This past weekend, I picked up my two college students from their respective schools and settled them back into our home for the summer. It has been a year of ups and down, and lessons learned, mostly for me. As a homeschooling parent, I suffered from empty nest syndrome intensely, as my entire life has been centered on them for over 10 years. Here is summary of how I have survived my first year as an empty nester.
Saying goodbye was difficult, but I managed it well. Just like in preparing for bedtime, I set out into a ritual of preparation. I purchased everything I could think of, making up lists and checking them twice. I packed everything lovingly into boxes and re-usable bins. I also unpacked those items on the other side. No, they did not need my help unpacking, but the ritual of doing the work helped me transition and accept our impending separation.
Taking over their space
I was careful about taking over their space. I left their bedrooms intact, and only cleaned up behind them a little. However, as my son’s living area was essentially the entire basement, and my daughter had taken over the guest room in addition to her bedroom, I did reclaim those areas that never belonged to them in the first place. This was especially important as we found ourselves besieged by house guests much of the fall season, we could repurpose these areas into sleeping and living space for our guests.
Filling the empty time
For hand-on mothers like me, who don’t have a job or other pursuits outside of the children, it is important to not sit idly. Reclaim a hobby. Try out a profession through volunteerism or part time jobs. Spend some time studying a new subject. All of these pursuits were very useful in keeping my mind off the kids, and helped me to narrow down interests I want to continue exploring.
Finding new people to take care of
This is where I went wrong; terribly wrong. I let a relative weasel into my kids’ place and take up all of my time and energy. At first it seemed like a good idea – to give attention to someone who clearly needed it. In the end, however, I ended up mentally and emotionally exhausted for attempting such an emotionally difficult task too soon. Beware of letting someone take the role of your child in his or her absence.
Make new friends
Probably the best and most uplifting thing I did was join an online group of empty nesters. This wasn’t just any group, but a group centered around something we had in common, kids starting off in fine arts theatre programs. We commiserated. We gave advice. We talked each other off the wall, when we wanted to go rescue our children. We also mourned together when one of our group members died unexpectedly. Following that, we banded together to provide support for her kids. We also found time to visit each other if one of us happened to be within the vicinity of another. Our group seemed crazy to our kids and our spouses, but for us, it was oh-so-healthy and up-lifting. I highly recommend finding a new group of friends to fight empty nest syndrome.
Making mistakes and starting over
The first year as an empty nester is a year of discovery. It is ok to try something, decide it is not right for you, and start over. Be selfish with your time, your space, and your peace of mind. Guard your first year at home carefully, allowing yourself to grow and explore without your kids, just as they are doing the same without you.