In the fall of 2019, approximately 9.9 million students attended colleges and universities, and 70% of them chose a school within a 2-hour drive of their home. Coincidence? I think not! While some parents rejoice in their new freedom, some dread the day they experience sending their child off to college or when they move out to start lives of their own. Whether you downsize your home or keep things just as they have always been for when your child comes home for school breaks, everyone is different and deals with this life change in their own way.
Even though not classified as an actual clinical diagnosis, many parents could argue that it is a “real thing.” Knowing that your nest, that you raised and nurtured your kids won’t be their home any longer can set in real feelings of panic, fear, sadness and aloneness for many parents — mom and dads alike.
Local mother of two, Donna Jo Toney, says she was the mom who put all of her energy and soul into raising her daughters. She volunteered at their schools, for their sports teams and extracurricular activities. When her oldest daughter left for college in Alabama she said it was a total shock to her. She found solace in the fact that her younger daughter was still in high school and still needed her. Once she graduated and went off to college however, Toney said she struggled to find her new normal.
“People tell you to make a plan, to start a new hobby, plan to return to work or to take on more responsibilities, but you don’t realize how different your life will really be until you are in it. I was also so busy trying to soak up every minute and enjoy the last bit of time of their childhood that I didn’t have time to make a plan. Then it hit me hard once the house felt big and quiet.” Toney’s advice is to seek out counsel in friends who have experienced their own empty nest. Hers encouraged her to have date nights with her husband, to exercise and to renew commitments at work and volunteer organizations. Toney also said it was during this time that she focused on her spiritual health and faith to help her find comfort and not to worry quite so much.
Fellow Gainesville mom, Sheila Jones, just sent her youngest off to college this past fall. She told me she experienced a “cornucopia of emotions”.
“I was incredibly proud of her accomplishments and the wonderful young woman she matured to be, but I also encountered feelings of overwhelming loss and sadness; time went by too fast and I wasn’t ready to be aged out of my job.” Jones said what has helped her most was having something exciting to look forward to, which was planning and taking her dream vacation with her husband. “The anticipation and efforts to prepare for the trip helped me to mitigate the grief as well as encourage me to look forward to the new chapter in my life as an empty-nester.”
Both moms agree that it is truly life changing and their best advice is to find the right balance that works for you and your family. Texts, FaceTime and visits can keep you as close as you are comfortable, while still allowing your young adult the room to learn and grow into their own.
COMBAT THE PHENOMENON OF HAVING AN EMPTY NEST
▸ Accept the timing. Remember this is your child’s life and their timing. Resist the urge to compare it to your own or your child’s peers.
▸ Keep in touch. Technology today makes this easier than ever. You can FaceTime, text, talk. You can follow each other on social media and send good, old-fashioned care packages. Follow your child’s lead though; they need space and freedom to be independent!
▸ Seek Support. Most likely many of your “mom friends” may be going through the same feelings you are; or they have in recent years. Reach out to them now for a coffee break or just to talk it out.
▸ Stay Positive. It’s ok for you to see the upside to an empty nest. Maybe now you have time to pursue a hobby you always wanted to, but didn’t have the time. Maybe you want to return full time to your career or spend more time volunteering?
(According to the Mayo Clinic)