Off You Go! A Parent’s Guide: When Your Child Leaves For College Or Moves Out.
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
I never thought that I would struggle when my children moved out. I thought that I would be happy to have free time to lounge around, take long trips and walk around my house naked if I wanted to.
Was I ever WRONG!
My two girls moved out into their own places young and my son joined the military which took him across the United States to Washington. While it's not college that took them out of my home, I felt the loss the same.
It's a complex place to be dealing with feelings that we did not expect to have and not knowing where to turn. It can make us feel alone, and a bit foolish.
My friend and I had conversations over her daughter leaving for her freshman year of college. She was struggling with feelings of loneliness, gloom, and melancholy. I was feeling out of control and depressed.
I couldn't understand how she could be so upset over her daughter going out into the world to start her amazing life.
Soon I realized that it had little to do with her daughter going to college and more to do with the uncertainty of what this meant in her life.
Who was she if she was not being a mother? Who would she bake with and knit with? Who would she argue with over keeping her room clean?
What did this mean for her and her husband now that there were no children in the home?
My friend and I were struggling with the same issues of having an empty nest but looking at them through totally different lenses.
I even offered to trade her kids at one point because I thought I could handle what she was dealing with better than my own struggles. She was not amused and felt unheard and alone.
We both felt alone even though we were going through similar struggles. Both of us were focused inward and not able to reach out to the other the way they needed.
At some point, it became clear that we needed to help each other through our feelings. I am not sure how well we did in this circumstance but somehow we both muddled through with lessons learned and feeling hopeful.
Not long after I had a client who was in this exact situation. I felt that some of those lessons I had learned would aid me to help this client.
My client turned his feelings into worry. He would call his daughter at all times to check up on her and would panic if she did not respond. He had an app that tracked her every move and would worry if he thought she might be out too late or was somewhere that he was not familiar with. My client was unable to enjoy his daughter’s time home because of the dread of her leaving again.
It's was a long road to work through these feelings. He had to figure out different ways of dealing with this new-found loss of control and loneliness. After our time together in the therapy room, He left feeling much closer to his spouse and had an understanding of his own thoughts and emotions.
“Nothing is a bigger waste of time than regretting the past and worrying about the future.”
Most parents will face a similar tug of war of emotions when their kids leave home. There's happiness that they are spreading their wings, as well as fear, anxiety, worry, and the list goes on.
If you are going through the same feelings, please know that these feelings are normal and there're ways you can help ease this transition. If these feelings start to consume you and you are unable to escape them there're professionals that can help you ease your way down this path and walk your journey with you.
How to get through the empty nest feelings
Here are some simple ways to help guide you through this time of change:
• Acknowledge where your feeling are coming from and name them. I know this sounds odd but you need to know if your feeling are coming from a place of fear, loneliness, sadness, etc.… Be able to tell your spouse, partner, or friend “I feel scared” or “I am so sad” It will help when you name and claim your emotions.
• Examine who you are besides a parent. This is a time to transform your life too. Now you can find out who you are. Go back in your memory and look at hobbies or activities that you have let go because you children came first. Did you love the Friday night bowling league, taking hikes, quilting, reading, dancing? Sit down and make out a dating profile for yourself. This will help you see yourself differently than a parent, then take the time to date yourself. Do the activities that you enjoy. If you are in a relationship share it with your spouse or partner. Have your partner complete a dating profile too and start dating each other again.
• Practice some mindfulness. Whether that means that you find a short guided meditation to start with, immerse yourself into the Bible, or sit in the grass and let your soul rest and renew, this is your time to rejuvenate and embrace who you are. This does not have to be a long amount of time each day. You can start with five minutes every other day ease into it and enjoy the energy and calm that will come.
• Talk to your child. Explain that you are trying your best to be what they need and ask them to let you know what you can do to help them. You are still their parent. They still need you. I am 40 something, and I am thankful that I can still call my mom and dad to ask questions or feel loved and supported. We all need our support group, and they will appreciate that you are on their side.
If you are still having issues dealing with your empty nest or if your grief is overwhelming you please get help. You are not alone! This can be a new beginning for you and your child!