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Advice for Soon-to-Be Empty Nesters

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Life doesn't end when kids leave the nest ... in fact, it's just the beginning!

mom alone in house

Dr. Cara Gardenswartz: Remember how hard it was to put your child on the school bus for elementary school? Well, now your child is off to college. And she's not even coming home for cookies and milk after school. She's not even coming home after school. In fact, the next time you see her might be Thanksgiving.

You are certain to be experiencing many mixed emotions, which may include:

Gratitude/Pride -- You have given your child the wings to fly and now she is off. She is confident and independent.
Relief/Excitement -- You finally have "me" time and can focus on things you haven't had time to do -- including hobbies or more time with your spouse if you are married.
Guilt -- Because you are feeling relief! Is this OK? Am I a terrible parent for feeling free?
Sadness/Loss -- You are missing your children. Missing the time in your life when the house was full, active, and loud.
Confusion -- What will I do with this newfound time? How will my marriage change -- for better or worse? What will my partner and I talk about (our conversations have been focused on our children for so long)?
Frustration -- Just when I got this mothering thing down pat, my role is up?!
Stress -- Having to pay for college! How will we do this over the next 4 years? Also -- will my child make good decisions without me watching over her?
Longing -- Waiting for your child's return. You just miss her! She doesn't have time to talk to you on the phone. Wishing she still needed you.
Uselessness -- You might have defined yourself as a parent and now struggle with your new unknown identity. Who am I apart from being a mom (this is particularly challenging if you haven't been working)?
Regret -- Wishing you appreciated all of the time you were too busy to appreciate when she was growing up -- wishing you could do it all over again.
Nostalgia -- Replaying your child's youth as you enter her room. Remembering her first dance, her first steps, and the times she needed a hug.

These feelings are all normal. It's important that you make an effort to spend time with other empty nesters who can understand, share, and validate similar feelings and experiences. If you are going through a particularly challenging transition, you should consider counseling or group therapy.

The upside: Even though this transition can be difficult, it can also be a time of reinvigoration. If you are married, you can use this newfound time and energy to focus on your relationship -- find out what makes you "tick" as a couple, and re-explore your interests together. Married or single, this can be a time to strengthen your friendships. You can sublimate your energy (or feelings) into activities/classes/hobbies that you haven't had time to do. What dreams did you have that you put on the back burner? Ever want to try painting? Ever want to travel? What career did you always say you wish you had pursued? When one chapter ends, a new one begins ...



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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
MessyMom May 29, 2009, 5:19 PM

I feel like i’m an empty nester with my kids out of preschool. i can only imagine what it will feel like post high-school….

julie May 30, 2009, 2:24 PM

For me, probably one of the most difficuot times in my life. Coule not even drive past the former schools without wanting to cry. A bit of extra advice to the Dr. G’s wisdom, close the door to his/her room after they leave and do not reopen it until getting ready for the first time they come home on break when you know you will soon be seeing them. It happens before you can imagine!!!

Marjorie May 30, 2009, 2:40 PM

How important it is to be warned in advance and know that what you are experiencing is normal. Parenting is the most important job we are ever given and with minimal or no training. Often, just when we are really starting to get good at it, our job is pulled out from under us — we are not fired nor do we quit, it is just gone and the void is tremendous!

katie July 3, 2009, 7:40 PM

Ok graduation is over, now off to LA he will go..he is ready to make a new life and a new start I however am not! I am a stay at home mom after punching the clock for many years my heart was with my kids so I chose to stay home,well I took a job that allowed me to be home. I want to go with him to cook for him and do all the mommy things I need to do..But He is so smart and too old for his mom This is the hardest thing in the world.
To reinvent myself wow I wasn’t expecting that to come forever. Guess what? Forever is here YIKES! This is HARD!Oh He is the youngest of 4 kids






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