How would you describe the way you feel when one of your children leaves home?" I asked a friend. "Oh, that's easy," she said. "When one of my children leaves home, it's like having another limb cut off." Amputation? That reaction sounded a little extreme, until my firstborn left for college. My sadness seemed entirely out of proportion for such a normal, expected event. After all, didn't our daughter's blossoming independence mean that we as parents had done our job?
I missed interacting with my daughter every day, and I was faced with constant reminders of that loss: seeing the empty chair at the dinner table; running to my daughter's bedroom to tell her the latest news and finding it unoccupied and quiet; reaching for her favorite foods at the market and then lowering my hand, as the tears welled. My life was radically changing and no one seemed to notice. I felt silly and very much alone.
But I wasn't aloneand neither are you. Parentsespecially momsexperience a broad spectrum of midlife experiences. As I began observing, talking to, and reading about parents who faced the challenges of midlife and the empty nest, I discovered insights that helped me prepare for this season of life. Although each parent's experience is different, I hope these insights can help you face your own changes.
A Weaning Process
Weaning is a complicated process, and so is your journey as an empty-nester. Thinking of this midlife change as a processinstead of an event that begins and ends when you take your child to campuscan help you prepare for the kinds of changes you may face.
For example, some parents are baffled when the child they had always been so close to is suddenly angry and rebellious before leaving home. Sometimes, the more connected children are to their parents, the harder they must work to break away. The resulting conflicts are confusing, but they are common as moving day approaches.
Some moms and dads breeze through the empty nest transition. After the initial adjustment, they find that they love their new lives and enjoy having more free time. Others count the days until their children return home for a vacation break, and then spend the day after they leave crying, grieving for them all over again. The process of letting go of your children differs from parent to parentand sometimes is different as each child leaves home.
New Friendship Opportunities
In this time of our lives when we most need to feel part of a supportive community, we often feel isolated and alone. I've observed this in my life and the lives of other parents I know. Friends who were a regular part of our daily lives through our children's mutual activities are now moving in other directions. We have every intention of remaining close, but the reality is that life has changedincluding opportunities to gather together.
My friend Annie decided to build a new community of friends when she struggled with the isolation of the empty nest. She sent a letter to every empty nest mom she knew, asking if they'd be interested in forming a support group/Bible study for midlife moms. She was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic responses. They now meet regularly to support one another and study God's Word.
A New Kind of Relationship
At first, you may need to grieve the loss of a daily relationship with your child. After all, you participated in every step of preparing your child to leave home, from helping with the college application process to attending orientation. Yet now your child is starting a new life and you are returning to your old one, with one big differenceyour child's absence. You may feel left out of the fun and excitement of starting a new adventure.
Your first job is done, but your next one is beginning. Your new task is to develop friendships and a mutual support system with your adult children. Your new role is that of a wise friend and mentor to your adult children.