So after 18 (or more) long years, the kids are out of the house. However, you can’t seem to shake a feeling of melancholy. “It sure will be quiet around here.” You are feeling a twinge of empty nest syndrome, and you are wondering why you aren’t happier for your child’s accomplishment. It’s a natural response, and there are many ways to turn the empty nest into an opportunity to grow and live life like never before.
When the kids leave, it is a major transition in life. Your relationship with your child is changing, from primary caregiver to more of a mentoring role. They are becoming more independent, but independent doesn’t mean isolated. Parents still have an important role, albeit a different one. This causes mixed emotions, from pride in your spawn to remorse that time is passing.
First, it’s important to celebrate getting the child this far… and out of the house. Not only does it reflect a major accomplishment in life, it is also should come as a relief. You did it. The most important job of a parent is to raise their child to independence, and you are (most of the way) there. If your kid is going away to college, however, this might not be the end. More kids are moving back in with mom and dad after school these days, so the nest might not stay empty for as long as you think.
Secondly, you need to recognize your emotions. It is natural to feel a sort of sadness, someone who has been living with you for years will not be coming around every day. You might have to wait until they run out of clean laundry to see them again. Luckily, new technology has made physical distance less of a factor. You can now text, Skype or call your child wherever they are. This also makes it easier to get carried away, so try to avoid keeping too short a lease on your child. Find a balance, where they can be independent, but you still get to talk to them once in a while.
Once the kids are out of the house, it is a great time to reconnect with your spouse. The change is often difficult; you no longer have your kids connecting you. Look at it as going back to when you were first dating. Back before the kids, it was only the two of you and so it is again. Go on dates and spend more time together.
Empty nest syndrome is often harder on single parents. Without the option of turning to a spouse, they feel alone. Make sure that you reach out to friends and expand your social network. Volunteer work is a good way to spend your newly found free time. Really, this is the time to do all the things you wish you could have done before, but you were too busy raising a family.
FYI Living Parental Support in the Transition to Adulthood: http://www.fyiliving.com/research/parental-support-in-the-transition-to-adulthood/
Women to Women Redefining Yourself Once the Kids are Grown: http://www.womentowomen.com/menopause/emptynestsyndrome.aspx
First 30 Days Filling Your Empty Nest: http://www.first30days.com/print/article/160