It’s that time of year when school is wrapping up and… for lots of families, children leaving to study at university or take a gap year in just a few short weeks.
So today I’m talking about being an empty nester and I would encourage you to read to the end because although this might seem like it could be a rather sad and depressing blog post, there really IS light at the end of the tunnel, I promise!
The official definition of empty nest “syndrome” is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university. It’s not a clinical condition (thankfully) but for some parents the sheer agony of their child moving onto their next chapter can feel like actual physical pain and I can definitely attest to that!
I’ve already had one child leave home and soon my beautiful daughter will be off to university. So for me, my nest will be completely empty… agghh!
My son left home five years ago to study at university but rather than go to university a couple of hundred miles up the road he decided he wanted to study overseas in the US.
I didn’t go to university (it’s actually still on my bucket list to do so). The reason I didn’t was because my mum went on and on and on and on about how much she would miss me and she literally guilt tripped me into not going. I was therefore determined I wouldn’t do the same with my children. If they wanted to go, they would go with my encouragement. Even if they wanted to go overseas and study.
We took our son to university in Michigan – we wouldn’t have had it any other way – and at the time the song “Rather Be by Clean Bandits featuring Jess Glynne” played continuously on the car radio.
It was actually playing in the rental car we were sitting in whilst waiting for our son to come out of a university building. As he came out I took a photo of him walking under a banner saying “welcome home” as the song played in the background. Whenever I hear that song I always think of that moment, his new chapter and my eyes always fill with tears instantly. Not necessarily sad tears… just “emotional” tears, really. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-M1AtrxztU
And now… my daughter is about to do the same. She’s off a tad further… to Australia and once again we’re going along to settle her in. And then… then it really will be just my husband and I.
So I thought I’d share my thoughts on this period of adjustment and hopefully give you some tips and ideas on how to push through and embrace this new chapter for not just your child but for you too.
This maybe sounds an obvious, even daft thing to say but in these weeks leading up to your child leaving, take the time to enjoy their company. I know you might be busy with work or other stuff but what can you do to make your precious time together count?
It’s actually the simple things… eating together with no TV on in the background so you can chat. Grabbing a coffee in town, if only for an hour or so, walking the dog together, even going to the supermarket to go and buy some favourite foods… putting off the other stuff that can wait until another time. Is their bedroom untidy and their stuff all over the place? Maybe… does it matter…does it REALLY matter? The answer you’re looking for is no….
My daughter and I sat in the garden the other day at our little table. She was making a card for someone and I had a ton to do inside. But I sat outside with her and we had on one of favourite playlists on Spotify. We had a good old sing song, a bit of a boogie (she tried to show me some dance moves, I was rubbish) and we had a huge laugh (and a few tears from me as I watched her jumping up and down and goofing around). The little bit of sun we had had soon went in and it was flipping freezing, but I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything.
Packing up stuff to keep, donate and take is not for the faint-hearted but all part of the process. We’ve definitely had some bottom lip biting moments as T-shirts, sticky nail polish and cuddly toys of yester year get divided between the “keep for later” and the goodwill pile. This is definitely a moment you could launch yourself over the pile to be sorted wailing “don’t do it”. But try and be strong eh? It’s a pretty big deal, with lots of uncertainty and quite a few “aww do you remember when” moments. You’ll want to go lie down in a darkened room after as it will be mentally exhausting and draining, but do what you can to make it light and fun. Dig deep and grit your teeth.
Before you know it, you’ll be standing in their “new home” trying to squash all that “can’t manage without it” stuff into a single wardrobe with two wire hangers and maybe trying to assemble a few bits of Ikea furniture to max out the space with the third wire hanger from the wardrobe, because after all… who remembers to buy a screwdriver?
And when you’re back home and they’re racing around new surroundings forging new friendships and setting alarms in 2 minute increments because they’re terrified of oversleeping, will you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck and reversed over for good measure? Most probably!
Are you going to go and stand in their bedroom “for a minute”, emerging an hour later with a wet sleeve and giving Rudolph a run for his money with your bright red nose. Absolutely!
