When your children leave home to go to college or University, it can be difficult for you to adjust to this sudden change in lifestyle. If you’re used to your days (and nights!) revolving around the challenges and demands of your offspring, you may feel suddenly alone and abandoned when your daily parenting duties are suddenly removed. Coping with this “empty nest syndrome” is hard, but possible. Here are a few tips to help you cope.
Prepare in Advance
The first thing you should do is prepare for your child’s departure. Make sure that your son or daughter knows how to do the small but important things, such as cook, clean, do laundry and manage money. If they are up for it, challenge them to a ‘test month,’ where you allow them to do all their own cooking, cleaning, food shopping and laundry. That way, you can provide guidance if they make mistakes. You will feel better knowing that your child can live on their own.
Give Your Own Life a Makeover
A month or two before the day they will leave, now is the time to take a long, hard look at your own life. Take down your calender and look through it. What proportion of your life is made up of your activities, compared to those that revolve around your child? Most parents don’t realize how many of their daily hours are dominated by their child’s activities until after their child leaves.
You are about to see a whole lot of empty space on your calender coming up, so prepare in advance by coming up with a new weekly schedule fort yourself. Draw up your ‘dream schedule’ for yourself, and try to plan and do at least one new activity a week. This may include starting a weekly movie night with your best friend, instigating a regular date night with your husband, and the inclusion of one new weekly event or class. If you’ve always dreamed of learning to paint or take Spanish classes, now is the time!
Look to the Future… and Plan a Trip
When they do leave, try not to treat your new empty nest as something to be upset about. Try to think of it as a part of your child’s life journey. Let your child know that their original home is where they are always welcome, but don’t offer to have your child back at home every weekend. This will only amplify your empty nest feelings and inhibit them from living on their own.
Get out of the house if you are feeling depressed. Don’t sit and wallow. A good tip is to book an exciting or relaxing trip with your spouse or friends the weekend after your child leaves. That way, you will have something to look forward to, and the trip will distract you from dwelling on any blue feelings.
Plan What To Do With Their Room
With regards to what to do about your child’s empty room, make sure you have a proper sit-down conversation with your child about it. Realize that they have grown up in this room and will always see it as theirs. So if you plan on installing a home gym in their old room after they leave, make sure you talk it through with them first.
Keep in Touch With Your Child
Learn how to keep in touch with your child without calling all of the time. By text messaging and sending emails instead of constant phone calls, you can share small things throughout the day and fight empty nest syndrome. You must keep in mind, however, that your child won’t always be able to respond immediately. They have gone off to college and are learning new things, experiencing new things, and are most likely very busy.
Try to avoid panicking if you don’t get a reply to your emails within a week. Sending them one email every hour until they do reply is a sure-fire way to make your child resent you contacting them. If you are tired of waiting a month for each reply, talk to them on the phone or in person about it. They are sure to feel that you are ‘babying’ or ‘nagging’ them, but explain to them that you miss them, and hearing back from them in any way makes you happy.
Explain they don’t have to write you a page-long letter every day, but just a few lines once a week will do. The best thing to do is agree on the frequency of your contact, and don’t be afraid to compromise. If your child says they only have time to write you one letter a month, agree to that, but ask if it’s okay for you to call them at the weekend if you have something you’d like to talk to them about. Agree on a day, and make it a regular thing.
Talk Your Feelings Through
Despite all your efforts, you’re bound to experience feelings of loneliness when your child finally leaves. This feeling may be worse if you live alone and do not have a partner to keep you company. If you feel like you’re experiencing empty nest syndrome, it’s a good idea to speak with someone. Keep busy and take on new hobbies or activities you were once busy for. A great idea to help you cope is to visit your local animal shelter and adopt a pet, if you truly want to have something to take care of again. Take on new projects, such as remodeling the home or planning a trip, to help gain your own life back and to truly enjoy your new independence.