The 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!”
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?