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Many parents struggle with facing an empty nest. Here are seven ways to help you prepare for the empty nest–and thrive in your new dynamic.
I talked to a neighbor recently who is expecting her first grandchild soon.
She excitedly told me about how her daughter was feeling and about the anticipation of being grandparents. She gushed about her youngest, who recently graduated from college and is starting her new life. She talked about visiting her son who lived nearby.
She spoke about vacations she planned with friends and the fishing trip her husband just returned from and dinners with her sister. She told me about caring for a sick relative and volunteering at her church. She talked about books and movies and new restaurants.
Her life was full.
An empty nest does not mean we stop living and caring for our loved ones.
She asked about my girls and how they were faring in high school.
I shared about how my twins had selected what colleges they were attending and contemplating a gap year. I shared how I just signed up my youngest for her senior year schedule. I took a deep breath and talked about move-in dates and Senior Skip days and proms.
I waited for the “it all goes so fast” or “enjoy it while you can” commentary, but she didn’t mention it.
Instead, she said something so profound: “That is so exciting! There’s always something to look forward to when you have friends and family.”
Bam. Mic drop.
“There’s always something to look forward to when you have friends and family.”
This subtle shift in perspective is what we all need to remain present in the lives we have now, at this moment.
We make such a big deal about the “lasts” that sometimes we miss where we are right now.
I’m at the time in my life when it all seems to be moving so fast. My girls are almost women, and their time under my roof is limited.
I’m thinking about how to prepare for the empty nest that will soon be my home.
Yet, I still see a future for us, and I’m doing the work today to ensure they know I want to be in their life tomorrow.
But preparing for my birds to leave the nest means I have to prepare myself as well.
So, I’ve been trying to find what fuels my fire again beyond caring for my children.
I’m working in a job I love. I write. I cook. I volunteer with my kids. I’m spending more time alone with my husband.
I see a life—a rich, beautiful, full life—that grows in lockstep with my children, instead of centered around it.
There is always something to look forward to when you have a family. There is always something to look forward to when you have friends. There is always something to look forward to if you look at it in the right way.
Parents don’t stop parenting simply because their kids don’t live in their house.
My kids may no longer live underneath my roof, but the ties will not be fully cut.
There will be graduations and weddings and births. There will be vacations and celebrations and achievements. There will be times they need me to hold them up and take them in, and there will be times I need them to do the same.
There is still so much to look forward to, even though our lives will look different.
My nest may soon be empty, but I choose to believe that my life will still be full.
How parents can prepare for an empty nest
Here are a few simple tips to help you transition from full-time mom and dad to empty nester extraordinaire.
- Talk to other parents who have gone through the empty nest experience. They can provide advice about what to expect and how to cope. Ask them how they fill their time or any tricks that made the process easier.
- Make plans to keep busy and have activities to look forward to before your kids leave. It’s best to start these things before your children move out so you recognize what your life can look like when they leave. This could include taking a class, joining a club, or volunteer work. It’s also smart to have some routines to fill the void, such as a coffee date with a friend every other Monday or dinner out with your partner each Friday.
- Enjoy your kids now. Don’t spend too much time lamenting about what the future may look like. Instead, spend quality time with your children before they leave. Take lots of photos to commemorate your experiences or even a photo book you can both share.
- If you feel like your feelings are spinning out of control, consider therapy. Many parents struggle with controlling their emotions regarding their children moving out of their homes, college drop-off, or new family dynamics. Empty Nest Syndrome, the grief parents feel when their children move out of their home, is real and can be debilitating. This is okay and normal–and don’t listen to people who mock or minimize your feelings. Engaging a mental health professional during this transition can help you process the changes in your life and provide you with valuable tools to manage your new situation.
- Make plans to stay connected. Last night, my high school senior twin daughters talked about a pact they made to check in with each other via text every other day, as well as connect with their younger sister. We also discussed a weekly family Facetime call. We also started mapping out family weekend visits so we could see that we wouldn’t be going that long without seeing each other. When you tangibly see it on a calendar, it doesn’t look as bad. As a side note, we also committed to continuing the tradition of sending funny memes in our family group text.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
- Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Everyone experiences the empty nest a little bit differently. I have a friend who went into a funk for two weeks when she dropped her son off at college, binge-watching Netflix for hours and living off of frozen dinners. Another friend filled her schedule to the max to stay busy. And yet another friend and her husband celebrated successfully launching three kids into the world by traveling in an RV for three months.
For me, I’m going to keep looking forward.
I know that this is the way it is supposed to happen, my baby birds flying away from the nest, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt a little too.
Do you know how to prepare for the empty nest? We love this book, How to Survive the Empty Nest Phase: Practical Tips for Empty Nesters to Connect with Yourself, Your Adult Children, and Spouse While Reigniting Your Inner Purpose.
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