Empty Nest, Happy Times

emptynest-1I love my kids. I really do. But when they left for college, leaving me with an empty nest, I didn't cry, mope or lament the silence in our house. I cheered. 

It's not that I don't miss them, because I do -- sort of. I'm still in awe that I now walk into rooms that are exactly the way I left them. I'm happy they're starting another chapter in their lives, adventures I hope will be fun and fruitful. They know they can call on me to help them when needed, and I know I can track them down via text, email and/or video chat (yay technology!) when I need to reassure myself that all is well.

I see their departure as a new adventure for me and my husband, one in which we're readjusting to being a couple, with a whole lot less laundry to do. I probably should be worried that I'm not suffering even a twinge of empty nest syndrome, except that I'm too busy doing other stuff, like clearing out the junk drawer and working, finally, on my great American novel. But I know that not everyone feels the way I do. So I asked other moms and dads how they're dealing with their empty nests -- and if they're crying or cheering. 

Turns out there’s actually a lot more cheering than crying, at least among the many working parents I know. And that qualifier – working parent – might explain why the empty nesters aren’t feeling at a loss as to how to spend their days without their kids’ school stuff and extracurricular activities to focus on.

“The house is definitely quiet now,” says one mom (who asked that I not use her name because she doesn’t want her son to know she’s talking about him.) “But the teenage craziness was super stressful and I’m happy that he’s growing up and dealing with lots of things on his own -- if only because it will help him realize how much effort I put into making his days easier.”

“I miss the kids sometimes, but I get over it pretty fast,” another dad, whose youngest just went off to college, tells me. “But it’s not like they’re really gone -- we stay in touch and I’m still putting out fires for them when I can.”  

There were definitely regrets, my friends tell me, and I’m with them on that. I wish I had spent less time working when they were younger, that we had taken more trips together -- even just day trips to local haunts -- and that we had played chess, checkers, backgammon and Crazy Eights way more often. But I am happy that I saved a lot of their art and school projects over the years and framed them in inexpensive black metal frames I picked up at Target. I can glance at almost any wall in our house and see their work, including the numerous self-portraits I asked them to draw for my Christmas present each year. They may not be here, but their presence is definitely felt.

What do the experts have to say about living comfortably in your empty nest? Here are the top three things they recommend:     

1. Stay in touch and think positive thoughts.  If you’re feeling a sense of loss, stay in regular contact with your kids, the Mayo Clinic recommends. Thanks to technology, phone calls, emails, texts and video chats can fill in when personal visits don’t work -- but don’t be obsessive about it. Your kids won’t appreciate it if you turn into a stalker. Instead, think about all the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your partner, your friends, and your extended family, and to spend on new activities.

2. Seize the day. Remember all the things you used to do (paint, bike ride, hike, go to the movies, take classes, go to a movie)? It’s time to rediscover the old you, as well as come up with a list of new interests you may want to try, says Psychology Today. “Look for meet-ups in your area as a place to connect with others who share similar interests, or start a meet-up yourself. If you have trouble brainstorming, don’t worry. Years of parenting can make one feel a little ‘rusty’ as far as extracurricular activities go.”

3. Rethink your job description as a parent. Think about the new role you can play in your kids' lives. “You're now a tremendous resource for bigger life decisions,” says Dr. Phil. "Say, 'I'm not going to stop being their mom, I'm just moving to the next phase. I'm going to start being their resource, I'm going to be their soft place to fall on the phone, on weekends and I'm going to become a mentor in a different phase in their life.' It's just ever changing. You're not going to stop being an involved mom, you're just going to change phases." 

Remember you’re not the first or only person to confront an empty nest. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed, try joining a support group. I also suggest planning a night out with other empty nesters. At least you know they don’t have to worry about finding a babysitter -- and neither do you! -- Connie Guglielmo


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Image courtesy of flickr user Mathew Knott

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