The Hidden Gift of Becoming an Empty Nester
I had heard the term “empty nester” most of my life and never gave it much thought. That is, until I became one myself. Sure, I knew it was going to be hard to say goodbye to my daughter, Chloe, when the time came to drop her off at school. But I wasn’t prepared for the wide range of feelings and emotions that bubbled up. No one had ever talked to me about that. I got comments such as “what are you going to do when she’s gone?” Or, “you two are really close and I bet it’s going to be really hard for you.” Gee, thanks.
I had been gearing up for D-day (drop-off day) all summer. Chloe was very excited, and, thanks to modern technology, had “met” her roommates via Facebook, email, and text well before school started. She and her roommates had the obligatory calls about how they wanted to decorate their room, what the color scheme would be, who was bringing what, etc. The parents’ job is simply to pay for it, which I did after a very lengthy trip to Target. Chloe filled our cart with all the essentials. It brought back a lot of memories. In so many ways, things had changed since I had gone away to college. But this shopping trip wasn’t much different from the one I did with my mother almost 25 years prior.
Soon move-in day was upon us and I managed to keep my emotions in check during the drive to the school, the countless trips back and forth from the car to the room, and even during our goodbyes. Chloe was excited and happy which made me happy. But when I got home, everything changed. The house felt different. It was eerily quiet and everything felt strange. It was as if I had walked into a vacuum, like there was a void where Chloe’s energy should be. I remember telling myself “it will be ok; she’ll be back for a visit soon.” But suddenly the tears came, slowly at first and then turning into full-blown sobs. I cried for a long time. When I finally peeled myself off the couch, I had a thought that I had never had before: “Who am I now?”
As parents, our lives revolve around our children. That’s not to say we don’t have our own interests or friends, but our primary role is to take care of our kids. What are they going to eat today? Do we need to buy them new clothes? How are their grades? Are they happy? How are they getting to soccer practice? The list goes on and on. For most of us, we don’t give it a ton of thought. It just IS. Until it isn’t. So, when the question “Who am I now?” popped in my head, I didn’t have an answer. And THAT freaked me out. No one had prepared me for this identity crisis. This was different than simply missing my daughter. This was way bigger. It was such a foreign feeling that it took a few weeks to process. It didn’t help that Chloe’s first pet, a big lovable cat named Leo, would sleep at her door, hoping she’d emerge. There’s nothing sadder than an animal missing his/her person.
As the weeks passed, I settled into a new normal. I became accustomed to the quiet. I still had moments where I felt like she would burst in the door any second, but the sadness had lessened. I became aware of some pleasant perks: no dirty dishes in the sink, leftovers were still waiting for me when I got home from work, and I had complete control over the TV remote. But on a deeper level, something interesting was happening, something that hadn’t happened in a very long time: I started to put myself first. Suddenly I had so much more space in my head for things that I hadn’t thought about in ages. That’s when I started realizing the hidden gift in being an empty nester. It’s the beginning of a second act and you can do virtually anything you want.
I suppose one could argue that I could have done what I wanted while Chloe was still living at home. But honestly, I simply didn’t have the energy. I think that’s the case for so many of us. Each year we go to work, we raise our kids, take a vacation here and there and repeat. We don’t resent it, and in fact, for the most part, we really enjoy it-both the good and bad times-because we love our kids. But it doesn’t leave a lot of time for our own self-development, our own interests. As an empty nester, you can once again start exploring what you want to do, what you want to experience, and what lights you up. It’s an extraordinary feeling of freedom and it’s really exciting to take your dreams off the back burner!
When I dropped Chloe off 10 years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the many ways in which my life would change. I started studying all the things that interested me. I attended workshops and conferences. I became certified in various energy healing modalities. I found a like-minded tribe. Being an empty nester gave me the time and energy I needed to follow my true path. It helped me build the springboard for what I’m doing now. Did I go through an adjustment period when Chloe left for school? Yes, of course I did. And you will too. Just like with any life change, you’ll learn and grow from it. But this time, after the dust settles, you’ll begin to get a glimpse of all the new and amazing possibilities and you’ll be able to fill your nest once again.