Now that autumn is here and your college-aged kids have moved out, you may be feeling unsettled, even melancholy. So what is it that you’re more worried about – how they’ll get along in school or how you’ll adjust to the empty nest?
For some parents ‘no kids at home’ represents a fresh start. After her youngest child went away to college, Mira realized “This is the only time I’ve been completely free since my daughter was born. I spent months after she went away to college just relaxing and doing whatever I wanted, until I got bored. Now I’m planning to go back to graduate school – pursuing my passion for learning and an MBA.”
Other parents are ambivalent and find it more difficult to let go emotionally. Even when your kids readily move into their independent lives away from home, you may still be concerned about how they’re managing. The popular term, Helicopter Parents, is widely used in the mainstream media. Do you rush in to protect, no matter how inconsequential the situation? Or sometimes feel like a helicopter hovering overhead, rarely out of reach, whether there’s a distress signal or not? If this sounds familiar, your growing children may be missing out on the chance to learn from their own mistakes.
Six months after her son left home, Fern knew full well that letting go was easier said than done. For 12 years she had raised him as a single mother. “I was always available. I didn’t care that my life revolved around him. Now he just wants to be with his friends and I’m left out. I know he should be on his own, but I don’t have anyone else and I feel so alone.” If Fern’s challenges sound at all like yours, think about the following tips as you begin to write a new chapter in your own life:
1. Prepare for a greater sense of separation. As you find your adult children distancing more over time, realize that this is natural and normal. They have their own lives now and so do you. The details and activities you share may be less frequent but can be just as meaningful.
2. Practice letting go. Try to visualize one door closing and another door opening. Relax into feeling more calm and carefree. Let yourself get excited by the possibility of exploring what you want to do with the free time that is now available to you.
3. Accept your ambivalence about the empty nest. Discuss your situation with friends who care about what you’re going through. You’ll discover that you have a lot in common and that they feel the same about their own experiences. That can be validating and comforting.
4. Decide to write regularly in a journal. As you think about what’s happening in your life right now, you’ll see that there’s no right or wrong way to feel. Accept that you, too, are on a more independent path now. By identifying and dealing with what is going on for you emotionally, you’ll learn to take greater control over this process of change.
5. Understand that you are still needed, although not in the same way. Letting go of your parenting responsibilities means letting go of the particular family roles you’ve played so far. Breathe deeply and appreciate this opportunity to create different relationships within your family.
Recognize that you now have full license to put energy into reinventing yourself. The lid has been lifted off the box – embrace new options that you may not have imagined possible. Continue to move away from center stage with regard to your kids and move toward your own deferred plans and goals. Now it the best time to enjoy the chance to fulfill your dreams – just like when you were first in college yourself.
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