This is it. You have just watched as your last child goes off to college. You have come home to a place that was once filled with the noises of your children and is now almost too quiet for comfort.
You may be struggling with a vast array of emotions from excitement for your son or daughter to anxiety over their wellbeing, fear about their preparedness and safety, and sadness that yet another stage of life has passed.
Transitioning is Hard
Being an empty nester is hard. There is nothing that prepares you for the emotional rollercoaster of watching your child become an adult. There is nothing that truly sets you up for the newfound quiet of your home and the sudden freedoms on your time. But, as with any change, there are positives and ways to cope and move forward. And, as always it’s ok to reach out for help and guidance if you need it.
It is ok to not be ok. After all, you have spent 18 years taking care of these children and now you have to let go a bit.
Coping with an Empty Nest
There are a few things you can do that can help ease the transition and help you cope with your now empty nest.
1.) Make a list of the roles you have in your life — wife, husband, daughter, son, neighbor, professional, pet owner, sports team player, etc. Any roles that you can think of. These are areas where you can now invest more time and energy than you had in the past. Maybe it is time to pick up extra responsibilities if you belong to a community organization or spend more time with your spouse, pets, elderly parents, or friends.
2.) Make a list of interests — what are some things you have always wanted to try but never had the time to do before? Maybe you want to travel more, or learn a foreign language, or take a sewing class. Maybe you want to be more active outside, go hiking or biking. Set new personal goals for yourself. Use your new freedom on time to do some things for yourself and/or your marriage.
3.) Set a date to see your child — when you are feeling lonely it helps to have a concrete date on the calendar to look forward to, at least for the time being. Figure out a weekend you can visit your child or an outing you can do together and schedule it out. Maybe it is traveling to their school or university for a sporting event, attending a concert, or planning a shopping trip. Whatever it is make sure it is something fun for both of you.
Preparing Ahead of Time
If you are not yet an empty nester but foresee that moment coming in the next few years, it can be helpful to begin the transitioning process before your child leaves. Encouraging independence from your child, allowing he/she to take trips without you, getting a job outside the home, talking to them about things they need to be careful of, etc. can help get you and your child both adjusted. As a parent, you don’t have to wait to start getting involved in other things that interest you. You can join a book club, or start exploring things that have been on your “bucket list” but you have yet to do. Start making plans before your kids leave. All of these things can help to set you up for an easier final transition.
Author: Melissa Sauder, LPC
Melissa is a licensed professional counselor who loves helping women learn to empower themselves so they can lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Her therapy is spending time with her dog, a labradoodle named Sammy.