I have a bathroom all to myself now. I’m not selfish; just trying to focus on the positive. Not gonna lie – I’m really have a hard time with the emptiness of an empty nest.
We’ve only been back home a day after moving our youngest daughter off to college. While she and my wife sobbed as we said goodbye, I held myself together. My crying didn’t start until we got home. I felt a void right away. Day one was tough. Day two was torture. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It’s definitely a form of grief. Some might call it grieving. I just call it painful.
Experts have dubbed it empty nest syndrome – that emotionally (and sometimes physically) ill feeling that people get when all of their children have moved out of the house.
Why am I just finding out about it? After 21 years of child rearing, I was expecting this moment to be filled with utmost joy. My wife lost both of her parents two years ago, and she said this pain is just as bad. I can just tell you it’s painful in unexpected ways.
I was on day two when I began this post and I was struggling to cope with our newly empty nest. Nevertheless, I know I have to move on. Below are some ways my wife and I have coped. I share them in hopes they can help others.
Ways to cope with empty nest syndrome:
- Regular communication with our kids by text, phone call and Facetime
- Long walks, hikes and other physical activities to focus the mind on other things
- Listening to podcasts (Music is too risky because we never know when a sentimental song might come on.)
- Reintroducing new habits into our lifestyle, such as dinners out and watching stuff on TV we would have never watched with our children
- More involvement with our social groups
- Picking up or restarting hobbies and interests (Blogging is one of mine.)
What are some ideas you have for dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome? (Share in the comment box at the bottom of this post.)
Summary of our situation
We have two daughters, born three years apart. Our oldest daughter moved off to college the same summer that we were dealing with the deaths of my wife’s parents. That was 2016. I couldn’t hold back the tears as she pulled out of the driveway in a car stuffed with the belongings she would need for the first semester of school.
She enrolled in a small junior college in Huntington Beach, CA that offers no student housing. Thankfully, we have some good friends that live in the vicinity who offered her a bedroom in their home. Just before her second semester began, she moved into an apartment with two roommates. It was then that we loaded up a U-Haul trailer with most of her belongings and helped move her into more permanent housing. She still lives there and has completed the Associates Degree program she set out to earn and will begin attending a large university for her third year of college.
Our second daughter decided to finish high school early by enrolling with an online high school for her senior year. This meant she was at home a lot more. I work from home and my wife works afternoons into the evening, so we spent a lot of time with our daughter at home. Even though we knew she’d graduate in December instead of May, we initially thought she’d stay with us until college started in the fall. As it turned out, she was offered a spot on the swim team of the same junior college her older sister attended. Since college swim season runs is the first few months of the calendar year, that meant she would be heading off to college nine months before we anticipated.
Although we grieved when our oldest daughter moved away, we didn’t quite feel the empty nest blues at that time because we still had one at home in high school. We moved our youngest daughter into her rented room in California on New Year’s Day 2019. We kept ourselves so busy that weekend that what was actually happening didn’t really sink in.
It wasn’t until we returned to a home with nary a trace of either daughter that it really hit us. Like many men, I stuffed my emotions. I didn’t want to let my sadness affect my wife. After my wife went to work on our first day back home, I walked around the house and sobbed.
I feel the heartache of empty nest syndrome whenever:
- I walk by their bedrooms, now completely empty except for her desk and a few clothing items
- I open the refrigerator and see remaining vegan items my youngest daughter purchased to maintain her strict clean-eating regimen.
- I wash my hands in the bathroom that was primarily their domain prior to her move.
- I hear a song that either of my girls loves or sang in my presence at one time or other.
- I saw a picture of them or note with their handwriting.
Ways to prepare for an empty nest:
Save lots of money
Expenses don’t stop just because your kids move out. In fact, you might be surprised to find out how much it costs to move your kids out. Consider that you may need to rent a moving van or trailer, plus pay for gas and meals and maybe a few nights in a hotel. This doesn’t even taken into account the costs of enrolling in school, if that’s where they’re moving off to. Inevitably, when kids run short on money, they tend to reach out to the people they trust the most – their parents. Although we parents don’t need to give our kids money every time they ask, it’s good to have money on hand if you feel so inclined to help them out.
Build good social networks
Our kids were both into athletics, so over their lifetimes, much of our social interaction was with the parents of their teammates. That’s been good, but once the competitions ended, we just didn’t see those parents anymore. For both me and my wife, our strongest social networks have been the people we’ve come to know in our men’s and women’s groups at our church. They’re always there for us for encouragement and activities or just to lend an empathic ear. She also finds some camaraderie with people she works with, but most of the people I work with are in a virtual setting via email and conference calls.
Have one last hurrah as a family
Although our empty nest happened earlier than we expected, we knew the day was coming. Thankfully, we planned a big family vacation at a resort for a full week about six weeks before we moved our youngest daughter off to school. So many fun and memorable things happened during that vacation that we’ll always be able to refer back to and reminisce about. And of course, we have the pictures and video to show for it.
Plan future gatherings
Before we even returned to our home void of children, we already began to discuss the next time we’ll be together as a family. In our case, it’s only ten days after our departure when my wife will be in the vicinity of both our girls’ new homes for business over a long weekend. After that, we’ll surely spend Easter and other special holidays together. The nice thing about our girls living so close to each other is that we can see them both with one road trip, or they can travel together when they come home to see us.
Keep things in perspective
Even though it may feel in your heart like someone has died when you come home to an empty nest, it’s important to remind yourself of the reality: They’re only a phone call, car ride or plane trip away. They’re not gone for good; just out of your home for now.
Coming home to an empty nest can be painful; maybe even as painful as the death of a family member. For many of us, it’s inevitable. But if you are aware of what to expect and prepare for it, hopefully the process won’t be so painful for you.