Whether your child is leaving for college or simply deciding it’s time to move out to be on their own, navigating the transition into an “empty nest” is never easy. For all parents, having a child completely changes who you are and, on a more tangible level, what you do on a daily basis. From the early years of tending to every need to helping teenagers understand how they’re feeling, being a parent defines who you are. So, when it comes time for a child to leave home, it can feel like your whole identity is changing, leaving you wondering what’s next.
First and foremost, remind yourself that you are always a parent, no matter how old your child might be. While your role as a parent will change, the fact that you are still an integral part of your child’s life never will. Learning how to adapt to this new stage will set the tone for this next phase of parenting, a phase that is as just unique and wonderful as all of the others.
For couples preparing to handle their “empty nest”, it’s important to lean into each other, using this time to strengthen the relationship rather than allowing worries, frustrations, and anxieties to pull it apart. One of the biggest fears for a lot of empty-nest couples is that this strain on their relationship will be too difficult to get through, which only adds to the anxieties of having a child leave home.
While every parent and couple will feel different about having a child leave home, these three tips will help make sure that everyone adjusts in a way that’s healthy and sustainable.
1. Reframe Your Thoughts. A lot of the worries that happen when dealing with an empty nest can be reframed into something more positive and powerful. For example, rather than worrying about the decisions your child will make on their own, remember how prepared your child is and that, if the wrong decision is ever made, there’s always an opportunity to “figure it out” together, which in the long run will only make your relationship stronger. As a couple, working on this reframing together and supporting each other through it is important. Each of you will have hard days, so showing up for the other person and helping them get through their worries mentally is huge.
2. Make Future Plans. It’s really helpful for couples to not just sit around home wishing things were how they used to be. Instead, embrace this new phase together by making plans, both with your children and without. Not only will this help give you something to look forward to, but it will let you and your child know when you’re going to get to see each other next, which takes away from a lot of the anxiety and fear.
3. Reignite Your Relationship. While you might feel like you don’t want to do anything, especially at the very beginning of the empty nest phase, it’s important that you and your partner find ways to keep your relationship going strong. From regular date nights to new hobbies you can enjoy together, the more you can bring yourself together the better you will feel. And, as an added bonus, the positive energy you create from enjoying your life will help encourage your child to come home more often. After all, no child wants to return home to a strained relationship or parents only interested in living in the past.
Dealing with an empty nest can be incredibly difficult, but, when you and your partner work together, you can (and you will) get through it. Not only will you realize that your child still needs you to be a parent (just in different ways), but you will hopefully be reminded of just how much there is to still look forward to.