Are you going to cook too much food because you automatically use the same amount of ingredients for a family? Yeee-eep. It’s ok… nothing wrong with eating lasagne three days in a row….
Those songs you both love “will” come on the radio and knock you for six. You’ll potentially turn up the volume and sing along and snivel at the same time, or you’ll have to change the channel because it feels like every word is like a dagger to your heart.
That TV show you watch together that makes you belly laugh won’t seem half as funny when you watch it on your own, but there ARE ways around that! I promise!
We often bemoan technology and the fact our kids seem glued to it, but that very same technology will make this transition and the new chapter much easier for us than previous generations.
Messenger apps make it possible for us to speak in real time and see each other without it costing a fortune. We regularly talk to our son via Facebook messenger and have had a four-way conversation with all of us in entirely different places.
Remember I mentioned those TV shows that don’t seem the same when you watch on your own?
For the Game of Thrones finale recently my husband and son watched together in different states in the US and talked to each other throughout and afterwards. Is it the same as actually being together? Well, no… but hey it’s a pretty good alternative! Right?
I was recently speaking to my lovely friend Jane about being empty nesters – she too has kids that live overseas, one of which travels the world with the circus for long periods of time. Here’s what she recommends
She says you always need a sense of when you’re next going to see your kids so she and her husband always have a ticket booked. Even if it’s 10 months away, it’s a target date! She also then I tries to develop plans for things I’m going to accomplish before that time. It might be sorting a room in the house…losing a bit of weight or …something for the business etc. It’s her strategy for feeling more positive about the distance. She and her husband also promised themselves that IF we they had to, they’d hop on a plane at no notice, if they were needed.
Also, if they can’t travel to see their kids, they try and lure them home. Jane’s eldest son recently returned for a fabulous week at home and Jane’s strategy was to make it so lovely, he was bound to want to return imminently. I love that! Great advice eh?
And what about you…? Look, I’m not saying this is easy, but you can take steps to make it easier.
I do want to acknowledge you’ll have your “moments”. Maybe lots of them at first and that’s ok! Extend yourself some grace… this is a huge period of adjustment! It is ok to feel sad but you don’t want to get yourself stuck in a place of perpetual sadness.
What’s something you haven’t had time or maybe the energy to do? A hobby you’ve always wanted to try or maybe an evening class to learn a new skill?
How many times have you said to friends it would be lovely to get together but you hardly do as there’s always been so much to do?
If you don’t already work, maybe there’s an opportunity to find a job or even start a business!
I’d personally love to volunteer and there are so many organisations that would be so grateful for your support. What’s dear to your heart? A particular charity or maybe something within your own community?
Maybe you want to set yourself a challenge of some kind? Maybe you’ve always fancied running a 5K but are currently at the stage of getting puffed out running for the bus? The possibilities are endless!
And if you’re in a relationship maybe your needs and desires have been sitting on the back burner for too long? You’ve been so involved with the family, playing “mum taxi” or turning up at sporting events come rain or shine.
Now’s a perfect opportunity to reconnect with your partner – it’s time to create new memories as a twosome again!
Maybe you could resurrect date night – it could be a meal out or the movies but maybe it you could learn something new together – a joint hobby if you like.
A weekend away is a lovely idea or maybe even a trip together to go somewhere you’ve always wanted to go that maybe the kids weren’t so keen on?
The possibilities are endless. But take your time and don’t rush into anything or make any big changes whilst you’re feeling so emotional. A small step is better than no step at all!
Look, I know it might not be easy at first. I’m a realist and know that no matter how much you distract yourself it’s only natural you’ll feel somewhat of a sense of loss. My daughter hasn’t even left yet, but my husband knows when I pull “that face” the tears are not so far away. It happened today (whisper: and it happened yesterday) and I’m pretty sure it’ll happen tomorrow too!
And though it might be tempting to contact your child every… (sometimes many) times a day and check all their social media accounts at regular 15-minute intervals, do remember it’s all new for them too and whilst they are busy forging new relationships, maybe making a few mistakes along the way and finding their feet their focus might not be on contacting on you as much as you would like. Cut them a little slack eh? You still matter… you know you do!
I hope that helps a little!