Back to school is coming and with it, some nests are emptying for the first time. Kids are going to college or moving out to start their lives, and that means various parents find themselves in a unique position that many have a difficult time wrapping their minds around. Now that the little people you’ve nurtured and watched grow are getting up and out of your house, what will you do with yourself? How will you handle your empty nest?
For some people, empty nest syndrome is a real issue that takes its toll on them. It’s that grief a parent feels when their child finally leaves home, that sense that you’ll never stop missing them even when they visit. How do you get over it and how do you even get ready for them to leave?
Don’t worry. We have you covered and we’ll show you what we’ve learned in preparing for our own broods to move along.
Embrace the inevitable
We know it can be difficult acknowledging your child leaving your home and beginning their own lives. You’ve been there for them, helped them grow, supported and cared for them and now… they’re taking those lessons on the road and starting their own journey beyond you. Accepting this new normal means doing a few simple things that make it easier to get ready for your now-grown little ones to go it alone (as it were).
Keep an “empty nest” journal. Write down what your kids are about to move onto and what you hope and are looking forward to for them. Also, what you’re worried about, the concerns you may have so you get them out of your head and face them. It helps you visualize the next steps in their lives and begin to familiarize yourself with it. As you do that, write down how your life will change and what you’ll do after your kids are out of the house. None of this means you’ll be able to completely accept it but it starts you on the path of understanding it and getting ready to let them go on their own.
Doing this allows you to see it as a natural next step rather than something to grieve or worry about as well as giving yourself some motivation for what comes next for you. This isn’t just a life change for them, it’s yours as well. As you wonder what life holds for them, pull back to see what you will do for you on this next leg of your path. By actually writing things down, we process them better.
Spend quality time
Sure, you spend time with your kids but now, get strategic. They’re leaving your home and that means you’ll be with each other less and in different ways. Create opportunities to engage with each other that focuses on who they are becoming and even establishes how you’ll maintain your connection when they’re gone. This is a great way to transition into letting go of the old and embracing the new.
These pockets of focused time set a stage for a more mature kind of bond. Your kids will always be your kids and you’ll always be their parent, but as we get older so do they. Seeing them for who they are becoming, not who we remember them to be, opens the door to get to know them as individuals, not just our children. These kinds of interactions also help them see you as having a life beyond being their parent. You’re now two adults with your own opinions, interests, and ideals that prompt more intriguing conversation and connection, contributing to positive growth in your relationship.
Indulge your hobbies and interests
You’ve focused on your kids, wrapped your mind around them leaving the nest, and spent quality time with them. What about you? This is, of course, all about setting you up to enjoy life beyond day-to-day parenting. Indulging your hobbies and interests are some of the best ways to do that. But as with everything else, take it slow and even try new things.
Spend more time with friends and other family members, establish your own rhythm for when your child has gone. It’s a balance, however. You don’t want to get so consumed with your interests and hobbies that you ignore your children who are about to leave (or anyone else, for that matter). You may even want to include your kids in some of the things you’re doing now because if it sparks their interest, it’s something you can continue to connect with across the miles. And if you’d rather not, then don’t. This is about you and what you want to give yourself.
Whatever you choose to do as you embrace your outside interests, open yourself up to doing what makes you feel good and energized. It’s not about filling a void but fulfilling your life.
Feel your feels
Not only is it okay to dread your children moving out and to miss them once they do, but it’s perfectly normal. You don’t need to feel like you have to suck it up and deal with it. Go ahead and cry it out, tell them how much you’ll miss them, wallow a little in the grieving that will happen at “losing” them. They’re your kids! You love them and you’ve been part of each other’s lives their entire existence. It doesn’t matter if you’re a single parent or an entire village was there to raise them, if they live in your home, leaving it hurts and makes you feel empty. Acknowledge it so you can let them go.
Conversely, if you welcome their independence and look forward to it, don’t hide that either. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids or that you won’t miss them from time to time. All it means is that you understand this is the natural next step in their growth and sharing that with them, showing them how excited you are for them means a lot.
My dad told each of us when we left for college, “Let me miss you a little.” He didn’t mean he couldn’t wait for us to go. He meant it as a way for us to feel good about taking that time to find our place in the world without feeling tied to him or my mom. He knew once we left, we needed to be in the experience of living on our own without feeling like we were tied to our parents. By encouraging our independence and celebrating it, we felt easier walking out that door and starting down that path.
Remember your kids…
As much as empty nest syndrome focuses on the parent, your child is venturing out into a whole new world by themselves. That means, they probably have some stuff they’re dealing with as they prepare to do that as well. They may be hesitant, nervous, clingy or even distant as they prepare to go away. Talk to them about it, let them get their own fears off their chest and reinforce that you’ll always be there. This is a next natural step for most children and it’s not always easy for them to take it. You want to encourage their independence without making them feel lost in it.
If you recognize that they are truly having a hard time with it and you don’t know how to talk to them or help them with it, reach out to their school counselor or a mental health care professional. Moving out is hard and with the way the world has been these last few years, it’s even harder. This transition for both of you can be difficult and seeking help to get over this hump is beneficial.
Children grow up. Their lives move them on from what childhood showed them. That’s our goal as parents, right? To raise our children so they go out into the world to be the best they can be on their own. The last few years shifted things, however. Leaving the parental "nest" has changed because life was uniquely frozen in place for awhile and getting back on our “independence” feet is taking some time. But it still happens, and preparing for it, embracing it, and parents understanding the importance of their children going out into the world is vital.
We’re aware that different cultures approach their children’s independence in different ways. Some families maintain a multigenerational attachment and we’re all about it. There is still a level of “empty nesting” in that as well. Your child may marry someone and this new family they’ve created now lives with you in the house you raised your own kids in. In that scenario, you’re still watching your kids become adults, even if they’re only introducing a new person into your home, not actually leaving it.
Understanding our kids are their own people takes a moment. It’s all right. They love you, you love them. The essence of that never changes, even if they and you do.