How to Survive Becoming an Empty Nester Part 1

Part 1: The Departure and Remaining Connected

You’ve distracted yourself with planning the high school graduation celebration, followed by shopping for college necessities… but now the day is upon you. Your child is heading off to college. You’ve spent the last 18 years being their taxi driver, chef, fashion consultant, confidant, counselor, and best friend… How will they ever get along on their own? Perhaps the real question is how will you get by without them there? It’s the inner conflicts of inner conflicts… We want our children to be strong, successful, and independent, but we want them to do it while being home with us. As a mother of three kids in college, I have to admit that I struggled emotionally with the departure of each child.

Acknowledge and Accept Your Feelings

Dealing with the separation starts with acknowledging and accepting your feelings. Know that you are going to miss them.  Know that you are going to be sad that they are not there at times.  Accept that this may be a difficult time for you. But also know that it is perfectly okay to feel this way. They are your children! When my first child left for college, it was extremely difficult for me.  My family and friends can certainly attest that I was emotional!  I would have days where I had a strong desire to walk into my daughter’s very clean and unlived in room, pull all the remaining clothes out of her closet and spread them all over her floor.  I wanted things to return to “normal.”  But… she was gone, starting a new adventure in college, while I was home missing her.  Over the next three years, my two sons each graduated and headed off to college as well. Although I knew more of what to expect, it was still just as difficult, and I missed him terribly.  This left my husband and me living alone for the first time in twenty one years.  Wow, was that a big change! With each child’s departure, I came to realize that just because they were not in our home, didn’t mean they didn’t need us just as much.  Of course, I still miss them today, but I am also equally excited to celebrate the successes of their new adventure, while also being their voice of experience as they run up against new challenges. They might not always be in my home, but our connection is still as strong.

Stay Connected

Great news!  We have the ability to stay connected with our children, whether they are in another state, an hour down the road, or in the next room.  Those family chats you used to have at home can now continue via facetime, family group text, and even Snapchat (my favorite.)  

The trick is finding the balance between being connected and being a stalker. Make sure that you respect the fact that they are starting a new life, separate from their parents, and that this is going to take time and energy on their part.  Your child will be making new friends and finding their way.  They will not be able to text or call every day, nor would you want them to.  Try to avoid guilting them into continually connecting with you.  Follow their lead and allow them the space they need to grow and mature as the young adults that you have raised them to be.  Although it is tough, you will have to come to terms with the fact that you will not know what they are doing at all hours of the day or night.  This isn’t high school anymore….turn your tracking devices off, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that you no longer have complete control over how your child chooses to spend their time.  You have done your job as a parent and now it is time for them to make their own mistakes and find their own way.  

Make Plans to See Your Teen

Even if it is a month or two down the road, make concrete plans to see your teen.  Pick a weekend, book your plane ticket, and make hotel reservations.  Having definite plans will give you something to look forward to and may even make their departure a tiny bit less painful.  Your child may play it off, but those visits will be as important to them as they are to you. 

Having your child move out of the family home can be a very trying time in a parent’s life.  Each time you see them, whether it is for the weekend, home for the holidays, or home for summer… you will have to experience another good-bye.  There’s hope… it gets easier (not easy, just easier).  Find ways to celebrate this new chapter in your child’s life.   Enjoy watching them grow, learn, make new friends, and form more mature relationships.  Revel in the fact that they have the courage to meet life’s new challenges head-on. 

As you do all these things with your child in mind, begin to do one other thing… begin to think about yourself again.  Shift your focus from surviving to thriving in the empty nest.

Part 2:  Thriving vs Surviving in the Empty Nest

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Natalie Wilie, LPC

Natalie Wilie, LPC

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