Milestones. We celebrated them through the years as our children grew, clapping as they took their first steps, snapping dozens of photos before middle school dances, beaming with pride (and relief) at graduations. But those same milestones drew us toward a murky event I usually didn’t want to think about—the day our children would be grown—and my role in their lives forever changed. But caught up in a whirlwind of sleepless nights, homework assignments, after-school activities, and endless laundry, the prospect of an emptying nest wasn’t an immediate concern.
As my son would say, “Future Mom’s problem.”
Yet the looming reality always tickled at the back of my mind. Little by little, with each celebrated milestone, each of my precious children was learning to make his and her own way in the world.
They learned to dress themselves. Then they were crossing the street by themselves. Eventually I could trust them to use the microwave. The next thing I knew they were moving into their own places. Away from me. On their own.
Combating the Empty Nest Syndrome
Now I knew the day was coming. I prepared myself emotionally and was ready for the anxiety of being apart, of not being an integral part of their daily lives. I fully expected sadness, nostalgia and loneliness and knew it was going to be a difficult adjustment. So I sought advice from others who had gone through it. Long-overdue projects kept me ridiculously busy. I read books that had been sitting on the shelves for years and discovered the sheer abandon of binge-watching Netflix.
But at times, especially in the quiet of the night, my mom’s heart just wouldn’t go along with the voice of practicality and reason. The internal struggle reminded me of the imaginary devil and angel that sat on my shoulders as a child, each whispering in an ear, pushing opposing agendas.
“This is normal.” “Yes, you miss him, but he’s only a phone call away.” “She has to make her own way.” “They can handle it.” “They’ll be fine.”
“You won’t be able to tell when he’s had a bad day just by the way he walks in the door.” “You won’t be able to check on her at night and make sure she’s getting enough sleep.” “Did he ever buy that fire extinguisher?” “You KNOW they’re facing certain peril!”
And on it went. Days turned to weeks and weeks to months. My plans, projects and books kept my mind mostly occupied until, day by day, “living” replaced “coping” and the new normal started to actually feel normal. Different—but okay. Reason and practicality were slowly winning the battle.
The Upside of the Emptying Nest
Eventually I was able to slow my frantic busy-ness and acknowledge the positive aspects of this new stage in our lives. I felt proud and impressed as my children accomplished adult tasks (though curiously amused that they managed to get themselves awake in time for their jobs). I was thrilled when they called to ask for a recipe and honored when they asked my advice.
I could get take out when I wanted.
Amazingly enough, no one encountered the life-threatening danger I was once convinced would befall them. There’s been lockouts and roommate issues, dysfunctional appliances and unpleasant landlords. Furniture that won’t fit up the stairs. Regular stuff. Not perilous.
They tell me about the places they go, the new people they’re meeting and the ups and downs of their jobs. I’m intrigued by the interests they’ve developed and their independent views on topics and events. We converse now as adults—and it’s pretty cool.
I still worry. I’ll always worry. But now in the still of the night, I know they’re basically alright because they’ve got this. After all, as they met those milestones, they’ve been preparing for adulthood their entire lives.
Looking for some additional support dealing with your emptying nest? Here’s some advice from Mayo Clinic: Empty nest syndrome – Tips for coping
Is your son or daughter looking to rent an apartment? Check out my post, 13 Apartment Hunting Tips to Help You Find a Great New Place.
Share your comments and/or empty nest coping strategies or comments below.