One of the hardest chapters for parents to go through is when their children leave their nest. The chapter begins when they enter high school and the “children” become young adults. They start making a life of their own where friends are the priority and hanging out with mom and dad isn’t so cool anymore. They get jobs, learn to drive and begin to live their own life to some extent. As a parent you joke about rarely seeing them anymore, but in reality your heart feels a bit of an ache.
With each passing year, they become more autonomous and rightly so. Parents still, of course, have a role, but the lines start becoming blurred as they enter their final year of high school.The balance of still being their parent but letting them go is a tough road to travel sometimes. The interactions might get tenuous and maybe it’s nature’s way of giving the kids the courage to leave and, for the parent, the relief from tension may make it easier to let them go.
Even though you might have a ramp up period of four years to “prepare” for them to leave the nest, when it happens, you are never ready.
Some people really feel such sadness and loss when their child leaves it is often referred to as empty nest syndrome. It’s not a true clinical diagnosis, but it is a common phenomenon. Women especially suffer from a sense of lost identity. They have played the role of mom for so long that when their child is suddenly gone, they find they do not know what to do with themselves. They in a sense have lost their purpose.
If you are an empty nester and are experiencing some of these feelings or if you have a high schooler who is beginning to stretch their wings, there is hope and a process to work through to manage your feelings.
Three Steps to Finding Yourself Again
Pre-empt the departure with working on yourself. Before those kids fly the coop, begin the process of remembering who you were and defining who you want to be. That is in your hands now! Remember all the years complaining that you didn’t have time to do what you wanted to do? Guess what? Now you do! This is great news!
Go Do: Make a list of all of the things you have wanted to Be, Do or Have. Don’t think too much about it - just make a list. Everything is on the table! Once you have the list, go back and highlight what you want to work on first!
Manage the emotions: Your emotions are a record of the past. For example, your sadness you are feeling today may be because your daughter has left the home. Your emotions can also reside in future events and come in the form of anxiety or stress of anticipating your child leaving the nest. When you look at emotions as either the definition of a past event or the fear of a future event, you are not living in the present, and you need to live in the present. The feelings become habitual and you live in a stressed state of being. You need to break the habit of feeling bad. This can be tough, but you can do this!
Go Do: The best way to bring yourself to be mindful of the present is to take time to set your intention for the day every morning. Find a quiet space and calm your mind. Tell yourself that today you will find joy or that today you will choose happiness. Now, your old habit of falling back into the negative emotion can happen, so you need to gently remind yourself to get back to your intention.
Keep Busy: One of the things that will need adjusting is how you spend your time. This will become evident even if your kids are still in high school. They don’t need you so much anymore and once they are gone, time may feel like an empty corridor.
Go Do: To avoid falling into an abyss of hours that are not filled, get yourself scheduled with activities. Meet a friend, take on a job, volunteer, exercise, read, get involved with a few hobbies, travel, etc. Whatever you do, don’t sit around and watch the clock. This is your life and it needs living!
Closing the chapter of parenting as you once knew it can be very hard, but it doesn’t need to be a time for loss! You still are a mom and you still have your child, albeit they are off to conquer the world on their terms. You now get to open maybe one of the most exciting chapters of your life that features you! So, get ready for new life adventures and great possibilities!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.