It’s happened—you have an empty nest. The little ones that you spent the majority of your time taking care of, worrying about, encouraging, teaching, and loving over the past 18 or so years have grown up and flown the coop. Whether you were ready for it or not, you have entered the stage of being an empty nester. The moving out of your last, or only child, is life changing. And, while there are some parents that embrace this change with open arms, there are many more that struggle to make the transition.
Being a parent has been one of your full-time roles for years. While you still are a parent, even though your child doesn’t live at home, the dynamic of the relationship has changed. If your identity has been wrapped up in your role as “mom” or “dad” having an empty nest can leave you feeling lost, confused, anxious, regretful, and depressed.
This may feel like one of the most difficult transitions that you have made in your life until this point. And, while it may be painful and hard, you can get through it successfully and learn to love the new life that is waiting for you in your empty nest. Getting to this point is a two-part process. The first is learning how to transition to having an adult relationship with your child. The second is learning how to embrace your empty nest and regained freedom.
How to have a relationship with your adult child
It may be difficult for you to see your child as an adult because it feels like just yesterday when you were dropping them off at school for the first time. However, to help your child be a successful adult, it’s important that you learn how to transition your relationship to that of one with an adult and not a child. Here are some tips to help you do that:
Respect the boundaries that your child establishes
This is a time in life when your child is stepping out and becoming an adult. They are likely going to enjoy their newfound freedom. That means they may not check in with you when they make it back to their room every night and they probably aren’t going to call you every day. They may not even want to spend every holiday with you, handle their finances the way you think they should or call you every morning.
As hard as it is to do, you need to respect their wishes. If they don’t want to chat every morning before they head off to work or school, they aren’t going to answer the phone. If you try to force it, you will drive a wedge between the two of you. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their boundaries, but if you want to have a good relationship with them you can’t overstep them.
Only give your opinion if it’s asked for
For years you have been a major influencer in the decisions that your child has made. You may have even been the one making the decisions. This makes it hard when they step out on their own and start making their own decisions. They will probably find themselves in new situations that they are unfamiliar with and will have to figure out how to handle them. Allow them to run their own life. Don’t give your opinion unless your child asks you for it.
If they are talking to you about a situation and you would like to weigh in you can say something like, “Do you want my opinion?” But if they decline then keep it to yourself. Forcing your opinion and undermining the decisions that your adult child is making is a good way to damage your relationship with them.
Enjoying your empty nest
It can be a big change to go from having a house that’s bustling with busy teenagers to a house that’s constantly quiet. You spent years constantly reminding your child to pick up after themselves and now you would love to have a little bit of that mess back. You’re most likely missing things that you never realized you would miss. However, instead of focusing on all of the things that make having an empty nest sad, let’s focus on the positive side of it.
You’ve spent hours upon hours raising your children. You were so successful that they were able to move out and not have to depend on you for every little thing. Congratulations! That means you did a good job, you raised your small children into grown adults. Yes, it’s hard to let them go. But once you do a new life awaits you. All of the things that you had to set aside when your children came or had to wait to try because you were a busy parent are now waiting for you to enjoy.
Rediscover your old passions
Most parents have some type of hobby that gets put on the back burner when their children come along. It could be something as simple as reading every day to cross-country skiing, playing the guitar, or going to wine tastings. Spend a few minutes thinking about the hobbies that you used to love doing. Now is your time to rediscover that passion you had for them.
Take up a new hobby
It’s ok if you discover that the hobbies you had a few decades ago aren’t enjoyable anymore. You now have time to try new hobbies. Think of one or two things that you’ve always wanted to try and commit to them with your newly opened schedule. Sign up for a dance class, learn to brew your own beer, take up knitting, or buy that classic car and head off to a car show. Keep trying things until you find something that you love.
Rekindle your relationship
It can be a struggle for a couple to keep the romance alive when the kids are in the house. Hopefully, you haven’t let your relationship slide just because you had kids, but either way now is the time to rekindle that relationship with your spouse or take it up a notch. You no longer have to hide behind closed doors, be home early to make sure your child makes it back in time or find a sitter if you want to go away for the weekend. Think about the things you and your partner liked to do before having kids and try them again.
If you have a blended family this could be the first time that you and your partner have a house with no children living in it. This is a great time to explore your relationship on a new level. Live like honeymooners for awhile.
Don’t jump into major life changes
You are probably experiencing a wide range of emotions right now. You might be tempted to jump into a big move like selling your house to downsize or getting a job to fill your schedule. Take some time to process through your emotions before rushing into any major decisions.
Transitions in life can be difficult. Make an appointment with a local therapist if your transition to an empty nest has left you suffering from grief, depression, anxiety, or regret. It can be healing to discuss what you are experiencing with a trained and experienced professional.