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Our Kids Drove Us Crazy

When Michael and Annette's children moved back home, Michael said the kids needed to find themselves, but Annette thought they should move on — and out. How did they find harmony under one roof?


Growing Pains

When we first met Annette and Michael Feinstein, they couldn't stop fighting about their "boomerang kids." Mark, then 26, and Robyn, then 25, had both returned home after college "with no intention of getting lives of their own," as Annette put it when we ran their story in May 1995. Even worse, their kids had brought four dogs between them, one of whom was accident-prone. "I'm tired of being a mother," lamented Annette, a retired schoolteacher who was ready to focus on herself — specifically to take dance classes and learn yoga. But whenever she raised the subject with Michael, a CFO for a national homebuilders company, he dismissed her, saying she should be more understanding because kids need to "find themselves." But after two years of a full house, Annette had had enough. She moved out.

"She says that they'll never be able to stand on their own two feet because I spoil and pamper them," Michael told us. "But I feel like I have to be their champion because Annette isn't." Annette suggested they seek counseling with Susan Heitler, PhD, a clinical psychologist in nearby Denver, and Michael agreed. With Dr. Heitler's encouragement, Michael, now 68, acknowledged he needed to tell the kids to start looking for jobs; and Annette, now 67, moved back home. Within weeks, Robyn found a position in a CPA's office and a place of her own. By the following fall, Mark was in medical school and living on campus. Now, almost nine years later, we caught up with the Feinsteins to find out how freedom feels.

Did They Succeed?

Annette: We retired to Phoenix not long after the kids moved out. Ever since they left, I've had the time and energy to do what I really want in life. I take painting classes, and I'm a certified yoga teacher. I also continue to see a therapist. I feel it helps strengthen my self-image.

Michael: We each keep evolving and growing and so does our relationship. We're independent in many ways, but we appreciate each other's interests. We have a great lifestyle. I'm consulting part-time, I play bridge often, and take classes in philosophy and history. Annette and Michael talk to their children on the phone almost every day. Mark, now 36, is a psychiatrist in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Robyn, now 35, lives in Denver; she's an accountant who's married with three children.

Michael: The great thing is that Mark and Robyn are glad that Annette insisted that they grow up and move out. They see now that she wasn't being selfish, and so do I.

Annette: As a family, we're closer now than ever. I think that's because we all have our own lives and we're not in each other's hair.

Michael: And Annette and I are now on the same wavelength; I have to admit, she was so right about the pleasures of an empty nest.

Annette: Well, it's not exactly empty! We have the "granddogs" — Thelma and Violet, and two new puppies, Rosi and Luci. It's funny, but once the kids and their dogs were gone, I realized I missed having pets of my own. I'm still cleaning carpets from an accident or two, but I don't mind, because this time, it was my choice to have them. Life is a work in progress, and change is what it's all about.

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