It may feel as if your life will never be the same after the years of hands-on parenting end. You are right – it won’t ever be the same. It will be quite, quite different. But although it’s different, there are ways in which it can be very rewarding.
You have spent years wiping away your children’s tears, being angry with them at times and immensely proud of them at others. You have spent hours in their company, nurturing them and trying to make sure they are developing into decent human beings. When they were toddlers, you were the center of their world. When they started school, you may have shed a sigh of relief but at the same time felt a sense of loss as you no longer had them around you all day. Each step forward in their lives was in some ways an ending for you. For my children, getting a driver’s license was their ticket to freedom and adventure. For me, it marked the end of a very important era.
Enjoy your adult children
When your children leave home, you find that your role as a parent changes. You are still a parent and that will never change but the way you parent has to become less hands-on.
In the midst of your grief over them leaving, it doesn’t take long to realize that there are distinct benefits when they’re gone. The early school drop-off is over, you don’t have to make a family dinner every night, do loads of washing every week and feed their many friends. Your food and electricity bills drop. You can buy what you want to eat and make meals you enjoy without catering to all their likes and dislikes.
When they first leave home, you have to be sensitive to the fact that they also have mixed feelings. Some of them may act as if leaving means nothing to them, while others may be reluctant to leave. When you call them don’t go on about how much you are missing them. Be grateful for the news they do tell you (even if it’s in broad strokes rather than details). Don’t keep pumping them for more information.
It may take them a few knocks along the way before they become more independent and mature but it does happen eventually. As they mature, you often find that relating to them becomes easier and they may become more like best friends than children (although they are always your children, no matter how old they get!). I love the deep conversations I can have with my children now that they are older. I am always amazed at their insights about the world and love hearing their point of view on subjects. We can have talks that last for hours.
I love it when they come to visit. The atmosphere is far removed from the fraught one that reigned sometimes when they lived at home – over issues like dirty towels left in piles on the floor or music blaring late into the night.
Reconnect with your spouse
As someone who has gone through a divorce while facing an empty nest, I urge you to talk to your spouse and prepare for your empty nest together. Think about the fact that it will only be the two of you when the children leave and what that may look like. It’s the perfect opportunity to reconnect and you can find out once again what made you get married in the first place. You may even find that it’s like being on a second honeymoon.
Some couples go through a divorce when the children leave because one or the other party, or both, no longer want to grow old together. I believe that if you have been together for many years, it’s worth trying to save your marriage, even if you have drifted apart while bringing up your kids. You may be looking forward to some of the best years of your marriage if you are both prepared to work on it.
Look after yourself
Now is the time to pay yourself some attention. It may feel strange to even contemplate this after the unselfishness of bringing up your kids. You have happily made sacrifices over the years because you put your children first. But they will want you around for many years to come. If you haven’t had much time to exercise over the years, you have no excuse any longer. You can devote more attention to your nutrition as well. You also have no excuse for putting off a general checkup with your doctor and taking care of any health problems. Become the best you can be so you can enjoy many more years of healthy living and inspire others to do so too.
Have fun with your free time
At first the fact that you have so much time after years of frantic activity can be daunting. There are huge gaps in your day you have to fill. But then you find out that your free time gives you the opportunity to do all those things you put on the back-burner – travel, theater, art galleries, writing that book or just not doing much of anything at all.
Changes to your home
Without your children’s mess to worry about and with more time on your hands, you can make a few decisions about your home for the phase to come.
Decluttering when your years of child-rearing are over is a simple step and it can help you move through your grief. I had kept books, baby clothes, drawings, school projects, reports and much more. I sorted through it all carefully, crying and laughing at the memories. I kept what I really didn’t want to part with, gave some of it away and threw out the rest.
Your home has functioned for years in a certain way and when your kids leave, you can reassess. Certain rooms can be made into full-time guest rooms or converted into a home office or gym. Creating different ways of using the space can even add to the value of your home. Children like stability and if you suddenly start changing things, they may be resentful. It’s best to bring them on board with what you want to do and let them make suggestions, rather than just going ahead.
You can even consider renting out bedrooms through a site like Airbnb. This is what I am working towards as a have a bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and an outside entrance. I can do with the extra income and my privacy won’t be too compromised.
When the children leave home, it’s possible to downsize which will also help to reduce your expenses. You have to start looking towards your retirement and it makes sense to trade a big house you no longer need for a smaller one like a townhouse.
Once you have worked through the mixed emotions that come with your empty nest, you will see light at the end of the parenting tunnel. You will be able to re-evaluate your life and introduce some changes. These changes can make the difference between going speedily downhill or making the most of the years to come and living a very fulfilling life.