The shocking and painful reality hit me as my last child drove away to college: I will live without my children longer than I will live with them. I stood alone in the empty house and howled like a wounded beast. Then I blew my nose, grabbed my work gloves, and proceeded to convert my son's bedroom into a writing studio. Finally, Mama created her own space!
After decades of raising children and preparing them for the realities of the world, most women are jubilant when their young adults are without a criminal record and have employable skills beyond being a pole dancer at the Kit Kat Klub. For us, the empty nest is a positive experience because our children are doing fine on their own. So it's only proper that we encourage them to go find themselves so we can find ourselves again, too.
Of course, we'd like to assume that the successes of our children are due to our superior parenting skills, but we're also wise enough to know that a tremendous amount of luck and other nurturing people were involved to help Junior and Sis become productive adults. And we've shared countless tears with good mothers struggling with their children's drug addictions, chronic unemployment, physical and mental limitations, or abusive partners. We're also keenly aware that the dismal job market makes it difficult for our eager offspring to find good employment. That's why it's so exhilarating to celebrate when our young adult sons and daughters become self-sufficient. Once again, it took timid baby steps that evolved into an energetic run.
It was continual on-the-job training for me as I submerged twenty years of my life into the responsibilities, joys, and frustrations of raising two kids. I had never been a mother and they were new at being human, so we learned together. Now that they're grown and happy, I can look back at those years as a brief, marvelous moment in time when I first had the privilege to be their mother. Here are some suggestions for those apprehensive about facing life with an empty nest:
Prepare for Parting. If your child is getting ready to move out, plan for a family vacation or adventure before he or she leaves. Celebrate the future and provide encouragement because your child may be just as apprehensive as you are. Wait a few days before you redecorate and reorganize the empty bedroom into a reading sanctuary, workout room, or craft studio. You finally have more time for yourself so pack their toys, paint the walls, and create your own space.
Give Them the True Gifts. Your children should leave home with the ability to survive. They need to know how to do laundry, balance a checkbook, cook a meal, and get a job. They also need to know that they'll always be welcomed home any time with open arms, a clean bed, and a warm meal waiting for them. And if you're fortunate, they'll come home and help with household chores. It's a wonder to witness such a magnificent transformation.
Reorganize your Life. Your world is different now and will never be the same. You need to assess your personal transition away from primary caregiver. Your children want you to be happy, and they don't need any guilt trips on their journey to independence. And no, you can't move into their dorm room and be best friends.
Don't Start "Pre-Grieving." There's an online website that offers links to regular blogs for people who are "pre-grieving." Even though their children are still at home, the parents already are starting to lament the time when their kids will leave home. With all due respect, it's time for these people to get a grip or seek professional assistance.
Relish Your Relationships. If you're married, now you have an opportunity to rekindle the dormant passion that remained on the back burner while you dedicated time to raising children. You may have to dig out the old photos, songs, and that French maid costume to remind you of a friskier time. If you're single, find some groups and organizations that cater to single men and women. Consider contacting old friends and planning an event similar to a college reunion, except without name tags or pleas for donations.
Related Resources. You can find information to assist with your transition from full house to empty nest. Check online for relevant books, organizations, articles, message boards, events, and services. You're not the first person to experience an empty nest, and you won't be the last. Instead of organizing a play date or preparing for a child's birthday party, maybe it's time to plan a celebration at Mom's Empty Nest.
After the last kid grows up and flies down the road to chart his or her own path, get ready for a new adventure. The house is quiet, you can sleep naked, and you don't need to hide your favorite ice cream behind the frozen ham hocks anymore. It's truly time for a party in the empty nest. The disco ball is optional.