Empty nest – the boon or the bane of every boomer parent! It’s the popular term coined for us mama and papa birds that inevitably must watch our baby birds fly away from the nest. It also prompts a wide range of feelings – from happiness and pride to sadness and angst.
It’s only natural for us to have these feelings – we wouldn’t be human, much less good parents, if we didn’t have these kinds of emotions at this stage of our lives. But it’s even more natural that our children have grown and developed to reach that level of maturity and self-reliance. After all, wasn’t that the goal when we first became parents? And don’t they want to get started chasing their own dreams? It's all part of the natural life cycle on earth.
An emptied nest brings all sorts of changes, not only for our children as they begin to make their own way, but for us as well. But still as parents, our first questions focus on our kids – we know they have a job or they wouldn’t be leaving, right? - but wonder if they can balance a checkbook, make their own meals, do laundry and manage their own household.
How good a job did we do in parenting? Chances are, it won't take long to find out. It just might be that our kids were paying much more attention to us than we ever gave them credit for!
For those of us married, there's a question for the two of us - how does the smaller household affect our marriage? Must we downsize it too, or can we grow it? Some couples will find that their children were the common denominator, in fact the only real focus of most conversations and activities over the past two decades. But other couples find that their marriage gets stronger still - more time, space, privacy and resources to spend on what they want to do, without feelings of guilt. Greater prospects for romance, travel and other new activities can be key ingredients to growing a marriage.
For those of us now single, it's a question for the "one of us" - how primary in my life was my role as a parent? Has my son or daughter also been a companion for most conversations and activities? To fill any such voids, we can start connecting - or re-connecting - with friends, particularly if they are empty nesters themselves. Other options include getting involved with volunteer agencies and/or church groups, or now taking that interesting class that we never had time for in the past. And if parenting has been such a mainstay in our life, we might consider hosting an exchange student for a period of time or even opening our home for a foster child.
But in all cases, it's best to take some time transitioning from parenting to empty nesting. We'll encounter things both good and bad - a quieter (and probably cleaner) house, lower food and utility bills each month, less laundry, more hot water and greater nap time, but counter-balanced with fears and anxieties - "did we do enough to prepare our kid(s) for adulthood?" - feelings of loneliness and even some loss of identity.
Just maybe the greatest find of all is our ultimate satisfaction in a parenting job well done. Our children can and will be adults, and now we can relate to them on a whole new level. Conversations may be farther and fewer but much more meaningful, so we make a point to stay connected via text messages, phone calls or even carefully planned in-person visits. Despite the new roles that empty nesting brings to us and our children as well, let them know that we're are still there for them as loving, supportive parents.
Embrace the new life!