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Surviving the Empty-Nester Transition

Being a parent is bittersweet during transitions in your child’s life. You remember the first day of kindergarten as much as the first day of high school. You thought you were prepared for the day they left home for college until you see them walk away to their new dorm. You told yourself you wouldn’t cry, but now you find yourself in the car sobbing.

The transition of a child leaving the “nest” is difficult and conflicting and can make you feel vulnerable and alone. However, just as your child is going through an exciting time, you are also opening a new chapter to your life. Below are six suggestions that can make the transition smoother for both you and your child.

1. Plan ahead. Part of what makes the house feel so empty after children leave is they take their energy and activities with them. Begin preparing yourself while your child is still in high school. Parents that do the best with the transition have started taking on more hours at work, gotten involved in a project they’ve always wanted to do, or invested in new interests.

2. Understand the sadness is real but temporary. For most parents, the sadness comes and goes for one to two months. Some parents felt immediate joy as soon as their child left. Keep your attitude one of constant growth and trying new things. Your life can and deserves to be just as joyous with or without your children at home.

3. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge the changes. When your child leaves, their friends and even your parent friends leave, too. There are no more after-school events to socialize or volunteer at and that creates a loss of identity. You may be more worried or anxious about their wellbeing. This is completely normal; talking about this feeling with other parents or friends can help you feel supported and less alone.

4. Get involved with your child’s school spirit and new interests. Wherever you can show interest and get involved with your child’s new activities, it will help you feel connected. It also eases your worries and helps you see how happy your child is in their new life.

5. Re-invest in your marriage, relationships, and family. When you are a parent, your attention is usually divided between kids’ activities, work, and life. Once your child goes to college, you have more time to yourself and your partner. Giving your relationship more attention will improve communication and intimacy. This is a good time to schedule weekly dates and outings with your partner. Take time to nurture the relationships you’ve neglected in the past.

6. Embrace technology while giving your child space. Going to visit your child every week is not good for their personal growth or yours. Take advantage of technology to stay in touch. A weekly virtual hangout can keep you connected, and you can see your child. Allow your child to problem solve on their own and give advice when they ask you for it.

The final departure as a kid leaves the nest doesn’t happen overnight. In a very real sense, our children are making independent strides to being on their own throughout their childhood. Embracing their independence while providing a safety net at home is what healthy parenting is all about. Let your child know that when you hug them goodbye, you always have time to talk to them. When you see them walk away, take time to give yourself a hug and get excited about creating your next stage of life.


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