It’s a hopeful time, a time of new beginnings. So, amidst this joy, why is there a nagging sense of sadness? Isn’t this the natural order of things? Shouldn’t we be happy to see our children grow and leave home to start their own lives?
If this ambivalence sounds familiar, don’t worry. It’s natural to feel conflicted. On one hand, you’re proud of having successfully shepherded this young adult to become the person they are. But their impending departure means that things are changing. Your role as a parent is shifting. What this signals is an adjustment in the way you see your relationship, not only with your child, but also with yourself. It’s not uncommon for parents to use the term “grieving” to describe how it feels when their child moves out.
Here are seven tips to help cope with the empty nest transition:
1. Ask yourself: “How much of my identity revolves around being a parent?” Follow that up with the question: “What are some parts of myself that are independent from my being a parent?” Writing down your answers in a journal can help you sift through difficult emotions and aid in self-exploration.
3. Be patient with yourself. Life transitions take time. Acknowledge and validate your feelings. Since the “launch” of a child into adulthood is the expected course, some friends may not empathize with your complex feelings. Seek out others who have been in this situation and understand what you’re going through.
4. Take stock of the context of this transition. Are there any other big changes in your life that are happening now? Menopause? Retirement? Aging parents that are requiring your attention? Additional losses can compound our already raw feelings and lead us to feel overwhelmed.
5. Set achievable goals and create a plan of action. What did you always promise yourself you’d do once the kids were out of the house? Dust off those dreams and take small steps towards achieving them.
6. Hold off on making any big decisions. Now may not be the time to spontaneously quit your job or sell the house on a whim. Wait until you are on a more even keel to decide on whether or not to make big shifts.
6. If you are married or have a partner, redefine your relationship with your significant other. Can you allow yourself to imagine that this might be the most fulfilling time yet? Share your feelings with your partner, and, together, create a vision of how you two can focus on enhancing your relationship.
7. If you feel overwhelmed and would benefit from some additional support, consider counseling. While this may be a time of jumbled emotion, there is hope that you’ll make it through this transition and even thrive.
Marnee Reiley is a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern (IMF 61489) who brings empathy, humor, and warmth to her collaborative work with couples and individual therapy clients in Orange County. Marnee is certified in Grief and Bereavement Counseling and is honored to support clients through times of adjustment to change and life transitions. Marnee can be reached at 949-222-6681 or YourOCTherapist@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @YourOCTherapist. For more information, please visit YourOCTherapist.com. Supervised at Journey Coaching and Counseling Services by Dr. Paul True, MFC 42710.