The Work/Life Center is here to provide support through life transitions. With college semesters in full swing, we're aware that some of you may be facing the transition of "empty nesting". "Empy nesting" occurs after kids leave the home. This transition can occur any time of the year and for many reasons other than attending college.
A favorite concept of mine is to "embrace ambiguity". What lies ahead in this life transition certainly falls in the realm of ambiguity. The good news is that parents have the ability to create answers to some of these ambiguous questions. If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed - that is valid and normal. There are many questions to confront and tasks to accomplish. Here are examples of just a few:
- Grieving for the losses resulting from this change. Keep in mind that we can feel both physical and mental fatigue as we grieve.
- Examining how your own experience of "leaving the nest" informs your perceptions of what your child needs at this time and how you respond to those perceived needs.
- Coping with the inability to have the reassurance that your child is OK at all times of the day/night.
- Coping with this change whether your child is happy in their new situation or not. Parents often share that what helps them to cope is the knowledge that at least their child is successful and happy. But there will also be periods when this is not the case. In that event, it does not mean that the new relationship reverts back to the old ways before the transition. It is still the task of the parent to focus on their new phase of life and establish new ways of offering support to their adult child.
- Questioning and reflecting on your parenting, asking if you did things “right”?
- Navigating a new relationship dynamic with adult children. How to maintain bonds in new ways and negotiating new boundaries.
- Re-establishing relationships with spouses, friends, community. Creating new relationships.
- Determining new focuses and hobbies to invest time and energy into.
As I thought about this topic, I realized there were a few experts within earshot of my office: my four fantastic Work/Life Colleagues, each in a different "phase" of the empty nest transition. Their insights and the resources listed below is our virtual hug to you, parents, as you navigate this change.
I took my only child to college 6 days, 12 hours, and 34 minutes ago- lol. Ok, I am not sure about the hours and minutes...I just made that up. I have felt a little sorry for myself off and on - just me and the dog walking past her empty room - but I had put some strategies in place. First, I told my friends they needed to check on me. I asked them for extra attention. Second, I started watching a Netflix series I really like and started reading a mystery series that is equally intriguing. Distraction can be an effective technique for unexpected sadness or boredom. Third, I anticipated the times during the day that I thought would be the most difficult (for me that is the after work/after school time when my daughter and I would have a lot of interaction). I planned two things then. I am walking the dog and talking to my sister on the phone. That double plan covers bad weather (during which the dog refuses to leave the house) and my sister being busy (because the dog is always free to talk).
I consider myself someone who actually does a pretty good job of self care during normal stress (processing my feelings in healthy ways such as exercise and kale smoothies, calling my friends, etc.) When Larkin left, however, I knew I needed to up my game. So I decided to throw myself into working on my house! There were several projects that I had been thinking about for years (“organizing”/AKA purging, cleaning up my yard, painting), and it seemed like an opportune time to get those things done. This served two purposes: it kept me distracted and occupied for several months and now I am much happier in my home!
My two sons are in their early 30’s, so I reflect on the initial experience of empty-nesting from a distance. In one word: bittersweet. On the one hand, the last son out the door had declared his independence early on in high school, so the sense of loss was felt long before he donned his graduation cap & gown. By the time he was packing the car with dorm supplies, I was confident of his life skills and convinced that it was time for him to leave the nest. I gave him his space, but we made a “date” six weeks into the fall semester so he could show me around campus and I could treat him and his roommate to dinner. On the home front, I realized that much of my schedule had been wrapped up in attending his basketball games and cheering on the team. I grew close to my bleacher buddies over the years, so in anticipation of this loss, I found a new outlet as a guardian ad litem volunteer. It was a gift to me and to them. I modeled to my sons that my world could expand and that they didn’t need to worry about me.
My son started high school this year and so I see an empty nest on the horizon. My husband and I have already started talking about how we will handle the change four short years from now. Although the conversations are hard -- neither of us wants our only child to leave the nest-- we are also so excited to see the person he will become and to be a part of his life in a new way. Our plan for now is to start making plans – start reconnecting with friends and getting together for dinner, check out local museums and look for new exhibits and events to attend, research volunteer opportunities we might be interested in when we have more time, play more tennis. And we will remind each other to appreciate and enjoy the next four years...even the hard stuff.
Therapists can be a resource for support during times of transition. Both the US and Global EAPs cover a certain number of sessions with a therapist for both employees and their household members. If you are an employee or household member, you can contact Work/Life to receive a list of EAP and BCBS therapists based on your preferences and situation. For those reading who do not have access to these benefits you can search for providers using your insurer's website or Psychology Today.
The 8 Seasons of Parenthood by Barbara C. Unell and Jerry L. Wyckoff
Parenting Your Emerging Adult by Dr. Varda Konstam
Emerging Adulthood by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett
These titles and more are available to employees and family members in the Work/Life Library.
Work/Life Blog Posts
Preparing for the Shift: Do's & Don'ts of Parenting a College Student
Preparing your ADHD/LD Student for the First Year of College
Life is Short but Wide
How to Support Teens in the Transition from High School to College
Talking to Your Teen or Young Adult about Alcohol and Drug Use
Support on College Campuses for Students in Recovery
Rekindle the Relationship
Is Dating Always at the Bottom of Your To-Do List?
Employees and family members can access archived Work/Life webinars and sign up for upcoming seminars that address an array of topics from parenting adult children to personal growth and development.
There may be situations where additional factors come into play and your situation isn't so straight forward. The Work/Life Center is here to connect employees and their family members to additional resources if needed.