Empty Nest Magazine
Empty Nesting: Coping Strategies
by Ellen Newman
‘Tis the Season
Imagine transplanting a flower or bush to a new location so it can grow healthier and stronger. For this to successfully occur, you have to dig up the plant and sever its roots. There’s an initial shock to the system, but planted in its new surroundings, it extends new roots and eventually establishes itself more firmly than before. And the hole that’s left behind can be filled in with fertile soil ready to nurture new opportunities.
While doing some Internet research and soul searching, I discovered some useful coping strategies:
1. Acknowledge your feelings. Accept that it’s natural to feel somewhat lost at this point. Talk to your friends, as well as other parents who are in a similar situation. As Natalie Caine, founder of Empty Nest Support Services, suggests, “Treat yourself like you would treat a friend who was feeling off balance, sad, a little bit lonely.” Realize that your child probably feels ambivalent about the situation. Whether or not it’s apparent, he or she has many things to worry about. I made up my mind that I didn’t want my daughter to have to worry about me, too.
2. Give yourself a pep talk. This is not the first transition you’ve faced. If you’re anything like me, the first few years of motherhood were full of insecurities and difficult moments. Remember decisions about work vs. career, bottle feeding vs. breast feeding, toilet training, and your child’s first day in preschool/kindergarten? Fast-forward a few years to dating and giving your child the keys to the car. College is not so different; you can make it through this transition, too.
3. Stay in touch, but let your child take the lead. These days, it’s easy to communicate via text messaging, emails, cell phones, and Facebook. As difficult as it is, realize that your child is struggling to be independent, and try to let him or her initiate contact. If you use Facebook, good etiquette is important if you don’t want to embarrass your child. Send a private message rather than writing on the wall.
4. Rediscover yourself, your friendships, and your marriage. Like most parents, you’ve spent the last 18 years of your life putting your child’s needs first. It’s time to change that. Remember that you had a purposeful and enjoyable life before your children, and you will again.
5. If you haven’t already done so, make a game plan. Consider going back to school, volunteering, or starting a new hobby. Look in your closet: If you’re considering going back to work, you will need to update your wardrobe. Take a course to brush up on your skills or learn new ones. What activities did you particularly enjoy when your child lived at home? If you liked to coach sports or volunteer in your child’s school, you can continue to do that. It might even lead to a new career!
6. Remember that your child will be back. This isn’t so different from summer camp. You will still see him or her during school breaks and over the summer. You may even find that you appreciate the more independent person your child has become, and that your child more fully appreciates you.
7. Enjoy your new life. You have a little bit more time for the fun things in life. You worked hard for it, so it’s time to enjoy it!
8. Know when to seek help. Lisa Tager, lead clinician for the Family Resource Center, part of the Community Health Centers of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, suggests that if you are finding it difficult to cope after six months, you should consider talking to a professional.
My Own Path
After years of shared experiences, I have become friendly with some of the other mothers, and I am maintaining those relationships. For the most part, they are empty nesters too, and I try to schedule an occasional lunch or movie date with them. I have also been renewing old friendships through Facebook and making new friends in my classes. Although no one else may notice, I have remembered that I own jewelry and I’ve been trying to wear it on a daily basis, instead of only on the occasional night out. The changes I've made may be small, but they're important. It also helps that we have a very adorable Labrador mix who likes to accompany me wherever I go. Most important, I realize that even though my daughter is not living at home, I am still one of her most important role models. She may appear to have her own life now, but she still looks up to me. And I want her to like what she sees.
Ellen Newman is a freelance editor who will soon be an elementary school teacher. With daughter Dana now a freshman in college, only Ellen, lawyer husband Neil, and family dog Goldy occupy the family residence in Maple Glen, PA. When she's not taking courses at Arcadia University or editing, Ellen makes the most of her newfound free time reconnecting with old friends and dreaming of new adventures. (Traveling to Greece and strolling through the University of Pennsylvania's Morris Arboretum are on her list, but they won’t necessarily happen in that order.)
Empty Nest: A Magazine for Mature Families
© 2009 Spring Mount Communications