Family of Origin, Family Ties, Parenting

Feathering the Empty Nest

“Where did the time go? It’s the strangest feeling. With one hand I’m pushing them out the door and telling them to take the world by storm, and with the other hand I’m saying please don’t go. I’m sure I’m not the first mother who’s felt this way, and I certainly won’t be the last.
Caroline Manzo, BravoTV Blog

I may be a therapist, but I am also a mom. When I read these words from strong, spirited, level-headed Caroline Manzo, I recognized a sister in Empty Nest Syndrome. We spend 18+ years preparing our kids for just this – leaving the nest, embarking on their own lives, growing up. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a career woman, you put great chunks of your life on hold to raise your children well and someday cheer them on as they move on. In theory, anyway. Nothing can prepare us for the sight of our offspring loading the car full of boxes packed of memories and heading off to college, a new apartment, or another city.

When my daughter first left home, our roles were momentarily reversed as she calmly and rationally explained her need to spread her wings, explore her independence, and build her own life as an adult. I remember sitting and listening, eyes wide, nodding in what I hoped was a supportive way while inside a panicked voice clamored “But you just learned to walk!” Mothers (and fathers too) have this weird ability to travel instantaneously back in time and experience their kids as if they were still kindergarteners – even when those days are 18 years ago. We got through it. She drove off to a little apartment full of young college girls her age, and nothing catastrophic happened. Except maybe feeling like my heart was tied to her bumper like a banged up can after a shotgun wedding.

I took a little time and let myself think it through, and grieve. Yes…grieve. My little girl was a memory, and my time with a child sharing our home was at an end. Very quickly I realized that in that little girl’s place was a pretty fantastic young woman, who still needed her mom in a different way. We made time each week to hang out together. We texted every day, even just to say hello. She was fine.

I also spent time soul-searching, looking for the reason so many parents find themselves up against this so-called Empty Nest Syndrome. If the kids are fine and happy, what is the nature of this speed bump we go through when our children grow up and leave home? My conclusion was this – I needed to redefine who I was now. I had been a successful career woman for years, but this event brought home for me just how profoundly I identified myself as “E’s mom.” In addition to learning again who I was without my daughter in the home, the plain and simple fact was I missed her company, her music, her laughter, her stressing out before midterms. I missed knowing for sure she was sleeping in the next room, or that she had had a good dinner. My husband experienced the same issues, so Empty Nest Syndrome is certainly not limited to women only.

Those two factors –identity and coming to a place of peace with my daughter’s wellbeing in her new home, became my homework in this new journey. I rearranged furniture. I spent more time with friends. We did away with formal mealtimes and ate when we felt like it 🙂 We went away for a weekend and reconnected as a couple. Little things added up and our ability to roll with this life change was good for our daughter as well. Little known secret – they worry about us, too. Maybe even miss us a little.

If you are dreading the Empty Nest days sure to come, or in the middle of this journey, take some time to care for yourself, grieve if you need to, and find someone to talk to about your feelings. Continue family traditions and enjoy the times your adult child comes home to visit. Reconnect with your friends, family, spouse, and most of all – reconnect with yourself.


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