MIT) and Lexi Swinimer (Iota Psi, Elon), and I started off the day with a picnic in a field while listening to the Medal Day ceremony. Following the ceremony, the entire colony is open for visitors to explore. We started off by visiting some of the common areas, such as the library, which holds a work from each artist to have ever been in residence at the colony.
We also participated in the Medal Day art project, which was a giant yarn weaving. However, the most important stop on our tour, we saved for last – the Star Studio, which was built in 1911 with funds from Alpha Chi Omega.
Nestled deep in the woods, the Star Studio is a simple structure comprised of a bedroom/living room, bathroom and kitchenette. “Tombs” inscribed with the names of every artist to have ever been in residence at the Star Studio adorn the walls and the 1911 dedication plaque is still on display. Whereas the building itself is simple, the feeling of being in the place where Alpha Chi Omega’s long legacy of altruism started was quite profound.
Awarded each year on the 2nd Sunday of August, the Edward MacDowell Medal is given by The MacDowell Colony to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to his or her field; the ceremony is open to the public. If you are able, I encourage you to attend and experience the colony yourself.
Visit the MacDowell Colony.
by Rachel Wong
(Iota Pi, Houston Baptist University)
Three years ago, I would’ve never imagined myself being an Alpha Chi Omega, or even being chosen to represent the Iota Pi chapter as its President. Attending Leadership Academy this year has been a life changing experience. Because this would be my second time to attend Leadership Academy, I thought that I would be taught the same things, but I was wrong. This year I learned how to lead my chapter with our Symphony, how to live out our Ritual. I also learned about what kind of leader I am and how my leadership skills coincide with my executive board. From every guest speaker, to every session, to vendors; even the location was great!
I came back to Houston Baptist University with a fervent desire for my chapter to understand the true meaning of being an Alpha Chi Omega; that being an Alpha Chi Omega is a privilege and that we all must understand the foundation of Alpha Chi Omega, our Ritual. The things that I learned this year at Leadership Academy have been helpful in my journey as Chapter President and have given my sisters a new appreciation for our sorority. We have learned how to live our ritual daily, and we know what it means to be a sisterhood; a sisterhood that “sees and appreciates all that is noble in another. ”
by Jensine Frost Moyer
Local Convention Co-Chair
(Delta Tau, Minnesota State-Mankato and Alpha Lambda, University of Minnesota)
To me, convention is all about what Alpha Chi Omega is about for me: seeing friends and spending time with sisters who make being involved in the organization all worthwhile. I have looked forward to each of the seven (soon to be eight) conventions I have been fortunate enough to attend. It is always so fun to see the women I’ve roomed with at conventions in the past, or served alongside as PCC, or collaborated with as a Chapter Advisor, or even in the last convention for me, working with a woman from the chapter I advised that went on to serve as a PCC herself. It is about our Real. Strong. Women. and connecting and reconnecting with them to make the organization bigger and better every year.
Welcome to Washington D.C., Alpha Chi Omega!
by Andrea Bruno
(Alpha Eta, Mount Union College)
As a collegian, I never knew joining Alpha Chi Omega would lead me to all the opportunities it has led me to today. Throughout college, I was involved with many organizations and extracurricular activities. Alpha Chi Omega, however, was different, and it had a special place in my heart. Still, although my interest was deep, I would have never fathomed what lie ahead for me with my continued sisterhood. During college, it was apparent that I had a passion for Alpha Chi Omega. I was Panhellenic Delegate my sophomore to junior year, and then went on to become Panhellenic President my junior to senior year. I loved the new view of Greek Life and all that the Greek organizations offered to me and the fellow students on campus. My leadership positions within the chapter and on Panhellenic Council definitely added to my knowledge and passion for Greek Life. As my days went on at Mount Union College, I wondered what the next step would be for me. Would I go straight on to law school, would I get a job, would I become a volunteer?
After a visit from my Chapter Consultant, another idea came about. I could potentially work for the organization that meant so much to me during my college career! I thought it was so fascinating from the moment I met my Chapter Consultant that she was another sister from San Diego, and here she was in Alliance, Ohio visiting my chapter. I thought her job was so interesting and exciting. I was still undecided about what my future may hold, however, now the idea of becoming a Chapter Consultant for Alpha Chi Omega was becoming more and more engrained in my thoughts. During my senior year, I knew that I wanted to work for a non-profit organization, and I realized I needed a break before entering law school. With this in mind I couldn’t wait to apply for the chapter consultant position. As I went through the application process, I realized that this would be an opportunity for me to explore what the world had to offer, to take in new sights, and to meet my sisters across the country. The more and more I had the opportunity to think about the adventures that lie ahead for me, the more I began to see my future unfold.
Today, remembering this story and how my beginning started with Alpha Chi Omega, I am truly blessed to have had this opportunity. This year, thus far, has not only been an amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity for me, but it also has allowed me to grow as a woman and sister of Alpha Chi Omega. I thought I had a grasp on what Alpha Chi Omega meant to me when I graduated from college, however, this year has only opened my eyes even further to the endless possibilities and networks of our sisterhood. The people I have met, the friends and networks I have gained, and even those planes that I almost missed, I would have not been the same person I am today if it wasn’t for my first job at Alpha Chi Omega. In the realm of first jobs, this has to be one of the best.
Interested in being a Chapter Consultant? You can apply!