The Empty Nest Syndrome

She Said

Despite knowing on an intellectual level that my four children at some point would have to leave the nest, nothing really prepares you for the moment when you walk into the house and there’s no other human being living with you.  (I was divorced two years before my last child went off to college.)  I discovered that my identity was so wrapped up in being a wife and mother that when I no longer actively played either role, I didn’t know who I was, what I liked to do, and what the future held.  My faith and close friends helped me through the process.  My mantra continues to be “Be Still and Know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  You can’t hurry the process.  You will process the pain in your own time.  While the process is painful, my faith in God tells me that this too shall pass.  (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

It is difficult to build a life outside of your kids’ lives after you’ve spent years scheduling your life around their needs and activities.  I’ve been a parent for more than half of my life!  While you want your kids to grow up to be happy and independent, it is hard when they need your help less and less.  While I rejoice in their independence, I still have to resist the urge to provide unsolicited advice.  During the dark moments, I feel as if I’ve lost my purpose in life.  As time has elapsed, however, I experience less and less dark moments and more and more of a sense of freedom and excitement at the prospect of experiencing (and actually enjoying) this new chapter in my life.

My advice:

  1. Start preparing for this emotional moment in advance.  Don’t let it creep up on you.  Otherwise you set yourself up for a big emotional event.  When my first child went off to college (20 minutes away), I left her dorm, sat in my car and just cried.  You may still do that, but at least it won’t come as a surprise and it won’t feel like the end of the world.
  2. Dont play the guilt card.  Your children have a right to go out and explore.  Don’t make them feel guilty for a natural reaction – excitement at leaving the nest.  Also, don’t make them feel guilty when they want to spend time with their high school friends when they come home for holidays/vacations.  Schedule time to spend with them in advance so you don’t feel abandoned when they leave to spend time with friends.
  3. Dont wait for them to contact you, but dont be a pest either.  Your child is entering a new phase of his/her life which means he/she may not contact you as much as you’d like.  Initiate the contact, but don’t be a pest.
  4. Make plans to develop outside interests.  If you always wanted to take up skydiving, now is the time to do it.  Go out and live your life!

Last month was the third time I had to get used to an empty house after a summer with a college student in the house.  While I miss her, this time I could breathe a sigh of relief that I could keep my Greek yogurt in the fridge a little bit after the expiration date and know that it would still be in there when I wanted a late night snack!  I’m getting there. . .

He Said

Imagine you have kids. Now, imagine your kids are away for good. They can come back to visit because they will. And each time they come they put a smile on your face. But stay in that moment when they do leave. Your heart drops, you are overcome with sadness, and you look around your quiet place all by your lonesome.

Now imagine this feeling on a bi-weekly basis because you relive it due to divorce.

I imagine this is what many men feel when they become empty-nesters. In contrast to She Said I also believe this is what a man must feel like who is left seeing his children on a part time basis. It isn’t easy realizing that you will be without your kids on a daily basis. However, more and more men experience this feeling because of divorce and single-fatherhood.

Thus, by the time a child is at the adult age of 18 and is leaving the home forever what impact does this have on a man who has lived a part-time life with his child during those 18 years? Is it really any different? Is it magnified because of the timing? Or does it become easier because of the “training” endured by the man leading up to this moment?

I have not had to experience the empty nest syndrome because of the ages of my kids. But I do know what it’s like having to say good bye. Like Ground Hog Day I find myself saying goodbye over and over and over again. When my kids finally leave my home for good I believe I will be better prepared because of our lifestyles today.

I expect there is more of an emotional explosion for many females that have the honor of living with their children almost daily. I also believe two-parent households might share the same experience as they watch their children leave the home. But we men who are relegated to seeing our kids part-time through the windows of divorce may have a different reaction when the time comes for our kids to grow up and move on.

Unfortunately, the emotion may not be as great when the kids leave because we learn to tone down our emotion throughout the years to keep us sane. Or we become numb to the feeling of our kids continuously coming and going. Although we wish to experience that feeling most parents feel – proud yet sad – we know our relationship with our children is . . . different. The best we can achieve is knowing that we had a hand in their development to adulthood, and we will silently store the emotion in some empty cavern within our soul – empty space created as our children came in and out of our lives on a bi-weekly basis.

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