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The kids have moved out; now what?
Empty nest left you feeling blue? Here’s what to do.
Congratulations! You’ve launched your children into the world, leaving you with a pile of old stuffed animals, sports trophies and a great deal more time on your hands. Here are some tips to smooth the transition.
Give yourself permission to grieve
You’ve spent years with your children as the centre of your universe. And now you have an empty room, a full refrigerator and time on your hands. You’ve done your job. So why are you cuddling a ratty old bear and sitting in a room that has never been so clean?
“Empty Nest Syndrome” is the official name for a host of emotions that parents may experience after their children move out of the house. Feelings of sadness, loss of purpose and loneliness are among the symptoms, and they are a normal part of the transition. You are grieving the loss of the everyday contact, the chatter and companionship even if you don’t miss finding an empty refrigerator the day after you’ve done groceries.
What you are feeling is normal and temporary. If symptoms go on for a prolonged period, talk to your doctor to ensure you haven’t slid into depression.
Re-acquaint yourself with your partner
When was the last time you talked to your partner about something other than the kids? Your conversations in the coming days may feel like a first date because you’re embarking on a new stage in your relationship and you must get to know each other all over again. So why not plan a few date nights? Go to a movie of your choice, go to a gallery, take a long walk, run away for a weekend, go on a meandering drive that isn’t dictated by family-friendly places. Share the things you’re interested in now, and take time for each other again.
The same is true with your friends, who may be going through the same thing. Plan some coffee or dinner dates, and support each other.
“I’d like to do that someday”
We all have those secret “I wish I could learn to do that” things, whether it’s ballroom dancing, pottery, cake decorating, painting or wine or whiskey appreciation. You have more free time now, so use it to do something you’ve always wanted to do either with your partner or by yourself. If you are struggling with a lost sense of purpose, doing something you’ve always wanted to do can reignite your sense of self.
Review your finances
Post-secondary education is expensive. While no one wants to see their kids saddled with massive student loans as they start in the workforce, make sure you aren’t sacrificing your future financial security by financing your child’s education. It will mean more if they work to help pay for it. And remember, they will have many years of working to pay off those student loans, but your work life might be winding down.
Also look at other expenses, such as your phone or cable bill and your cost of living. If you are used to routinely feeding a small army of teenagers, you will find your food costs will now plummet, and you will have to revise your meal planning to cook for fewer people. Do you need every channel under the sun and unlimited data on everything? Do you still need two cars? You might be able to cut some costs for things you kept for the kids but seldom used yourself. Of course, having control of the remote and what to watch might be a new discovery, too!
Be a good distance parent
You know if one of your children is sad, angry or hurt when they are living under your roof. Once they are out on their own, it becomes a delicate balancing act between independence and interfering. They need to walk into some walls and get themselves out of their own messes. Rather than telling them what to do, start asking what they think they should do. Offer suggestions, but only if asked and listen more than speak.
Learn technology, such as Skype, FaceTime and texting. If you’ve never used a computer, now is a good time to learn. Meet them where they communicate the most. Use Dropbox or other cloud-based programs to share photos.
Tempting as it is, don’t play the guilt card. Be happy when they call or visit. Keep them up-to-date on what is going on at home with friends, extended family and even the family pets. Hold the pets up during the Skype call!
You’ve invested countless hours, tears and love raising self-sufficient, kind and capable children into adults. And while the transition is bittersweet, it’s also an opportunity for a new beginning for you.