Preparing for the Empty Nest

empty nest

By Laura Keys, LCSW, Courier & Press, August 16, 2016 –

Here’s a riddle: I have spent the last 12 years attending school events, PTA meetings and well child visits. I have spent the last four years paying for AP exams and ACT and SAT prep books. I have spent the last two years visiting colleges and researching the safety of each campus. I have spent the last year watching the mail for admittance and scholarship letters. I have spent the last three weeks shopping for sheets, shower caddies and collapsible laundry hampers. Can you guess who I am?

Yes, I am the parent of a child leaving home to attend college. I will soon be an empty nester, and I must say I am not very excited about it.  The closer the time comes for my child to leave, the louder the little voice in my head yells, “NOT YET!”

But being a “glass half full” kind of gal, I decided to focus on how I could handle this life-altering change in a way that is good for me and more importantly my child (who is actually pretty much a grownup).

While reading all I could about adjusting to an empty nest, I found some great truths that came up time and again. I will share some of the good ones, as I know many of my friends, family and co-workers are going through the same adjustment.

1.  Prepare yourself. Face the departure and look at it realistically. Remember how excited and ready you were to get out of your parents’ house.  It’s not as if you didn’t love your parents, and it’s not as if your own children don’t love you. But let’s be honest, you were ready to get the “heck out of dodge,” and you need to remember that feeling so you are not hurt when you see it in your own child’s eyes.

2.  Try not to catastrophize. Don’t spend the last precious days with your child running constantly down your top 10 list of things that could hurt them. Along with excitement, your child is also probably feeling a little anxiety about moving away from home, and the last thing they need to hear is a daily montage of what is scary in the world. Most college campuses put freshmen through safety protocol.  Give them a few gentle reminders and move on.

3.  Don’t expect your child to call every day. Think back to your first days on your own as a young adult in a new place. I don’t remember wanting to call my parents and chronicle every new experience. Much of the literature says it is good to set up a weekly call time and save communication by text or email for the rest of the week. I think I will utilize texting a lot at first so my daughter won’t be able to hear me cry after hearing her voice.

4.  Focus on the positives for you. As much as I will miss my child, her wet towels and dirty dishes will not be missed. There were nights that I would have liked to have gone to a 90-minute yoga class but instead did a 30-minute cardio workout so I could get home to see how everyone’s day went. Having sole rights to the TV or computer is another bonus.

The point is, find some freedoms in this change. They are there, but you may have to dig for them. I think Dr. Margaret Rutherford said it best:  “Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.”

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