Tips and advice for combating empty nest syndrome.
As leaders, our responsibilities don’t stop when we leave work. We also lead our family. The “final exam” of our home leadership comes when our children move on . . . they day they no longer live under our roof.
As our kids left for college we began to experience empty nest syndrome. It’s a challenging time of transition for any family. Here are some of the things we learned:
WHAT TO EXPECT WITH AN EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
It’s time: Your son/daughter may have really enjoyed high school. You may have liked attending sports, music or drama events to see your kids. But no matter how much you may wish it could all go on indefinitely, it can’t. It shouldn’t. By design, high school has a limited duration. Staying one extra day won’t add more value. Living at home also has a limited healthy duration. Lingering isn’t better . . . it just keeps everyone focused on the past (looking at the rear-view mirror). Instead, look out the windshield. The only way forward is to let go of what was and embrace what’s ahead (even if it comes with a difficult transition). Life has moved on. So should you. It’s the only way if you want your children to have a successful career, get married or give you grandkids.
A major life transition is thrust upon you: All the attention is on your child’s transition (as it should be). However, this can mask that you and your spouse are also going through a significant transition. Perhaps you are comfortable with how things have been. Maybe you thought most of your major life transitions were behind you (after all, you’ve already graduated, been married, moved and secured a job). This change may feel like an unwelcome surprise.
Loss of a focus: Think about it. You’ve spent a lot of time anticipating raising a family. Perhaps when you were a kid yourself you thought of getting married and someday having children. That means that you have been anticipating children and raising children for decades. Raising kids can be the source of our identity. It’s a valuable pursuit. For many, children are the biggest dream and focus of their lives. With the children leaving home, what dream or focus is now on your horizon?
Time and adult friendships: Having children means spending time at their events. It can also mean making friends with other parents at these events. We can get used to spending our time this way and having a social outlet. How will we spend our time and make new connections going forward?
Loss of contact: We like our kids and enjoy spending time with them. Over countless hours and experiences a wonderful relationship has been established. Losing this day-in, day-out contact can make us feel sad. We want what’s best for our kids (moving on), but selfishly, we don’t want to give up the time we enjoy with our kids.
Your child is a boomerang: You are mentally preparing to be without your child. You’re ready to reclaim their room, donate the old toys and reconfigure your home for a new era. But then junior comes home for breaks. He/she is gone, but not totally. You want them to have a place in your home, but they aren’t there very often to use it. This can make it feel difficult to cleanly transition to a new era.
Your mortality: Each year in the Pacific Northwest millions of salmon return home. They spawn the next generation and then die within a few weeks. Thankfully, that isn’t the case for humans. Still, empty nest syndrome can cause us to take stock. The years moved quickly with children at home and we’re a little older. Somehow we’re not in as good of shape as we used to be and we’re beginning to feel some of life’s mileage. We are reminded that life is finite and precious.
TIPS FOR HANDLING EMPTY NEST SYNDROME
#1. Know that they are leaving home, not leaving us: The temptation is to equate our child’s physical absence with their absence from our lives. The truth is that our relationship with them continues. Our children still need us and love us.
#2. Electronic communication: Stay in touch with your kids electronically. Gone are the days of expensive phone calls. Social media, texts and video calls are free. Take advantage of them. If your child is away at college, suggest that they call you while walking to class (nothing else is competing for this time). Take an interest in their academic life (their friends probably don’t).
#3. Plan visits: Plan ahead so that you will always know the next time you will see your child. Time moves more quickly when you are looking forward to a visit.
#4. Dream: The dream of raising young children is now behind you. Don’t let there be a void. Dream some new dreams and set some new goals. Budget resources to help you achieve them. Chances are we are better skilled and better off financially than we were before kids. There will never be a better time in life to accomplish new things.
#5. Reconnect with your spouse: Years of raising children changed how you relate to your spouse. Use this opportunity to do the things you couldn’t after your children were born. If you used to enjoy doing something together, chances are you still will now that there aren’t kids in the house.
#6. Get a “kid fix” if you need it: If you find yourself missing simply being around kids, volunteer in your church’s Children’s Ministry or Student Ministry. There are plenty of kids that would benefit greatly from your time and attention.
#7. Celebrate the win: Your job as a parent is to work yourself out of a job. Congratulations, you’ve successfully equipped your child to leave home and live in the real world! If the day your baby comes home from the hospital is worth celebrating, so is the day your young adult leaves home. You’ve completed the “adult-child” stage of parenting and can now move on to the “adult-adult” stage. It’s quite an accomplishment.
MORE TIPS AND ADVICE ON EMPTY NEST SYNDROME