Empty Nest: Day 172

Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

A year ago, my daughter was nearly finished with the first semester of her senior year of high school. She was looking forward to college, and I was looking forward to her going to college. Then six months ago, it felt as though she had ripped the rug from under our feet when she ran away and claimed she was “terrified” of us – with absolutely no warning, no fights, no problems to warn us of the impending accusations. Within half an hour, my dreams of dropping her off at college, sending her care packages, and hearing all about her experiences as a college freshman were destroyed. If that sounds selfish, it is. I wanted to be a college mom. I proudly wore my “CSC Mom” t-shirt every weekend. I bragged on her to anyone and everyone. I just knew she was going to be successful, whether she ended up as a high school band director or as a music store owner. I thought I was supporting and encouraging her dreams. I cried when she got the John Phillips Sousa Award at the spring band concert (as did she). So many happy memories . . .

It has been nearly six months since she left. I still want for her what I want for both my girls: for them to be happy, healthy, productive members of society. She’s young. There’s still plenty of time for that to happen. And that is what brings me to my point: there is plenty of time for her to find her way. That is up to her now. I cannot carry that load for her, no matter how badly I want to. The load I must carry is my own. I need to be a happy, healthy, productive member of society. That is what every Empty Nester needs to understand. We have been selfish on behalf of our children. We want the best for them, we want to do everything we can for them, we want to prepare them for life. But when they leave the nest, we must allow them to flutter, to test their wings, and eventually, to soar on the wind.

Our priorities shift from our children to ourselves when they leave the nest. And that isn’t a bad thing. In my case, it was akin to ripping a bandage off. Granted, it was a big friggin’ bandage and it left an exposed wound that still hasn’t healed, but at least it happened quickly. I hope that eventually we’re able to heal that wound, but for now, my focus is on my marriage and myself. It is time for my husband and I to get to know each other again, to plan for the future, and to nourish our dreams.

And that’s OK.

Surviving the Empty Nest

An Empty NestThe empty nest. It looms out there in front of us, from the time our children are born. At first, we are busy changing diapers, timing feedings and worrying about ear infections. Soon, we are talking to the Parents as Teachers representative about milestones, worrying about whether or not our child is on schedule.  We put our children on the school bus for that first day of school, hoping they can find their way and will make new friends. In my case, I fretted and worried, but my little girl put her right foot up on that first step of the bus, turned to look at me and said, “See ya!”

Subaru commercial: first bus ride

And she was gone. The next few years fly by . . . school programs, PTO meetings, school carnivals, sleepovers with friends. Soon they transition to high school and get their permits (my, oh, my . . . those should really come with blood pressure meds for the parents) and start dating. Before you know it, you are sitting in the high school gym watching your baby walk down the aisle in a black gown while Pomp & Circumstance plays in the background. Photos are snapped, tears are shed. But your sadness is tempered by the excitement for your child, knowing that they have so much promise, that so many great experiences lie ahead of them. Whether they choose to attend college or pursue work, you are proud of your baby.

But there’s more. So much more. Your life is getting ready to change. Your nest will soon be empty, whether your child is moving into a dorm or getting an apartment. How do you handle your baby leaving? Here are some tips to help you make the transition, in no particular order:

1. Independence is the Goal. Remember that your goal has always been to raise an independent person who is a happy individual. Parents have a unique job – our job is successful when we are no longer needed. We have to transition from controller to supporter.

2. Be supportive. Your child is still transitioning, and still needs your support, even if he or she is no longer living with you. Be there to offer guidance when requested. And remember – your child may make different decisions than you do. And that’s OK.

3. Let go of responsibility. This is the only way a teenager can learn responsibility. You must let go of responsibility (gradually!) and let your child make decisions on his or her own. The hard part for us parents is that the teenager may not always make the decisions we would make for them. But once again, that is OK. Let your child know that you love him or her, and let them make decisions – and accept the consequences that come with those decisions. I read an Psychology Today blog that really explained this process of “letting go” well. Check it out here.

4. Shift focus. Raising a child is consuming. Many parents find themselves so wrapped up in their children that they lose all sense of self. Personally, one thing that was important to me was teaching my daughter that a woman is capable of pursing interests and being independent, so I tried to maintain some of my interests (writing, scrapbooking) even though I didn’t do nearly as much of either as I would have in a perfect world, I hope I taught her that women are capable of working, being a mother and still being an individual. If you have put your life on hold for your child, start thinking about what interests you want to pursue before your nest is empty. This is a great time to get back into those hobbies that you used to find joy in. Hobbies are also a great way to meet other adults who share a common interest.

I hope this helps. What things did you do to help ease Empty Nest Syndrome? Or if you are not quite there yet, what questions do you have?