Tips for Parents

What to Do Now That You’re an “Empty Nester”

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By Lorena Roberts, Uloop

For the past 18 years (give or take), all you’ve known is being a parent to your child. But now that they’ve moved off to college and you’re an empty nester, what are you to do? With no more lunches to pack, no one to pick up from school, and no more school plays to attend, how do you deal with identifying as a parent of a college student?

Moving from high school to college can be a tough transition for your child. But there are ways you can make that transition easier for them and for you. As cliche as it may sound, you’re the foundation for letting them spread their wings and fly. They’re going to have to figure out a whole new life — being completely in control of themselves, making all their own decisions. Without you, they’ll have to pack their own lunch, manage their own time, and do their own laundry.

Depending on how involved you were in their high school career, your student’s transition to college could range from easy to tough. If you woke up every morning and packed their lunch, made them dinner, did their laundry, and reminded them about their assignment due dates, your college student might have a tough time learning to do it all on their own. However, what might be tougher is for you to figure out how to do life without identifying as the parent of your child.

So what now? How do you move past your empty home? How do you cope with doing less laundry, cooking less food, and making fewer sandwiches? If you’re struggling with being an empty nester, here are five ways you can keep your life moving forward after your child moves out:

1. Devote your free time to a hobby you’re passionate about.

Whether it’s bird watching, hitting the gym, or crafting, dedicating your free time to something you truly care about is one of the best ways to cope with the way you’re feeling. Your child has become totally immersed in the “college life.” You remember those days, right?

So instead of sitting around worrying about whether or not they’re making it to class, beat the empty-nester feeling by becoming absorbed in your own hobbies, activities, and social functions.

Start a book club with your closest pals. Dedicate Thursday nights to “wine night” with the girls.

2. Take on new challenges at work.

More than likely, you’ve put your career on “hold” while you were raising children. You’ve still been a great employee, accomplishing what’s expected, but you’ve stayed away from really going above and beyond because you’re so preoccupied at home. Now that you’re an empty nester, it’s time to really get your career moving forward. Don’t be afraid to take on new challenges at work. Don’t be afraid to take on more responsibilities.

As long as you’re passionate about what you do, spending your time being productive will make you feel good about yourself. You’ll find that you don’t focus as much on the fact that you’re an empty-nester, and instead, you’ll focus on what it is that you’ve found that makes you happy.

This is probably the time when you’ll discover whether or not you’re passionate about what you do for work. If you’ve been wanting to make a career change, now is the time. If you’ve been wanting to travel the world, now is the time.

3. Stay in touch.

There are all kinds of blogs out there that will tell you how often you should be talking to your college student. It’ll vary depending on what your relationship is with your student. Sometimes kids find that keeping in touch with their parents makes them more homesick. While others use their relationship with their parents to support them on a daily basis.

They’ll probably want to call and tell you about their first day of class, or when they accidentally leave a red sock in their load of whites. They’ll probably call and tell you they feel overwhelmed. Maybe they’ll cry.

The most important thing you can do as a parent of a new college student is to be the support system they need to make this transition. It’s tougher for some than others. And keep in mind that if you start hearing from them less and less as the semester goes on, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As they transition to their new independent life, they’ll need you on a daily basis less and less.

4. Reconnect with your partner.

Sometimes having children means a shift in your marriage. Raising kids takes an enormous amount of energy, and sometimes couples find that they’ve shifted their attention to their children and left their relationship with their partner behind. Once you’re an empty nester, you have more time to focus on your relationship. Whether you need to rebuild and reconnect, or you just need some time alone, use this as an opportunity to fall back in love with your partner.

5. Seek support if you need it.

Talk to other parents who are also empty nesters. Seek out the support you need if you find yourself sinking into depression. It’s not a bad thing if you need to start seeing someone. It’s not a bad thing if you need some extra support. This is just as much of a transition for you as it is for your student, so don’t let yourself feel guilty for the lonely feelings you’re having.

When your child goes off to college, it might be a shock to you and your partner. It becomes a completely different life when you no longer have to wake up 30 minutes earlier to pack lunches and get your kids out of bed. You’re not running them to swim practice or shopping for them at the grocery store. Suddenly, you don’t have as many people to cook for, and your weekly laundry is cut in half.

Being an empty nester can be tough – but it can also be liberating. Take advantage of this time and stay positive. Support your student when they need it, and support yourself when you need it.

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