It's that time of year. The school year is coming to a close and for those of you who are parents, this means dealing with endings and preparing yourself and your children for the new beginnings that lie ahead.
For those of you that have graduating seniors, like myself, it is a more poignant time of year. It is the time to begin the process of launching your children out into the world. It is the time to deal with your own feelings as your role as parent shifts into a different gear. And as cliche as it sounds, if this is your last child going off to college or adventures of his own, it is your time to deal with the empty nest.
I must confess that while I have helped many mothers and fathers work their way through this time, experiencing this first hand is quite a different story. So I've decided to share my own process with you in hopes that it will help validate yours. Yours may look different than mine, or the transition you are going through may be different, but I promise you the issues and tasks that must be addressed in order to make your way through to the other side are quite similar. To understand what waters must be navigated and how best to do this, read on.
You may be caught off guard. While friends of mine warned me that when your last kid goes off to college feels different than the others, I dismissed the warnings. I believed that since I was soooo ready for the first one to go, when the last one went, I would be ready to party on. But as the time draws nearer, I am surprised at the intensity of the emotions and how much my identity has been built around my role as mother.
At the core of every parent's life, lives their children. Even though I've had a vibrant career and many outside friends and interests, at my core, my role as mother has been my rock. I understand that my children will need me and love me forever. My role as parent continues to live on. However, I also understand that I am no longer the center of my children's lives. They are leaving the nest in order to stretch their wings and makes lives for themselves. This is the time for them to create primary significant relationships beyond me. This is the time for them to take the driver's seat and for me to take a back seat role. I am left with grieving the loss of what being a Mom has meant to me for the past twenty three years and finding a new meaning to being the mother to my young adult children. It's different. And I know it will take some getting used to.
There is now a hole that needs to be filled with something else. This includes finding a new purpose for my life (although I know I am still valued as a parent), new things to fill the time that was previously spent parenting, and new ways of relating to my children (in some ways things will stay the same and in other ways things will need to be different). I keep telling myself to enjoy this fallow space that lies between raising children and enjoying grandchildren. It is a time for me--a time to express myself in different ways and extend my energies toward different activities. It is a time for experimentation and discoveries.
Remember, grandchildren are likely in your future. I now understand why mothers bug their children for grandchildren. It's nature's way to help parents of adult children have the opportunity to experience parenting once more; this time we get to do the fun stuff and leave the hard stuff for our children. Yes, karma's a b----!
Lastly, there are other things that occur at the same time our children leave the nest. Women and men are aging and going through hormonal changes. Mid-life crises and marital challenges typically coincide with this major life transition. In addition, this is the time that our own parents are aging and dying. For me, I lost my own mother last January and I feel this loss even more as my daughters head off to other adventures on the other side of the country. Most parents are dealing with multiple losses, changes and challenges at the same time--relationship, work, family and health.
So as I navigate my way through this new territory, here are my recommendations for you (and me) as you navigate your own version of "an empty nest."
- Honor your feelings. Don't judge, deny or displace them. Find effective ways to express them.
- Get support from someone who understands what you are going through. Utilize your support system and do things to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
- Be patient and understand that this transition takes time.
- Be reassured that this is a normal part of the life cycle and you are not alone. Every parent faces this issue. Every Mom realizes just how much of her identity is wrapped around her children. Every child at some time must leave the nest. It is healthy and necessary--for both of you.
- This time will pass. You will find your way through this transition and enjoy the next phase of your life. There are many wonderful aspects to having an empty nest. You can rediscover your spouse, enjoy a new focus on career, engage in volunteer activities and find simple pleasures in having less responsibilities around parenting.
- Remember, nature is designed to eventually fill in empty spaces. Your sense of emptiness will not last forever and new opportunities, projects, goals, people and experiences will fill in the space you feel in your heart. Be open to what is in store.
- Know your children will come back to you as more mature young adults and a new and wonderful relationship will ensue. This is not the end of your parenting; it is the gateway into a more mature, reciprocal and loving relationship with your children. Keep Reading...
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