My mom couldn’t wait to get my brother and me out of the house. She had her plans laid out for the rest of her life from the moment we entered high school. However, my husband’s mother was not ready for my husband to leave. She talks about how every year as summer ended she would start to get really sad about school starting and her little boy not being at home all day. So when he flew the coop she didn’t know what to do with herself. Now that all your children are gone from the house you may be experiencing the empty nest syndrome.
It is natural to be experiencing this after all you have been with these individuals from the moment they were brought into this world. You have nurtured them and molded them into the people they are today. You were there for all the booboos, the nightmares, the laughter, the tears, homework help, parent teacher conferences, disagreements, slammed doors, game nights, first steps, first kiss, first love, first heart break, and the second heart break, and the third, and countless sleepless nights of worry. Why should it end now just because they are moving out?
You may be tempted to call them every day to see if they are ok but don’t. You will only be smothering them. Instead, try setting up a weekly call-in time. This is when you can talk about the past week and catch up. They are going to want to experience being a new fledgling adult. Try to remember what it was like for you when you first moved out on your own.
Emailing and texting are a great way to communicate in-between phone calls. It’s simple and easy way to send them an “I’m thinking of you and love you.” You’ll stay less emotional and be able to send them a little love from home. Just don’t expect replies back all the time. As time passes they may get busy with work, homework, friends etc. Of course, this doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking of you or have stopped caring.
If you find that this change is affecting you more than you thought you may be experiencing empty nest syndrome. Empty nest syndrome is a psychological condition and it affects primarily women, this doesn’t mean that a man won’t feel it. When a child leaves the home it can make you feel unworthy, lost, and unsure about the future. It is natural to feel sad and to cry. It is a big change. Remember when you first brought that little bundle into your home? That was a big change. Late night feedings. Unsure of how to change the diaper. Was it normal for baby poo to look like that? Well, this is another big change. When you are unable to stop crying, unable to resume your normal life activities, and when you start thinking that your life is no longer worthwhile, that is when it becomes a problem. Allow yourself time to be sad, work through the loss and rebuild your life. Remember to be gentle on yourself and the expectations that you set for yourself. After all, you haven’t lost your child. They are still in the world. They are just growing up.
If you are not coping well or friends and family are telling you that you are not the same person anymore, maybe it is time to ask for help. Speak to a therapist or counselor. It may just give you the confirmation that what you are going through does matter, is real and in time will pass. Most important is to not forget to talk to your partner. They too may be feeling the same thing and talking to them may make you and them, feel less alone. It may also bring you closer to each other.
Once you get over the sadness you’ll find that this isn’t a sad time. This is a joyous time. You have essentially turned back time to the days before you had children. Remember those days. No running them around, handing out money constantly, maneuvering your schedule to fit theirs. You can do what you want, when you what, and go where you want. You just have to figure out where to start.
What activities do you enjoy doing or did you enjoy doing? Hiking? Skiing? Have you always wanted to see Australia or the Mayan Ruins of Chichén Itzá. Do you want to learn the fine art of French cooking? Would you like to rekindle friendships that have faded through the years? All of these options are open to you. You simply need to reach out and take them. Sit down and think of all the things you used to dream of doing and make a list. Then place it somewhere you can see it every day.
For instance, did you know that you can take college courses for low to no-cost? At many college and Universities,
there are tuition waivers for adults over a certain age. Each college has its own guidelines of course. If you’ve always had a penchant for helping people maybe now is the time to take a course and become a nurse or a CAN (a certified nursing assistant). Then you could start a new career or even travel the world helping people.
However, maybe you are not interested in actually getting a full blown degree and doing homework and tests but the thought of actually learning something new like Spanish or Ancient Egyptian History is exciting. Then you can discuss auditing a class. This is actually done at a lot of colleges. The unfortunate thing is that you won’t receive any college credits, but this is more for the fun of learning something you’ve always wanted to know. If you have horrible arthritis but love to learn about Ancient Egyptian History you can go to the class enjoy the experience without the pain of having to do all the homework and tests. Even if your University or College does not have an audit program you can still talk individually to the professor of the class you are interested in.
Taking classes also lets you meet new people, but don’t forget your old friendships. When raising children we often forgo our own friendships for our children. This is the time to revive those friendships. Pick up the phone and reconnect with your college friends or work friends. There are also empty-nesters that are looking to connect and create lasting friendships.
You can also volunteer at different organizations and get involved with different charities. Nothing makes a person feel better than giving back to their community. But, if you are looking for something a little more exciting join an over 50 sports team or club. Like the Fun, Fit and Over Fifty Club (www.ffifc.org) of the Tri-Cities area of Washington State. They bring together adults over 50 years of age and have organized sports and clubs of all types. Activities from walking and hiking to downhill skiing and mountain biking. They even organize social and intellectual gatherings like book discussions, camping trips and traveling. If you are not from that area see if you have something similar or start something similar.
The point is that your children leaving the house is a new chapter of your life. Enjoy it. Get out there and do things that make you happy. That is what you want for your children and what they want for you.
Now excuse me while I go dust off my surfboard.
By Alisa Bashaw