Whether you’re whooping or grieving, it’s the end of an era like no other. Whether they’ve hot footed it to Uni, or taken off for their first dose of independent living and working, here’s your guide on how to face forward and prosper (aka ‘get through’).
Stage 1 – the early days
- Cry! Having a sob can be a fantastic release. Whatever emotion lies behind the tears, let them out and with them any other feelings you are experiencing. They may just loiter around unhelpfully otherwise. It’s a big time. You’ve had them around for a long time, and all the best bits will flood you and yank your heart around. It’s probably been quite an intense time too, getting them out the door? So breathe and do what you need to. (If you find you can’t stop however, jump to 13).
- Take stock. Your kid is supposed to leave home. You have done your job. Well done. This is a time of great growth and opportunity, for you both.
- Think of all the parents who can’t get their kid out (the adult kid-in-the-basement is the stuff of comedies – we only laugh because we’re glad it’s not us right?)
- Invest energy into those still at home – they need you too and possibly a bit more now, if they were close to their sibling. They are impacted by this change too, and you (potentially) have more time for them now. ( Of course they could be in raptures. They get the big room.)
- Transition gradually. If you expect your kid to come back in the holidays, don’t completely dismantle their room (even if you couldn’t wait to set up your artist studio, gym, yoga palace, you space, sex cave). There’s nothing wrong with a slow transition while they are adjusting to being truly adult and out there in the world. Watch them enjoy their room when they return, and revert to being a kid when they get home. Happy days ahead.
Stage two – getting used to it
6. Start weaning. If you haven’t taken over the bedroom, and are more of the ‘keep it as it was, they will return’ mentality, then you can now start to wean off the mournful reflections. Practice walking past the open door without pausing, or just really appreciate finally having a spare bed for guests.
7. Focus on some household positives: Fewer numbers round the table means more space for talk, more food to go around, less washing, lower grocery bills, less laundry. (Yeah, whose idea was it to have five kids anyway?) (Note: If this strategy is counter-productive, see 13.)
8. Stay connected without being needy. They miss you too – but they are also ravenously consuming their new freedom, so keep it light. (My daughter sends me funny memes about kids moving away to Uni who contact their parents all the time with tiny updates like “I just made a tea, now I’m watching an episode before I get back to study”. An hour later, another: “I’ve just put a load on, but not sure I can hang it out as it’s going to rain.” They won’t forget you.
Stage three – moving forward
- GET BUSY. Empty nest strikes particularly hard for people whose busyness was created by their kids. Even if you work, you may find yourself coming home and moving dust around as there is no-one to run to sport, or pick up from a party, or urgent-launder the school council shirt for the next day’s event. OR If you still have other kids at home, you will now LOVE running them around, because you have a taste of how much you miss it when it’s gone. Perfect!
- Apply cliché about finding a hobby. If you do find you are in the throws of full blown empty nest syndrome – now really is the time to follow up on some old dreams. Do the class, skill up, get involved with others. See friends, talk, create. Isolation can be a curse for you and your kid. Invest in yourself and your community and watch life blossom.
- Stay connected, with empathy. Enjoy nurturing this new relationship with your distant kid. They will need you in some of the old ways and some of the new. Follow their lead, support when needed. Have fun with technology for news way to stay in touch and share cool stuff. Skype them in for dinner when they get lonely. And try not to get pissed off because they don’t ring when you want them to – you would rather they were out with people doing things than sitting home alone on the phone to you every night, right?
- Be ok with missing your kid. Why shouldn’t you? 18 odd years of dependency and company, quite suddenly gone. To miss someone is to reveal love. That’s all. Embrace the experience in all its colours (and when in doubt, revert to no. 3).
- If you are struggling and feel worried for your child (and there are quite a few of you out there our survey has shown) – keep talking. Turn to your partner or others who may also be impacted by your kid leaving. Share the experience and support each other. And if it’s really bad, call a counsellor and get help with some strategies for creating the great new future you and your kid both deserve. (And revert to no. 3. )