I knew if I blinked the tears would fall. So I widened my eyes and briskly hugged Alex, turning quickly so she wouldn’t see me cry. She walked resolutely across the park-like Denison campus, keeping stride with a freshman roommate who had confessed to being ADHD and a slob within the first 5 minutes of meeting her.
I cried most of the 7-hour drive home.
With Alex gone, our nest was officially empty. Wasn’t it just moments ago my daughter was a cheery toddler belly flopping on her bed, shoving a Goodnight Moon board book my way while arranging Bunny and Bankie alongside Chelios the dog (not too close as they didn’t get along)? Wasn’t it just the other day 5-year old Jared was waving his Ninja Turtle numchucks in a carefully crafted routine – Brett and I applauding with appropriate seriousness?
I remember when our basement was loaded with Little Tykes molded plastic – that basketball net filled with sand at the bottom so it wouldn’t break in half from energetic dunking. That Flintstone-like car that Alex beeped on her way to indoor destinations.
From now on our house would be uncluttered. Laundry would be doable. Dinners would be simple. And as for that crowded wall calendar we used to complain about – there would be no more games, practices, matches, recitals, or birthday parties. No more visits to Chuckie Cheese or Great America (thank goodness). Its boxes would be stark.
This was the plan, right? Parenting is about letting-go. First to babyhood and bedtime stories and then all too soon – you’re handing over car keys taking them to see friends you don’t know about at events you’re not sure about.
For us clingers (we know who we are), the empty nest is bittersweet – even downright depressing. You’ve lost that motherly identity and day to day sense of purpose.
The Mayo Clinic cites the Empty Nest Syndrome as the profound sadness some parents feel when their last child leaves home. If left unchecked, it can lead to depression and anxiety, even alcoholism.
They offer the following suggestions to deal with this parenting inevitability.
- Accept the timing. Avoid comparing your child’s timetable to your own experience or expectations. Instead, focus on what you can do to help your child succeed when he or she does leave home. (Easier said than done – says me not Mayo Clinic.)
- Keep in touch. Maintain regular contact through visits, phone calls, emails, texts. (Be prepared that they won’t answer you, says me not Mayo.)
- Seek support. Lean on loved ones for support. Share your feelings.(Not a chance, says me, not Mayo).
- Stay positive. Thinking about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your marriage or personal interests. (OK, I’ll try, says me.)
Psychology Today adds, “Don’t expect to feel ‘excited’ per se at first. However, getting involved in new activities and interests will help accelerate your emotional adjustment.”
So whether you’re sad because of the empty nest or you’re distressed that your nest will NEVER be empty, the same game plan holds true–
-Practice self-care. Meditation, yoga, walking, volunteering, reading, having drinks, coffee, a meal, anything with friends.
– Do NOT linger on Facebook images of perfect families, perfect lives!
-Stay curious. Plan trips. As hard as it is, tell your Comfort Zone to get lost.
-To the best of your ability, don’t seek out chocolate or cheesecake as solace. Here’s a duh-thing from the NYTimes Smarter Living section — giving in to food-temptations is oh so human. Don’t beat yourself up. The trick is to NOT have the temptation within physical proximity. If Ben and Jerry’s is in your freezer, then assume it will be in your mouth at 11pm. Click the picture below for more.
I am trying to practice what I preach. (I love my comfort zone.) Our nest has been empty for a while, though Codie and Kacie are staring me down right now, obviously insulted, “What about US???”. When I start to romanticize those Little Tykes days, I vow to open my Gratitude Journal — this IS a time to celebrate!
Today’s Takeaway –
-Whether you have a full or empty nest, rejoice in the NOW. It’s a gift from God.
-Also, remember that adage, “This too shall pass.” Your Boomerang kids will eventually leave. Make memories with whatever stage you’re in and KEEP BUSY!
Enjoy the Ride! It’s the ride of your life!
Barclay and Joy