Sending your kid off to college or their first apartment is a bittersweet time for parents. You're excited for them to begin their new, more independent life, but it can also be challenging to adjust to not having your child at home anymore.
If you're gearing up to face the empty nest this year, never fear: Here are some tips from parents who have been through it on how to survive — and even thrive.
Make a plan
“We all love our kids, but don't devote every second of your life to them," urges Oregon mom of three Karen Jupiter. "It's not good for them or you when the time comes for them to leave the nest. Have your own life.”
It’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to do when your kids grow up. Did you sideline your own career goals to raise your children? Have you ever contemplated taking a finance class but never had the time because you were busy helping your kids with their homework? Or have you always wanted to travel abroad but needed to be home for soccer games?
An empty nest is an opportunity to do the things that you put on hold while taking care of your family. “Find out what interests you and get involved with others who share those same interests,” suggests mom Paula Smith Cole.
Adds Idaho mom Shawny Swan, “Get a hobby. Exercise and eat well. Redecorate your home. Try yoga or meditation. Volunteer. Read books and learn to play new games. There is so much to do!”
Enjoy your time together
It’s easy to fall into an emotional spiral at every potential "last supper" of the summer months. Resist the urge to get melancholy or panicky about everything that needs to get done before your kid leaves. Instead, enjoy the days or hours you do spend together, creating memories and strengthening your relationships. Jupiter adds, “Don't stress over the little things; just enjoy whatever time you have left with your kids living under one roof.”
Embrace your new freedom
Being an empty nester means saying goodbye to the school calendar. Consider taking a vacation on off times rather than during school breaks; flights will be less expensive and hotels less crowded. And while you may miss watching your child play soccer or picking them up from play practice, it can also be nice to set your own agenda and not have to be home at a particular time. Take a late exercise class or go to an evening movie with a friend. Texas mom of three Andi Rosenfield admits, "While I do miss having my kids home, it is nice not having to watch the clock and adhere to a schedule."
An empty nest also means less time doing laundry, grocery shopping and other household chores. And mealtime is much easier too. "It's great not having to make dinners that please every member of the family," says New Jersey mom of three Andrea Bergman. "I can try new recipes for my husband and myself or new restaurants that the kids might not have enjoyed."
Swan urges partnered parents to go on dates with each other.
Mom Frances Walker echoes this sentiment: "I tell people that when your child is a junior in high school, you need to start doing things with your spouse. If the kids are holding the family together, take this time while they are there to get your relationship back on track." Think about doing some traveling or taking up a new hobby together.
The same is true for friends or family that you may not have had time for while taking care of your young kids. Now is the time to reach out to old friends and reconnect or to make new friends that share your interests.
Remember: You will still be in their life
Don't make your child feel guilty for leaving; growing up and becoming independent is a good thing. Encourage them to embrace their solo life, try new things and be excited about the future. "Be happy for your kids," says Rosenfield. "You've given them the foundation to be confident enough to leave.”
While it is the end of one chapter, it’s also the beginning of another — for them and for you. Your kid is going to have a new life, and hopefully, they will want you to be a part of it. “Be available for phone calls," urges Rosenfield, "and really listen to what they have to say.”
“Before they leave," suggests mom Julie Seitz Smith, "select a date when you can go visit. Having a scheduled time to see them again — especially after they initially move out — will give both parent and child something to look forward to.”
The most important thing to remember when facing an empty nest is to give yourself time to adjust to your new life. “It's normal to go through a grieving process," Pennsylvania mom of two Carla McPheron reassures us. "And then you need to accept your new normal. Acceptance is key. Things aren't going back to how they were.”
So embrace this next chapter, and think of it as an opportunity. With the right attitude, it may wind up being even better than you expected.