A Family Downsizing

Category: Weekly Columns

family downsizing

Family downsizing. No, I’m not referring to an economic downturn, though there are aspects of that to this story. This is about a family of seven that is becoming a family of four. One year ago our family consisted of my wife and me, our two boys, and our three dogs. In the past year, we lost two of our dogs and our older son will be going away to college – out-of-state – in the fall.

The dogs died of natural causes after long, loving, and pampered lives. Their deaths were sad but part of life. Our son’s acceptance to The Berklee College of Music was a blessing in that it was his only college application. He was single-minded in wanting to either study music there or go to a local community college and apply again. His academics were average and he didn’t even take any college entrance exams. His acceptance to Berklee was solely based on his audition and interview.

Frankly, I was surprised he was accepted though I’ve always thought his talent was obvious. Maybe I was just not getting my hopes or expectations up, but I was stunned that he was not only accepted but was accepted via early admission, an even more rigorous screening process. He easily could have been wait-listed and been included in the whole pool of applicants that don’t find out if they’ve been accepted until March.

He made the first cut with only another hundred or so early acceptance freshmen. I was thrilled for him. Then I was a bit freaked out for me, since the cost of attending this particular institution is quite high. That is a small part of the downsizing referenced in this column’s title. We can afford his tuition and expenses with some adjustment to our lifestyle but I’m more concerned about the changing family dynamic that his exodus will precipitate.

There’s no doubt that the energy in our home is changing. Just the hair level alone – on our floors – has already been severely reduced by the loss of two of our dogs. Now, the noise level will diminish significantly without my college-bound son’s regular drum practices. Quiet. What is that?

Every family faces such changes. Every parent knows if they’ve done their jobs well their children should be leaving. We are just facing the same changes other families face though it feels to me that it is happening too quickly. While I strongly advocate that parents should be their kid’s best parent rather than their best friend, my first-born is especially close to me and having him leave will be emotionally wrenching, without a doubt.

There’s another reality that I am facing that is different from my wife. I explored this
concept in a previous column – A Dirty Little Parenting Secret – which is about the reality that parents have different connections with each child. I am close with both my boys but there’s a special bond between my first-born and me, as stated above. Equally, my wife has a closer connection with our younger son.

The irony is that this is going to be OUR DEBT!

So, I’m facing being figuratively locked out! Not really, but my wife and younger son have those things they do alone together in the same way I have them with our older son. Where will I fit in once my older son is gone? Well, at least I’ll still have Simon, our last surviving dog. But, Simon is slowing down so we don’t play as much as we used to. Gee, this is starting to sound pretty dire!

Maybe I’ll have to develop a tighter relationship with my wife? Nah. Don’t want to do THAT! Actually, joking aside, that is exactly what I need to do, as our lives for a variety of not-to-blame-anyone reasons have grown far too separate. Again, nothing unusual. But, also not good.

It’s up to me – US – to make each other a priority again. Soon enough – three short years from now – it will just be the two of us when our younger boy heads off to NYU, the one college he plans on attending, though he will apply to others.

By that time, the bank accounts will be smaller. Our travel plans will be reduced to visiting the local mall and walks on the beach. Dinner out will be fast food only and we’ll be going to matinee movies and cutting out coupons regularly. Costco will be our store of choice, as it almost already is and Target will replace Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s for our clothes shopping.

Of course I am – hopefully – exaggerating since no one can predict the economy and that will play a huge role in how our lifestyle is re-defined and/or downsized. Regardless, there is a great opportunity here for my wife and me. We now can choose each other first. We now can really enjoy the blessing we have of being together. I just hope she doesn’t get one of those noisy little lap dogs!




  • http://twitter.com/3rhinomedia Don Stanley

    Thanks for sharing this story Bruce (I love the cartoon of the first day of school and first day of college ;-). As a parent (3 kiddos under 10) and a dog lover, I can only imagine what it’s like to go through these changes. I love that you make it clear you and your wife have an opportunity and choice here. Change is inevitable … but if we embrace it by making wise choices, change can make us and our families better. 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      PERFECT example of a GREAT comment – thx Don! #blogchat

  • Jetts31

    Congratulations to your son Bruce and have fun with all this time you’re soon about to have with your wife…and the 4 lap dogs she inevitably is going to buy! 

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thanks Jimmy – it ain’t gonna be easy!

  • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

    I love change, hate goodbyes, and wonder often why I stress about either because in my case I still have at least 15 more years until the last one leaves for college…and I’ll be 65! How many grand babies and sons and daughters-in-law will there be? That said, my heartstrings pull every time one of them leaves. I wake up and realize that the season of having them as children is over. And I cry! I have no idea what the tears mean. I don’t want them to stay (and they are like boomerangs-they always come back!), but the making of childhood in-the-home memories is over, and that realization always blindsides me. Never fails.
    I had a friend who sat in her living room on the first day without her last child at home and got freaked out by the silence that exposed an ongoing buzzing in the background. It took some time, but she followed the sound and discovered it was the refrigerator!- a sound that had always been there, but was never heard. She made me laugh and think….what’s going to be there when the noise and activity is lessened or gone? 
    I question making your spouse a priority. The problem I’ve seen my friends have is not their relationship with their spouse, it’s not knowing who they are in the world or the relationship without their children around. So, I’m sort of contradicting myself it seems! But I’ve seen marriages do just fine when children leave if there has been an ongoing dating routine as well as a commitment to personal discovery and growth (you know, hobbies, interests, things you do because you love them, not because you do them with your spouse). Seems like you already do that??? 
    Very long-winded today! LOL!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Lots of reflective and excellent thoughts in your comment, Betsy. To be clear on something, I don’t want or expect to make my spouse THE priority in my life, but hope the lack of our kids being such a dominant distraction will give us the opportunities to make us MORE of a priority in each other’s lives! We both have pretty serious hobby interests though my wife doesn’t have the SoMe outlet that I have which has been a total life-saver for me on so many levels. Thanks again for such a thoughtful comment!

      • http://twitter.com/CrossBetsy Betsy Cross

        I get it! Thanks Bruce!!

  • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

    As much as I adore my daughters, that is definitely one reason why Krista and I kept that intimacy/friendship throughout. We generally have coffee together twice/day, and frequently have a glass of wine together at night. Then, we have wine & chocolate scheduled at least one weekend day/week – inexpensive, yet priceless.

    We do not have the long walks on the beach since we live in Denver, but we have sunny tennis courts that we love to play on together!!

    Good luck w/the noisy lap dog – you know it’ coming…

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Everytime you talk about your marriage, it sounds better and better! Good for you AND Krista!

      • http://brianvickery.com Brian Vickery

        Must be the wine and the chocolate 😉

        • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

          Whatever works, BV!

  • Angela

     Even though our kids are relatively young, that time seems right around the corner for us. So nice that with all of the issues that may occur, you see it ultimately going full circle (in a positive way) for you & your wife!  Good luck with the transitions

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Thx Angela – I’m trying to convince myself! LOL…

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  • David Weber

    Very vulnerable self-reflections, well done.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      My son will be out on your coast, Professor. Will you keep an eye on him for me, please?