UNITED STATES—Parents are busy people, devoted to their children. As CEOs (Chief Everywhere Officers) of the family, they spend two to three decades juggling car pool, sports practice, music recitals, homework supervision, dental appointments, shopping, cooking, cleaning messes, and giving advice. By the time their children are juniors in high school; additional responsibilities are shouldered by the parents as they begin preparing their children for leaving the nest. Touring colleges and winding through the maze of college applications, exploring military options, or providing guidance for the child going directly into a career is foremost in parent’s minds.
Some parents, either due to denial that the day would be coming, or because they were so busy being parents, fail to plan for their child’s departure and next stage of their life. Prepared or not, when your role as parent is no longer requiring daily attention, empty nesting will occur.
When the children are finally launched out of the family home, parents often find it difficult to move forward. The impact of losing the role of daily active parenting is intimidating. The stay at home parents may feel a loss of identity. Psychologists say it can take 18 – 24 months for the primary caretaker to fully adjust to being an empty nester. For parents who work, the adjustment period is often shorter, due to one’s self-confidence being enhanced in non-parental arenas. Empty nesting can be a fluid process, with children returning home for additional parental sponsorship.
Coincidentally, you and your child are going through a comparable life experience. You are both beginning a new life-stage. You are learning to adjust to a separation from your child, often one with whom you have conflicted emotions. You remember your son as that lovely little boy from days gone by; the one who used to adore you. But the child you just helped move out of the family home may have been acting sullen, withdrawn and testy over the course of several months preceding his departure. This behavior, which made it challenging for you to like him on certain days, was his attempt to individuate and become more independent.
Take your time with this transition, and enjoy the process. You now have the opportunity to focus on your own interests. Examine your values, and move in the direction that is congruent with them.
Connecting with others is one of the single strongest vehicles for helping you find your footing. Reach out to friends. Disclose your real feelings, concerns and confusion. It is important to not deny your feelings. Friends can offer validation. They know you, they’ve likely gone through similar experiences, and will help you in stressful times. Revitalize friendships with others from whom you have drifted away but respect, and with whom you enjoy spending time. Perhaps you lost contact with someone you have a high regard for because your family life did not intersect with theirs. If you share similar values, use this occasion to reconnect.
The role of parenting provides a sense of structure and purpose in life. To identify other means through which those needs can be met is the primary challenge at this time. It may be achieved through starting a hobby, avocation, or start a new career for the stay-at-home parent. Do not let age be your barrier. By taking care of yourself, you can expect to have several more decades of vital living.
Rediscover your spouse. The distractions of parenting may have created friction between you, or interfered with the ability to make your partner a priority in your life. Time spent redeveloping your sense as a couple; making time for each other, talking (not only about the kids), and rekindling fun and romance can result in meaningful opportunities for growth in the relationship.
Empty nesters are mature and come into empty nesting with a confident sense of themselves developed over years of raising children. They know that they have successfully launched their children into adulthood, and feel proud of their accomplishments. With proper planning, empty nesters will enjoy limitless opportunities for happiness in the future. Their happiness will be experienced in their relationships with their grown children, other family members, friends, and beyond.
Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, is a life and business coach in private practice. She gives community presentations on preparing for the empty nest and parenting a child in college. She has been a guest on KABC radio Ledger On The Law, written articles for various publications and is a published author. Prior to becoming a life coach, she was a licensed clinical social worker for 20 years and author of Succeeding In Private Practice: A Business Guide For Psychotherapists. For further information, write to her at Eileen@LensonLifeCoaching.com, or visit her website at www.LensonLifeCoaching.com.