Having kids changes everything. The vehicle you drive, the sleep you (don’t) get, the whole notion of a vacation. For about a decade, everything in the house is sticky. And you don’t realize just how much you loved it all until you watch your youngest baby’s taillights fade from sight. Dealing with this change can be difficult. For those that struggle the most, it’s called Empty Nest Syndrome.
As a parent, you’ve built so much of your life around raising your children. It’s even likely to be at the core of how you think of yourself, your own identity. Saying goodbye to that daily, active role isn’t easy.
But if you find yourself struggling to move forward, and find happiness, we have a few ideas that can help.
#1. Congratulate Yourself
If you’re like most parents, you spent that first night home from the hospital wondering what you got yourself into. Why would they trust a kid like you with a baby?
But you did it. Through high temperatures and that broken arm, report cards and piano recitals, teenage hormones and driver’s ed, you turned that bundle of helpless cuteness into a fully functional, self-sufficient (sort of) human being.
“Just make sure that you’re taking advantage of the extra time and freedom. Moping around the house and looking at t-ball pictures doesn’t count.”
Take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back. For something that’s been done a few billion times, successfully raising a child is one of the most challenging things you could ever hope to accomplish. While the dynamics of your home are changing, remember that this was the goal, and you’ve reached it.
#2. Make Freedom Your Friend
Let’s face it, those brats were holding you back! Okay, not quite. But in terms of sheer logistics, you’ve regained a ton of freedom.
Take advantage of the fact that your time is your own again. What do you have to do this evening? Whatever you want. Now that you’re no longer responsible for the day-to-day survival of your offspring, the world is your oyster.
Use this opportunity to take that trip that you’ve wanted to go on. Have those experiences you’ve dreamed about, but haven’t been able to pursue. Spend a little time being selfish. It’s a luxury that parents of younger children can’t afford… but you can!
Just make sure that you’re taking advantage of the extra time and freedom. Moping around the house and looking at t-ball pictures doesn’t count.
#3. Understand Your New Role
For those that really struggle with the changing dynamics of their home, a loss of perspective is often at the root. When the last kid leaves the house, it can feel almost like a death in the family. The sense of loss can be intense.
If we’re talking to you here, then it’s important to remember a few things. While your son or daughter may not rely on you for daily care, you haven’t lost that relationship.
Your kids are still your kids, and they always will be. They’ll continue to turn to you as they make their way in the world. Dynamics have shifted, but the person that you made and loved so dearly is still very much a part of your life.
#4. Invest In Your Marriage
When the dust finally settles, it’s important to see who is still standing there. For many of us that’s the person who was with us from the beginning of the journey.
No matter your path though, it’s important to evaluate your other relationships in light of such a significant change. Then it’s time to pour into those people.
It’s so common as parents to put the marriage on the back burner as we deal with the more immediate needs of child rearing. Take advantage of the opportunity to invest in other people that matter, especially the person that still shares the same roof.
Sometimes intimicy is... inhibited during this phase of life. If you know what we're talking about, check out our article "Menopause and Sex" for a candid look at that struggle.
5. Get Plugged In
Humans need purpose. We need a place to belong, things to do, and people to do them with.
Because parenting is so demanding, it’s incredibly common to derive those things from being a mom or dad. If that sounds like you, it’s time to get back out there. Get involved with groups that you care about. Work towards goals that interest you with people that you enjoy.
Friendships are critical at this time. You have to make sure that you’re stretching your social wings, and defining yourself in new and invigorating ways.
The rest of your life is calling. If you put a little effort into creating a new vision for who you are, and what you’re about, that can be a really exciting prospect! And remember, their mail may go to a different address, but your child still needs you. When that happens you’ll be there, just like always.