Today, I became an empty-nester. In my own naive fashion, I had always been certain that this would not be an issue for me. I have a full life, a business, and plenty of friends.
Without a doubt, I would miss my kids when they left, but no way was I going to be one of those Moms who cry.
I have listened to friends speak of sadness, and even grief when their children left home, and it all seemed a bit excessive to me. With my kids still safely in the nest, it was easy to brush off their emotional pain as the behavior of overwrought, overly protective parents. After all, wasn’t this the goal? Wasn’t everything that came before this supposed to prepare our children for independence so that they could head out into the world on their own? Aren’t we supposed to feel success at what they have achieved, and pat ourselves on the back for our part in their success?
Today, my youngest child left home. With one hand on the doorknob, he patted me on the head (he knows I hate that), flashed his disarming grin, and teasingly reminded me how much I was going to miss him. He gave me a big bear hug, told me he loved me, and walked out the door.
And I cried.
The tears surprised me. The week leading up to his departure had been filled with excitement and fun. Together we shopped for new shoes, picked linens for his bed, and just hung out in our typically easy fashion. We celebrated his last evening at home with a family dinner featuring his favorite foods, while his sisters offered unsolicited advice on the secrets to surviving first year at university. While I reveled in the easy banter between my children, I secretly smiled inside as I anticipated the evenings ahead. With no demands from children with uninspired palates, I would be free to cook whatever I want. I envisioned lamb, halibut, linguine with clam sauce, and mushroom risotto. Anything but chicken and rice, the long established staple of our family kitchen.
So what’s with the tears? I have a business that I love, to grow and nurture. I have fitness goals that I plan on pursuing. I am suddenly free to travel, or simply just to come and go as I please. Yet, on this first day of freedom, I am overcome with an aimlessness that I have never before experienced. I have plenty to do. And it’s not that I actually did that much for my grown son anyway. He was busy with his life, I was busy with mine, and we came together to share the events of our day over dinner.
Nothing feels important today. The only thing that I can think of is my son.
Where is this young man with the quick grin who makes an unholy mess of my house, plays his music too loudly, and drinks juice straight from the carton to my undying chagrin? I can feel his presence as acutely as if he were standing in front of me. I have work that needs to be done, mail that needs to be addressed, and clients that need to be called. I can’t do any of it. He is everywhere today. Except here.
So maybe there is something to this empty nest syndrome after all. The concept of children leaving home is not new to me. I have two daughters who have gone before him. Their departures were huge events in my life, too. However, when each of them left, there remained another at home. I maintain contact with my daughters by phone, email, and frequent visits, as I will also do with my son. But somehow, this feels different. Well, it is different. Now they are all gone.
So, what now do I do with these feelings? I feel the strangest mix of happiness, loneliness, freedom, pride, and sadness. Although my emotions are everywhere today, I can’t stop picturing his first day of school when he informed his teacher, with his arms folded defiantly in front of him, that he wouldn’t be wearing his name tag because it was in the shape of a duck. Not a bear or a dinosaur, but a duck! How juvenile! He was asserting his independence even then, way back in kindergarten. Today, my independent, confident young man walked out the door, beyond excited at what lies ahead for him. And my nest is empty.
So, it seems there is some truth to the elusive “empty nest syndrome.” Each of us with children will experience it differently, and these feelings are real and are not to be ignored. While it is perfectly normal to feel sad, the goal is to remain optimistic about the future and remain open to all the possibilities that might present themselves. Acknowledging to ourselves the good work we have done to help our children reach this point of independence is helpful. In my own journey through this new stage of my life, while I will always miss the regular presence of each of my three children, I hope I am flexible enough to meet the challenge of this change.
How to Prepare
So what’s the cure for the empty nest syndrome? The cure is to focus on a working plan, starting a few years before the children leave.
- Consider how you can begin to disengage from your old self-concept of “Mom” to a new one that still allows you to love and nurture, but that is less hands-on and more respectful of their adult status.
- Think about how you might replace some of your previous “Mom” functions with other nurturing types of activities.
- Do you have leisure activities that relax and motivate you?
- Do you have a positive attitude about this new stage of your life?
- Consider putting some of your new lifestyle plan into practice before the nest empties.
The best antidote to relieve the anxiety associated with your empty nest is to redefine your life before it happens.
Perhaps I will try something new. Maybe I will travel, take a course, or spend more time with friends. One thing I do know, however, is that as I move through this transitional stage of my life, I will go forward knowing that Thanksgiving will soon be here, and along with it, the chaos and happiness that a full house brings when they all return home.
Catherine Osborne is certified coach, speaker and writer who owns and operates UpShift Coaching. Catherine is an Adler trained, ICF Certified Professional Coach whose areas of expertise include Retirement, Leadership and Wellness Coaching. With a background in healthcare as an Occupational Therapist, Catherine is well suited to meet the wellness needs of her clients. As a mid-life woman, mother, business owner and part-time empty nester, Catherine brings a wealth of real-life experience to her clients and is well prepared to coach people from all walks of life. Catherine’s talent for developing strong and trusting relationships allows her to provide a safe, confidential environment for clients to explore unlimited possibilities. Visit www.upshiftcoaching.com.
This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at Amazon.com, BN.com, www.Transformation-Publishing.com and all ebook formats.