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The Joys and Sorrows of Emancipation

YAY! FINALLY! That was the sentiment that Ruth and I exclaimed seven years ago after our youngest daughter moved to Los Angeles. Thirteen years younger than her oldest sibling Alaina, Alyssa was the last of our children to leave home. We had raised kids for 34 years! At age 20 Alyssa was ready for emancipation–and so were we! Alyssa was afraid that our marriage would deteriorate in the absence of kids, but was very relieved to learn that our empty nest only served to enhance the bond between Ruth and me. After all, we loved being together the first six years of our marriage before having children, and we were never a child-centered couple. So, Alyssa matured during her two and one-half years in La La Land and we thrived in our childless home.

Extended Sharon Family

Fortunately, Alaina, son Michael (18 months Alyssa’s senior) remained in town with their partners (and two young granddaughters) and we got together often enough. Then Alyssa and her boyfriend (now husband) Chris moved back from L.A. in 2013, so the family was reunited.

Jim and Alyssa at her weddingThe coziness shifted dramatically in 2016. Two days after their April wedding, Alyssa and Chris moved to Bellingham, WA for Chris to accept an exciting job transfer in a desirable area of the country that the couple had been seriously considering. Ruth and I had a hard time letting go of Alyssa, but celebrated her and Chris’s enthusiasm and another growth opportunity. I felt the same when Michael followed suit six months later, moving to Seattle with Dana, his bride of one year. Bittersweet prevailed!

During the past year, we’ve arranged several visits to each other’s homes, but each visit has been for just a fewSharons at Alyssa's wedding days and interspersed with work and get-togethers with other family members and friends. Very recently I felt very hurt, slighted, disappointed and angry when Alyssa seemingly disregarded a plan we had arranged to meet about three hours early than the time she contacted us. I soon realized that Alyssa thought the plan was much looser, but a range of emotions surfaced for me during a tense phone conversation with Alyssa and in processing my feelings afterwards. Those feelings ranged from jealousy of the amount of time she had spent with her in-laws during her brief time in Denver, to hypersensitivity over remarks made, to worrying that she would care increasingly less about me as I aged. I also deeply sensed that for all the independence and freedom we had each enjoyed apart from one another, my family is extremely important to me. I shared all of those feelings with Alyssa, who received them well and reciprocated her own during and shortly after my initial upset.

My parents and I exchanged tearful goodbyes when we moved across the country from PA to CO in 1973. However, we arranged one-to-two week visits a couple times per year and had less interrupted time, especially when we visited them. The same bittersweet feelings and tensions existed between us.

Jim and MichaelOur story has become quite common in our increasingly mobile society. As therapists and relationship coaches who have heard numerous accounts of family conflict amidst geographically distant families, we frequently witness that fighting covers the underlying love and vulnerability that each person feels. Vital courage is required to examine one’s own array of emotions and for all to communicate them in a direct, clean manner. I’m so glad that Alyssa and Michael have learned communication skills so that we’re able to clear issues that periodically arise, sometimes in a flash, amidst our mutual emancipation journeys.

Your relationship coach,

Jim Sharon

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