As parents we watch our children go through many different stages. There’s the sleeping through the night stage, learning to walk and talk stage, going to school stage, negotiating the teen years and graduating school stages. But the stage of life that can come upon us with surprise and emotional turmoil is when they leave home. This can be tough when our first children leave home. And when they have all left the home it can be even harder, you may have heard this stage is called the Empty Nest.
When a child is looking to leave home, a myriad of emotions may swell within you as a parent. We may be proud that they are growing into independent adults, but also sad that we won’t be as close to them as before. My mother always joked “You just get your kids good and they leave home!” And there’s a little bit of truth in that, because that’s our job. Our job as parents is to prepare our kids to live independently outside the family, but many of us didn’t realise how much that would hurt when the time came!
I have five children, and so far two have left home. I have also worked with scores of parents in this stage, so I know the roller coaster of mixed emotions of this stage well.
Here are my five tips to help you negotiate the
Empty Nest Stage.
1. Prepare for the Empty Nest Stage:
Make sure that the leaving home stage is something that you talk about with your children as they get into their teen years. Be as active in preparing them for leaving as they will let you! Take the time to help them budget, cook meals and learn how to clean. All these are skills they will need when they leave home.
As well as preparing the children, make sure you also invest in yourself before they leave. Parents often put their kids before themselves, but I encourage you to have a life outside of parenting, as this will help ease the Empty Nest stage.
If you have a partner, talk about the upcoming stage with them as well. Discuss what it might look like for you as a couple. Start to dream and plan how you might connect with each other in the future.
2. Accept that the Empty Nest is a stage of loss and with it will come grief.
Although your child will probably be excited about moving out and starting their independent life, as their parent you may feel some grief. The amount of grief a parent feels in this stage will vary greatly. Factors that will influence how you handle this stage are things like: is this the first or the last child to leave, how old is the child leaving, how close you are to that child, how confident you feel about the child navigating their way outside the home and how much of a life do you have outside parenting?
It’s important to remember that this is a loss you are experiencing, and with that loss comes grief. Grief has different stages and there is no time limit to move through these. Honour your own grief journey and don’t be hard on yourself as you go through it, and don’t compare your journey with someone else’s.
As you process this grief, you may feel a myriad of emotions, and that’s OK. Some days you may feel sad that you don’t see your children every day, other days you may feel excited that you don’t have as much cleaning to do now!
3. Take care of yourself!
While acknowledging the loss, it’s really important to care for yourself during this time. Holistic self-care is the best where you make the time to care for all areas of your life, I use the acronym STEPS to help me remember all the areas: Socially, Thinking, Emotionally, physically and Spiritually. I have written a blog about STEPS to self care you can read here.
It’s important to take care of your emotional wellbeing so it doesn’t burden your children. The last thing your child needs is to be worried about how their parent is doing at home without them. Get support for yourself if you need it. And by the way, when your child is excited about moving out, don’t take it personally or read it as they didn’t like you or their home. Being excited about their independence is a healthy sign.
4. Give yourself permission to enjoy the Empty Nest Stage:
When children leave home, the dynamics of the home will change. This doesn’t have to be all bad! Give yourself permission to enjoy the new-found time and freedom this stage brings!
If you have dedicated much of your life to raising children, it can take a little while to find and reconnect with yourself again, but it’s worth it. Join the book club, go on that cruise or start that diploma you have been putting off. When two of my children left home last year I employed an interior decorator to stylise my house to reflect our smaller family, and I love it.
If you have a partner, the empty nest will probably highlight the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship like never before. Often parents are distracted by parenting and neglect their relationship. If you find the relationship is strained during this new stage, don’t panic. Treat this new stage is an opportunity to reconnect with your partner as well, and give it time. For tips on how to repair an unhappy relationship, you can read my blog here.
5. Welcome them home, and your new role.
As my children have left home, my role as their mother has certainly changed. I am no longer hands-on or the first go-to for their issues. But that’s OK, they know I am always here for them if they need some support or a shoulder to cry on. I love watching my kids navigate independent life as an adult. It doesn’t always go smoothly, but I love seeing them overcome challenges and grow into amazing adults!
And I have to say, welcoming my adult children home after they moved out has been one of the biggest joys of my mothering life. I absolutely love when they choose to come home. I make sure I have baked their favourite dessert, have time set aside to be with them and celebrate them coming home. I’ve also noticed that leaving home has also given my children a new sense of how good their home life was, which is encouraging as well!
If you find that the Empty Nest stage is particularly difficult for you, make sure you reach out for support. You don’t have to do it alone and talking to the right counsellor can make all the difference. I have helped scores of parents negotiate the Empty Nest stage so when you are ready, you can book an appointment with me here.