5 Ways To Return Happiness To The Empty Nest
“I didn’t think it would hurt this bad.”
“I wonder if I’ll ever be needed again.”
“It’s a hole that never seems to go away.”
I know. You’ve had better days than this one – the one in which the child you’ve raised for 18 years is going away to college (or moving out). Now you’re struggling with the transition. You may suddenly feel less wanted, asking yourself, “who am I now and who needs me?”
You’re hurting but take a small bit of comfort in knowing what you’re feeling is a very common occurrence among parents referred to as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” The hard truth is that doesn’t go away overnight. But I’d like to show you some ways it can get easier to adjust with each passing day.
Allow yourself moments of pride
Sadness, especially in the early days of being an Empty Nester, is normal. But you can learn to balance those feelings with thoughts of maternal/paternal pride. After all, as a parent who has helped their child achieve independence, you have much to be proud of. All of the hard work and sacrifice you’ve endured up to this point is resulting in your child getting a strong education and in turn increasing their chances of having a very bright future. The more you focus on that very real accomplishment, the harder it is to wallow in despair.
They won’t stop having questions.
Just a whole new set of them.
Think about the new challenges that the college experience is going to bring to your child: Laundry. Cooking. Finances. Roommate troubles. Difficult classes. Dorm food. And more. When those challenges occur, who can they turn to? Exactly – you. The child who grew up with you doesn’t have life so figured out that they won’t need your advice once they leave. That doesn’t mean you have to figure it out for them – so don’t fall into that trap. The point is that there are many things the both of you can still talk about. All that’s changed is the physical presence of having them under your roof. But the need to hear your voice of guidance? It can still be there.
Don’t plunge into work to compensate.
Some parents see work as a good distraction from the “Empty Nest” feelings they have but it’s only a matter of time before this catches up with them. In couples, a spouse that ramps up his or her work schedule to avoid lonely moments at home is only hurting their spouse. Don’t force down emotional issues that need to be dealt with. Rather than working more, it’s about talking more with the ones you love – lean on your spouse, other family members and friends, particularly those who have gone through the same experience in their household. I can practically guarantee anyone who has watched a child leave home doesn’t do so without some sense of loss.
How will you take care of you?
Remember, your kids need you around for a long time for direction – whether they know it right now or not! It’s natural to think about how your child has left the home, but don’t neglect your activity and diet in the process. Part of having a positive mental outlook comes from eating healthy foods and exercising regularly. Keep those habits up, even on the tough days when your mind is telling you to go for “junk foods” and crash on the couch. Trust me. It won’t be more comforting to go that easy road and you’ll thank yourself for taking care of your body and mind.
Communicating without being “in-their-face.”
During those initial months of separation, some parents subliminally wish their kids would call them non-stop, text or even come running back home. I don’t actually believe they really want them to leave school, of course. They just want to feel useful. You can get that feeling by scheduling a regular time to talk each week – and I mean each week, not each day. As difficult as that may be, you need to let your kids come into adulthood during this valuable time away by having faith in their ability to work through some minor challenges.
So as they have their class schedule settled, talk to your kids about a good day or night during the week to have a chat by phone or Skype. To give them a further incentive to use their phone, buy them prepaid phone minutes so they know those minutes are reserved for your weekly conversation.
Remember, grief or sadness as part of the “Empty Nest” Syndrome is natural. But if you feel a binding inability to truly enjoy life and are fixated on the fact that your child is somewhere else, it’s time for us to talk through those issues.