I am not exactly sure how to mark the start of an Emptying Nesting career. Often, we connect the onset of Empty Nest Syndrome with the last child leaving for college. That does not sound quite right to me. First, using college as the boundary ignores the 33% of high school grads who do not leave home for college. In my book, a new Marine mom qualifies for Empty Nest status before a new Delta pledge mom.
Next, college kids return. Often and with laundry. Then they go to graduate school and keep returning. Often, with laundry and with a significant other. The idea behind “Empty Nesting” emphasizes the first word of the phrase. If you have to keep the children’s room just the way they like it, how empty is your nest?
It makes more sense that your nest status changes the day you realize your kids can make it by themselves. As a side note, I question whether under that rule my parents ever qualified as Empty Nesters. Their recent move to a retirement village where I cannot legally reside might be their way of finally ensuring Empty Nester status.
For M’Lissa and me, the day Kendall called to tell us Highland Park High School wanted to hire her as a teacher and coach was the launch point. Not for her, for us. We imagined a life full of travel, romance, fitness and new hobbies. High hopes indeed!
ALTERNATE VISIONS OF REALITY.
Common wisdom and some support groups suggest the opposite of high hopes for Empty Nesters. In the 1970’s, counselors began to suggest that the loss parents felt when their children left the house caused a depressed mood and other negative emotions. Thus, Empty Nest Syndrome created a small industry to help parents through the transition.
The idea persists today. In researching this article I ran across a list of thirty things an Empty Nester can expect in the very oddly named “Best Life” e-zine. In the kids’ words, “O.M.G.” Apparently, our new Best Life entails: resentment, cheating and divorce (Nos. 8-10); work failure (No. 7); financial disaster (Nos. 17, 19-24); loss of health (Nos. 5-6); and every type of anxiety, depression and sense of loss known to man (Nos. “all the others”).
While the Best Life article is obvious clickbait, I also found internet forums and casual support groups for people suffering real pain after their kids detached. The common theme among the more troubled stories is that nothing can fill the hole the children’s departure creates. So which Empty Nest is it, “the time of your life” or “the end of the road?”
THERE IS HOPE.
Let’s start by acknowledging that your author is not qualified to diagnose you or to treat you. That said, the American Psychological Association believes your prospects are bright. That organization’s review of more recent research illustrates that Empty Nesting most often creates deeper relationships with your significant other, members of your extended family and your friends.
No one denies that you miss your children. On the other side of the ledger, however, we find:
- Less contact with children means less friction with children
- More time to fulfill your own goals
- Children who move away are more accessible than ever before
- Children who exercise independence reflect your success
Think of it this way. If you draw up the age-tested “pros and cons, line-down the middle of the paper” decision sheet, you know that the “pros” side will have more entries. Finally, add in this last, important factor. There is nothing you can do about your children leaving anyway.
SUCCESS IN THE FIVE-YEAR PLAN.
I am neither a psychologist nor a counselor. My only qualification to talk about this subject is that five years down the road, we have successfully navigated the Empty Nest. The first insight I offer is that the hole your children’s departure leaves is real, but that is okay. You will never fill the hole and that is okay. Your children will have bad days, you will not be there to help, and that is okay.
The second insight I offer is that the things that improve your life when the children live with you hold true after the children leave. Moving is better than sitting. Outside is better than inside. Books are better than television. Fresh is better than frozen. Stuff as much of the good stuff in your life as you can.
The third insight I offer is the that the children still return. Often, with laundry, a significant other and grandbabies. As soon as one of those shows up, you cannot wait to kick the kids out of the house again so you can have the little one all to yourself.
Your Empty Nesting life is not supposed to be a substitute for full-time parenting; it will be entirely different. Ironically, the parents who struggle with the loss of their role were involved parents, by definition. Undoubtedly, they gave the “do not be afraid to try it” parent speech before band auditions or sports tryouts, college and employment applications, and anything else the children had not yet experienced. Take your own advice and dive in. Emptying Nesting is a verb.