If your last child is all grown up and about to leave home — or he/she has already moved out — you are most likely experiencing mixed emotions. The impact of empty nest syndrome falls on two ends of a spectrum. It’s never easy, but if you are prepared for it, it will be a more effortless adjustment.
There is no clinical diagnosis for empty nest syndrome. Instead, it is a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home. That’s not to say, many kids soil the nest, and parents and caregivers are ready for them to fly the coop. What that said, it is still can be a bittersweet transition.
MY EXPERIENCE WHEN OUR OLDEST LEFT THE COOP
The day we returned home from dropping off my oldest at college, I went directly to his room and laid on his bed where I could still smell the essence of him on his pillow. I kid you not! I cried my eyes out. Doesn’t that sound so dramatic? I didn’t expect to feel that way.
We thought we were prepared for his departure, but when it became a reality, it hit hard.
I longed to hear his voice, but I restrained from texting or calling him to give him space to adjust his new life at school. The profound sense of sadness was unreal. I finally came to grips that my grief was based on the fact that it marked the end of an era. A life marker for sure.
Don’t get me wrong….We were beyond thrilled for his new chapter in his life, after all this is what he worked so hard to achieve. But all a sudden the house was quieter. I would get up in the morning expecting to see him walk down the hall. I kept setting the dinner table for four instead of three. You get the picture.
THE EMPTY SPOT THAT CAN’T BE FILLED
We have an 11-year gap between our two boys… Yeah, I know! That’s another story. Anyway, the good news is that we are not technically empty nesters yet. Then why did I feel so sad? I still had one at home.
Personally, I don’t think it matters how many kids you have. When any one of them leave, there’s an empty spot that can’t be filled in the same way. The family unit is forever changed.
As your family morphs you soon realize that it’s true what you hear, life goes quickly, and your kids will be gone before you know it. Then it happens. The family unit is changed forever.
EMPTY NESTING & SIBLINGS
One thing that parents may not expect is how unsettled the siblings may be when their brother or sister leaves the nest. Our little guy misses his big brother so much that it’s complicated at times. They are very close despite the age gap.
“When a sibling leaves for college, the children left behind are obviously directly impacted, but how they are affected varies from family to family,” reports the Huffington Post. But if the siblings are very close, “the impact of the loss can be great.”
HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS
If your High schooler has close friends that are attached at the hip, they become part of your family. A few of my son’s friends would call me their second mom and my young dude became their little bro. This second family brought to light and energy to our home. We never knew who was coming over, they would just show up. After many years of this, you get use to it.
We always had a constant stream of boys and girls coming and going from our house throughout the High school years. It was awesome. There was so much joy when groups of kids would gather at our home. After graduation, one by one, they all left the area. Just another unexpected side effect of being an empty nester.
WHAT ABOUT THE FATHERS?
Another surprising fact is that fathers often have a more challenging time during this empty nesting time than you would expect. In fact, the results of a study done by Wheaton College professor, Helen DeVries, showed that fathers were more likely to have a hard time adjusting to their children leaving.
From the day a child is born, many mothers look at their baby and innately start the process of nurturing the development of that child. You know how it is, we often picture our kids growing in front of our eyes.
I will never forget when my oldest was born, I was giving him a bath as I spoke to him saying, “someday you will be a teenager, and I will worry about you all the time. Then you will leave for college.” Nurturing mothers have been preparing for their children to leave the house since kids were little. We have about 20 years to guide and invest in our kid’s futures. We know it’s our job, but it all goes so quickly.
Fathers, on the other hand, are not usually as emotional and they don’t spend as much time preparing for their kid’s departure, so they are distraught when the day comes when a child leaves home.
THE TRANSITION FOR THE ONE LEAVING THE NEST
So, your kid is gone, but they are not happy at school. This creates another difficulty. DeVries’ study further suggests that the success of parents or guardians’ transition from a filled nest to an empty nest depends on the success of their child’s transition. If a child is struggling to transition from leaving home, parents or guardians may have to focus more effort on doing what they can to make the transition smoother.
We all hope that when our child leaves the home, they will become independent and strong. Many parents are surprised when this is not the case right away. Some kids need more marinating time, especially boys.
This transition is never easy on kids no matter what, it’s called growing up.
THE JOY OF EMPTY NESTING
Hold tight, here is the excellent news. Recent surveys indicate the positive impact of an empty nest. The American Psychological Association suggests an empty nest could promote freedom and improved relationships for parents and caregivers.
For example, my gal pals who no longer have to be home for their kids are traveling more often. Parents also have more time to pursue goals they may have neglected while raising a family.
Several years ago a few of my friends were discussing their worries about their marriage as an empty nester. Like many mothers, our focus and priority have been our children. Perhaps we haven’t invested enough time and energy into our marriage because we are flat out exhausted.
The good news – many of my friends have healthier marriage as empty nesters. An unforeseen benefit of this empty nest phenomenon is the renewal of ties with other family members and peers as well. No kids at home also reduce workplace conflicts because there is no longer any scheduling conflicts involving children.
HOW TO COPE AND CELEBRATE
IT’S OKAY TO CRY
That’s right. Weep until it’s all out of your system. Come to grips with reality– kids leaving home is a good thing for their future. This is what we have been preparing them for so celebrate it! Get support if you need it.
Embrace all the feelings that emerge in your emptiness, and in time, you will be a new person. The first few weeks of the empty nest are the worst, but you will soon find out that your parenting days aren’t over; cell phone calls, texts, Facetime offer a really long umbilical cord.
What is it you have a yearning to do with your time? Take up golf or tennis? Take classes in something you enjoy learning to paint? You are still young enough to enjoy life at its fullest, so live it up!
I have friends who did not work while raising the kids and now are starting an exciting new career. Just go for it!
THE TAKE AWAY:
If you still have kids at home, cherish every minute with them. Help teach them all the lessons they need to learn before they go to college. Bond with them so when they do leave, they will appreciate all you did for them growing up. At some point, kids move on, its life so celebrate the good and know that the umbilical cord will always be attached, in challenging or times of celebration.
Please share your stories with me.