We get a number of years to prepare for the empty nest. Wouldn’t you think that would make it easier? Actually, no. I think it makes it that much harder. When the last child leaves home, the home front changes dramatically. That youthful energy that filled the hallways, combined with noise, clutter, and extra laundry, provided its own form of comfort. And now there is a void, an unmistakable, undeniable gap in the household. The emptiness is austere. In fact, did you ever notice that emptiness and empty nest sound almost identical?
Transitions are hard. Even when anticipated and positive, transitions require shifting, making adjustments, creating new habits and establishing new patterns. When your child leaves, an important part of your identity must adjust to the departure. Embracing your child for that significant parting may cause you to recall that first day of school many years ago when you watched her climb onto the school bus. Your mind may flash back to when your child was a toddler, and you had to watch carefully to keep her from running off in a split-second. Now, in what feels like a moment later, she is boarding a plane to embark on a whole new world. And you can only wave and try to smile through the tears.
Here are some tips to help you adjust in the midst of this dramatic life change.
- Accept the loss. What you are experiencing is loss. The familiar presence of your loved one no longer fills your home. It feels empty. Allow yourself time to grieve.
- Let go. Recognize that your most important job as a parent is allowing your child to graduate into her own life, and seeing her equipped and ready to step out on her own. While it always feels too soon, it is time to commend yourself for this accomplishment. Give your child space to move into her new world, and give yourself space to move into the new stage that awaits you.
- Decide what you want to be when you grow up. Ah yes, another chance to revisit the old question. For me, this was the most challenging part of the process. My question was simply, “What do I want?” Answering that question before had always been determined by my role in the lives of others – my husband, my child, my boss. Now, it was my turn. Hallelujah! However, finding answers to this question was not easy. I had to learn to be honest with myself and adjust to the newfound freedom that was so unfamiliar. This took time, but eventually, I found new avenues of interest that surprised and delighted me. I took up wine tasting, gardening and joined a drumming circle, and I am still looking for some way to resurrect my great love for ping pong.
Once the emptiness transforms into a new embrace, your world opens with new possibilities. Now, it’s all about you. Go and celebrate!