For many parents, autumn is the time of year when they get their first taste of becoming an empty nester. If you’ve packed your graduate up and sent him off to college you know how quiet the house can be. After 18 years of joyful chaos, it can be numbingly quiet.
While most parents make the transition quite well, there are some who struggle more with an empty home than others. Of course it depends on your level of involvement in day to day household activities, as well as outside interests you’ve developed over the years.
For parents who have worked from home or been stay at home parents, having a child leave for college (or move out, get married, etc…) can be a difficult transition. If you’ve created a life of taking care of your children for the past two decades (and there is nothing wrong with that if you did), and have not cultivated many outside interests, you may find the transition a little anxiety provoking. On the other hand, if you’ve been picking up socks, restocking the fridge every two days and feel like an Uber driver without the pay, you may be looking forward to that moment when you no longer hear the pitter patter of any feet except the family cat.
Those who suffer Empty Nest Syndrome usually follow a pattern of three distinct stages – grief, relief and then joy.
Grief – You’re role as a parent has not ended, but it has changed. Those little things you’ve done over the years were part of your identity, even if it was a reluctant identity like being the laundry fairy or personal chef. You’ll always be the parent to your child, you just don’t have to take care of them on a daily basis anymore. Don’t worry, you still get to worry about them as much as ever, that never goes away. It’s okay to mourn the loss of the day to day parenting activities, even the ones you didn’t like all that much. Take the time to grieve and then look forward to the new role you get to create for yourself with the extra time you have.
Relief – Now that your child is off on their own you won’t have to argue about curfew, putting the dishes in the dishwasher or keeping their room tidy. You don’t have to drive them to practice or wait up when they go out at night. You still may have generalized worry about your kids, but because you won’t be aware of their every move each day, there is less to stress you out. You may not notice the relief right away, it might actually sneak up on you when you realize you have so much more free time, and money. When it happens, enjoy it and don’t feel guilty.
Joy – The realization that you raised a child and helped her become a productive adult is a wonderful reason to celebrate. Pat yourself on the back, you did a great thing. Now it’s time to figure out what you want to be for the next phase of your life. It’s an exciting time, one that is rightfully joy filled.