Time flies! How to prepare for an empty nest
Remember the wise, experienced parent who told you as you juggled a colicky baby and mischievous toddler while grocery shopping that this time will pass quickly?
Those days from baby stage to teen years, whether challenging or joyful, seemed like they would never end. But now you find yourself on the other side of the spectrum where that experienced parent was, saying goodbye to your last child at home.
In what seems like the blink of an eye, you have an empty nest and wonder how the time could possibly have passed so quickly.
“You have probably spent so much time devoted to raising your kids, and they brought a big sense of purpose to your life,” says Bradley Gerber, clinical psychologist at Sentara RMH Medical Center. “Redefining your life purpose or revisiting what it was before kids will allow you to fill that void when the kids move out.”
Parents can take steps to ease the transition to an empty next well before the last child flies the coop.
“Start planning how you will spend your time,” Gerber says. “Having more time to yourself will be great, but unless you know how you will spend it, it may bring a feeling of loneliness. This may be through a new or old hobby, volunteering or traveling.”
Try not to focus only on the negatives of having an empty nest. The upside is that after years of devoting your time - day and night - to your kids, you can have time for yourself, friends, other family members and favorite past times.
Your Kids’ Role
Trying to figure out how often to text or call your kids and hoping your kids will check in, too, becomes a nagging concern as parents navigate this new landscape. As the saying goes, we can only control the choices we make. Be confident in the groundwork you’ve laid, Gerber advises.
“Our kids will initially feel a great sense of excitement to be on their own and with that, they can sometimes forget to stay connected as much as we would like,” Gerber says. “The bond we create with our kids will hopefully keep us connected and increase the chance our kids will check in with us.”
Your Changing Relationship
Just as you evolved as parents from stage to stage as your child passed through them, you will continue to grow and learn to be the parent of an adult. Not knowing where your children exactly are and what they are doing like you did in the past can be unnerving, but the fact that you've put in the time and effort toward raising a capable and independent adult should help ease that concern.
“Then when they launch from our home, we can worry less about whether they will be able to handle their new freedom and focus, instead, on nurturing an adult relationship,” he adds.
Also, allow time and space for missteps as your children forge through their new-found freedom.
“Know that they will make mistakes no matter how good a parent you are,” Gerber says. “These mistakes are important as our children learn how to handle adversity and mature in their new identities as adults.”
Now put the Kleenex down! Pick up your book. Go on a walk. See a movie. Plan a trip. You’ve earned it. Celebrate a job well done.