“Bye, bye birdie.” If you are a parent, then at some point in your life, you will experience the Empty Nest Syndrome. It is that time in your life where your day-to-day family role lessens, your relationship is either rekindled or unraveled, and your social circle feels like a merry-go-round.
Your home is an empty nest when your day does not revolve around your child’s activities, meals, sleep schedule, or home arrival and departure. You can accept invitations without looking at your child’s school, athletic, dance, or club schedule. Your grocery bill is reduced and your refrigerator leftovers last more than one day. Those with growing boys especially understand this. You are relieved of your cooking, laundry, chauffeur, homework and curfew check duties. Lastly, you are not in charge of the day-to-day operations of your child’s life. Is it easy? No. Will you survive it? Yes.
I have experienced the college goodbye twice with my son Damien. The first time was the hardest. He left at 17 years old to attend college and play football 70 miles away from home. This past Sunday marked the second time. After living at home for a couple months to prepare for his next chapter, he moved 400 miles away to attend law school. Although each goodbye was difficult, it was different. Both times, I cried because I will miss him. We have a close mother-son bond. The first time, in 2008, I dropped off a boy who had just graduated from high school, a month earlier. Yesterday, I dropped off a man, ready to make his mark in the world.
Most people will be experiencing the situation of dropping off a child at college for the first time. This one is for you. I left Damien at the UCLA campus on June 22, 2008. I had a range of emotions, especially considering that I was a divorced mother at the time. This meant that I would have the house all to myself when he was gone. Since writing is therapeutic for me, I immediately turned to my journal. I hope that by sharing my observations and journal entries with you, you won’t feel alone in the process.
This day will forever be etched in my heart as the day I had to let go. ~Diane GP, Journal 6/22/08
After the hustle and bustle of shopping and packing for college comes the dreaded goodbye on Drop-off Day. It may be short and sweet with minimal emotion (until everyone is alone), or it may be long and drawn-out with multiple hugs and the repetition of the phrases, I love you and I’m proud of you.
In my case, the first goodbye in June 2008 involved tears. I cried for a few reasons. For one, I was going to miss having him around to talk to on a daily basis . We have always been close; so conversations about various topics came easy to us. Secondly, I knew that the child I dropped off that day would soon become an adult with real-world experiences. In college and on his own, he would meet new people with different beliefs, experiences, and customs.
You will see, hear, and experience things that will influence who you are and who you want to be. ~Diane GP, Journal 6/22/08
After parents return home, then the questions begin. Questions could be as trivial as wondering if your child has enough blankets, toiletries, school supplies, or an extra jacket. Shortly after, the second wave of deeper questions arrive about your parenting skills. You begin doubting your ability to raise an independent child. You are wondering if he or she will know what to do, without your presence, in a natural disaster, roadside emergency, or maybe a financial situation. To be honest, you still worry about them meeting strangers, or just-plain mean people.
Did you sleep ok on the twin bed? Was it too warm without air conditioning? How are your meals so far? How was your resident hall meeting last night? How was your first college class? Was it what you expected? Should I text you today or tomorrow? How much space should I give you the first week? ~Diane GP, Journal 6/23/08
After talking to other parents, the consensus is that one of the hardest parts of an empty nest is letting go and changing roles. We are so used to knowing what is going on with our child’s life, that the lack of control is frightening. A few years ago, I had an a-ha moment while watching television. I learned that as our children grow, we change from managers to consultants. A manager handles the day-to-day operations, whereas a consultant is sought out as needed for guidance. If you want to explore that further, I found a short video that best describes this mindset.
I know that you don’t need me anymore in your daily life. I have to pass on the torch—to you completely. ~Diane GP, Journal 6/22/08
I know nothing! I’m trying to be good and not be a nagging mother. I just don’t know my role right now. Do I call? Do I not? Do I wait? What do I do now? Tears fall from my face and my heart aches, yet I’m extremely proud of your independence. Go figure. I know what hurts—you don’t need me anymore. ~Diane GP, Journal 6/27/08
Empty Nest can also involve self-identity issues. Depression may even sneak into some homes without anyone ever realizing it at first. For so long, parents place themselves on the backburner while they raise their child. In several homes, marriages are inadvertently placed on pause. After the last child leaves, parents find themselves asking the following questions: Who am I? Who are you? What do I like? What do we have in common? Who are my friends, outside of, or away from my child’s activities? Now that I have the time, should I go back to school, follow my passion, take up a new hobby, or start a new workout routine?
Parents need to realize that their child is also experiencing similar self-identity issues. They are proving to themselves and others that they can make it in the world. For that reason, we need to give them space and the opportunity to rise and fall on their own.
For you, I will be supportive, patient, strong, and a good listener during the transition of life at home to life in college. It won’t be easy…I’ll be ok and so will you. I am your mother and you are my son always! ~Diane GP, Journal 6/22/08
In the end, it’s the fear. Fear that you didn’t prepare your child for the world. Fear that you are no longer needed. Fear that your “purpose” in life is done. Fear of the future.
Well, there IS life in the empty nest. There will be a point in time, where you won’t feel guilty for having your own plans or agenda. There will be a time where spur-of-the-moment plans are made, just because you can. There will be a time when you are able to pursue your passion and follow that dream to fruition. There will be a time when you can sit back, take a deep breath, and beam with pride, from the simple fact that you raised another human being that will make a positive difference in this world.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings.” ~W.Hodding Carter