This post is for all the Moms and Dads. Whether you sent your child off to college this month, or you’re several years away from it, you’ll experience the empty nest. You’re saving for college, right? What thought have you given to what life will be like as an “empty nester?” Our culture doesn’t help parents prepare for the psychological part of this change. We put plenty of time and effort into preparing our child to leave home, but virtually no effort goes into helping Mom and Dad transition.
Somewhere around the time your child is ten years old, you realize that more than half of the time your child will live with you is already behind you. I remember hearing people say that. I remember hearing myself saying that. Before you know it, you’re in the high school auditorium watching your child graduate. You’re wondering to yourself, what the heck? How on earth did that happen? The last 18 years flashes by you as you watch that young man or young woman get a piece of paper that represents their independence from you. It’s the same little human you used to rock to sleep, kiss their boo-boos, and hold their tiny hands as you crossed the street. It all went by way too fast.
Suddenly, your kid’s room is a lot emptier. The house sounds silent. You’re now officially an “empty nester.”
I wish I could tell you I have all the answers to coping with being an empty nester. The fact is, my husband and I jokingly say that we’re the worst empty nesters ever! We simply miss our daughter terribly. She even went to college just two hours away by car so we saw her frequently. I still felt as though my heart had been cut out, thrown on the pavement, and run over by a truck. I felt a huge sense of loss. After five years, and being so proud of the adult she’s become, (read her blog here) I still miss her. I now realize I’ll always feel this way. It’s the price of being a close family, so I’m sticking with the belief that this is a good thing.
I do realize that some parents are elated when their kids leave. I know a few of these people, but most parents I talk to miss their kids a lot. I once asked someone who was in her early seventies how long it took before she stopped missing her kids. She replied, “I’ll let you know when that happens.” I recently talked to a friend who sent the last of her four kids off to college. She shared how quiet the house felt, and how she and her husband realize each day with sadness that no one else is coming home that night. She was holding back the tears. My heart hurt for her.
What’s a loving Mom or Dad supposed to do? I wish someone, anyone, had given me some good advice at the time. Here’s what I can now suggest to help you ease the transition to the Empty Nest.
Begin thinking a full year out about what you’ll do with the time and energy that went to having kids living with you. Then plan to start doing it. Is there a hobby you want to explore? Is there a trip you’ve been putting off? Do you want to go back to school yourself? If you’re married, this is a great time to do activities together and to start a new phase of your relationship. Have a date night!
2. Acknowledge your feelings
You won’t know how you’ll feel until the time comes. You might be one of those parents who are glad to have the house to yourself. You might be overwhelmed with sadness. You might feel exactly how you expect you’ll feel. Just realize that you will have strong feelings. It’s a big life change. Of course you’re going to have an emotional reaction of some kind. However you feel is right for you.
Agree with your kid how you’ll stay in touch. Find a happy medium between having enough contact so you feel connected while respecting their independence. FaceTime and Skype are some of the greatest inventions of our time. Use them. It’s much more satisfying to see your kid’s face than to only hear their voice or read texts. Avoid creeping on their social media.
4. Understand the relationship changes
Your kid has grown up. While you’ll always be there to offer encouragement to your kid, you’ve got to let them live their own life and be their own person. Your relationship will migrate to having a relationship with an adult.
I have a very clear memory of taking a walk with our daughter when she was a sophomore. We were back visiting my own mother. I don’t even remember exactly what my daughter and I were talking about, except it was about life. She and I each let out a loud laugh that carried through the air on that country road. In that moment, I realized our relationship had changed. Of course I was still her Mom, but the conversation felt more like two girlfriends talking.
Raising a child is the most important thing you’ll ever do. Your job as a parent is to raise independent competent people who will contribute to the world in a positive way. If you’re proud of your child, you did a good job!
Did you like this topic? Do you have other suggestions for parents becoming empty nesters? Share your comments in the box. Subscribe to our blog to receive new posts as soon as we share them!