Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

As a parent, you’ve probably daydreamed about your noisy, rebellious child growing up and leaving home, yet also had nightmares about when that time would actually come. The transition from full-blown parenting to only a call or two each month can be unsettling. Parents can prepare for empty nest syndrome by filling their nest with other eggs. What? Here’s what I mean.

Acknowledge the Loss

When your son or daughter packs their bags to head off to college or to embark on adulthood, acknowledge the loss, pain or emptiness you feel. The change can be unsettling and the feelings can be confusing and intense. Parents who try to avoid facing those feelings by busying themselves won’t be truly happy until they realistically acknowledge the change and release the pent up emotion.

During the transition, mourn the loss. Ride through the emotions and let yourself grieve the change. Then acknowledge with the loss of one thing you can gain another. Tell yourself “thank you” for sharing, then let those emotions go as you move on with hope.

Prepare for the Change suggests talking about the upcoming changes with your son or daughter. Regular conversations about the move will help you prepare mentally and emotionally for the days he or she won’t be coming home and the nights he or she won’t be asleep just down the hall.

Begin thinking about what you will do when he or she is gone. Consider what hobbies or career options you have been keeping on the back burner during the past active-parenting years. Look into classes that are available or support groups that meet regularly. Now is the time to reach out to old friends or make new ones so when the time comes you will already have someone to connect with.

Have a plan for your child’s possessions too. Whether it’s their high school letterman’s jacket or their stuffed animal collection from childhood, certain possessions can hold a lot of memories. Discuss with your child what they plan on taking with them, what you need to hold onto for later, and what you can put in a storage unit or donate to charity. If the move is permanent, consider repurposing their bedroom into a space of your own.

Redefine Yourself

Change your daily job description from strictly “Erin’s mom” or “Brian’s dad” to something that describes your personality creatively, spiritually, socially or otherwise. Wellesley Weston Magazine suggests getting to know yourself again and taking the time to redefine yourself and how you spend your time.

Get involved and be active in a new hobby or in doing something you haven’t been able to put your energy and time into because of your child. Take a class of interest and hone your skills. Find a hobby and join a group that feels the same way as you. Travel with friends or solo. Make use of your new found freedom by volunteering, exercising, adopting a pet or pursuing personal goals in the workforce.

Now is the time to refocus your energy on friends, family, coworkers and neighbors and rediscover your commonalities, interests and love. Connect with old friends and plan to meet monthly or bimonthly. Realizing you have something to offer other people can greatly improve your happiness and feelings of worth.

Celebrate the Successes

Despite the loneliness or loss you may feel, having a child attend college, join the workforce or get married isn’t something to be sad about. Count that as a success and pat yourself on the back for raising good kids. Celebrate the joys and stay connected with your son or daughter through the changes, challenges and successes they find as they discover their new identities as autonomous beings. This time of change has great potential for personal growth — enjoy the opportunity.