How To Cope With An Empty Nest
This is a summary transcription of my podcast interview with Coach Christine who helps women adapt and make the very most of their empty nest lives when their children leave home. You can listen to the full interview here.
Coach Christine’s experience
My daughter is gifted so she ended up skipping a total of four grades. She had some home schooling and some time in school. She entered college four years early and it wasn’t something I was prepared for!
Because of her young age, I was driving her to community college. She’s kind of like my buddy and I was her Uber driver.
Then suddenly, she’s at college and five hours away from me. It was quite shocking in my instant empty nest. It was eye opening and we have unique challenges that not everyone else has where she didn’t go through the driving at home and having a job first stage.
I really had the band aid ripped off. It was very tough. I didn’t show it on the outside, but I had a lot of mental work to go through to adjust to where I’d normally talk to her all the time and now, she’s not there.
Also, my husband and I don’t now have the buffer. We get so busy as moms doing the mom thing, whether we work or not. Dads are busy, our partners are busy. Sometimes we just come together, we talk about the kids and we go to sleep because we’re exhausted.
Now, we have to find that relationship again. What I found is that other people who were going through the college transition were coming to me and asking me how I did it especially because my daughter went young.
I’m right where I need to be now but when she first went to college, I wasn’t so sure. It was quite a transition in my empty nest. I’m glad I took the step to do what I’m doing .
I like to make sure people do what they say they’re going to do now that they’re in the empty nest and enable them. If someone tells me they want to do something, I ask them what their obstacles are and talk to them about it.
Typically, 99% of the time, resistance is all in their mind. It’s the thoughts they have, and they have excuses. It takes time because it’s never a quick fix.
Coping with the transition
You need to figure out what’s right for you and what thoughts work for you. Just because one thing you’ve tried didn’t work, doesn’t mean your whole concept is a failure. I love it when I can watch people grow. It’s so inspiring.
You have to be able to pivot in whatever you want to do, because you can’t get it right from the get-go, because we’re all evolving all the time. I think there’s such a fear of failure and that stops us in midlife doing the biggest things, doing the stuff we’ve dreamed of doing and yet we can take that first step and then we can pivot if it doesn’t work. That doesn’t mean a fail, it means First Attempt In Learning.
I think as moms, one thing I’ve noticed that seems fairly consistent with people I work with is that when kids leave, whether it’s to their own home or college and they might come back, life is going to be very different.
You don’t know what the future holds. Often what mom wants is two days after their kiddo has gone off, they want it all figured out. What are you going to do?
What I think is so important, if you have the resources and the time to be able to do it, is to unravel who you are, who you are in your being, not who you are as mom, not who you are as parent, as partner, as you are in everything.
You might have this identity that you’re the person who goes into every room and it’s your job to fix everyone’s problems. If you start peeling back the layers, you start to know who you are underneath.
It’s really worth the time to do that and not rush into the next thing because we’ve spent 18 or so years covering ourselves because everyone else needs us. Take the time to unravel it and find who you are, which can be a little scary.
A lot of us don’t know who’s there anymore, but she’s beautiful. She’s just might be raw and we need to find her. She gets stronger and stronger and it makes each of the pivots more beautiful because you’re just learning each time.
The more I’m able to watch it happen consistently with women, it’s almost like you feel the energy together and we all get more powerful. It’s incredible.
I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now.) Every single thought that comes into your head, just because you think it’s true, it may not be, more than likely. You just have accepted it as true.
It’s all in our heads and we can choose how we want to respond. Our final choice is how we respond to something, how we choose to react. There is so much that we can change in our heads.
I can’t get over the fact that we weren’t taught this as children. It’s so powerful.
I think some of the biggest issues that women have when they’re either facing the emptiness or right smack in the middle of it is practical things. One thing is when they miss their kids. The empty nest can be overwhelming.
There are moms who feel like missing their child is so awful that they can’t function, and you have every response across the spectrum. A lot of times it hits you at the strangest times. You don’t wake up and be like, today, I’m going to be sad about my child leaving.
I think it’s important to be aware of the fact that it’s okay to have any emotion and to question it when you feel it, actually feel it and go through it. I think the biggest thing that happens is something will trigger an emotion and it can quickly get bigger than it needs to be.
Sometimes you’ll feel you miss the kids and it can go into in spiral until your whole day’s ruined and you’re crying in a corner. Some days you need that. You can do whatever you want. It’s also okay to be happy when your kid leaves. I think a lot of people think you need to be sad.
I work with a lot of women who are sad but it’s also okay to be happy. Then, there’s guilt wrapped around it sometimes. Just be aware of all the things and if you can tune into it, give yourself time and patience with the transition. It’s gonna take time. It’s gonna take some adjustment.
It took 18 years for you to adjust to your life today! It’s not like two days later, you’re magically back to where you were 18 years ago or even six months ago, because it’s totally different.
Treat yourself with kindness and treat everyone around you in the family with kindness too. Many times this is all about mom, but dad, your partner, the other children in the house, they have feelings too, and it’s impacting them.
There’s going to be all kinds of stuff going on. Just to have kindness and patience with everything is going to be the best thing you can do and saying goodbye, I find never gets easier.
Accepting decreased contact
A lot of times I was talking to somebody about not wanting to keep texting and checking if my daughter’s still alive or okay, but I’ll be on Instagram and I’ll see that she viewed a story and I feel okay, she’s alive. Just checking the social media and knowing there’s activity there is good.
If your child doesn’t respond, that’s normal. First of all, I think for college, they’re so overwhelmed when they get there. I’ve talked to parents who’ve called and say they haven’t heard from their child in three days. Then, they tell me their schedule. They are in sports, activities and they just got on campus a month ago.
It is actually very normal because they’re trying to balance the fact that they have this whole new life and they don’t have you. They don’t know who to go to and they may not want to go to you, because they think they’re not supposed to go to you. They’re trying to balance the new friends and activities, so it’s actually quite normal for you to not hear from them all the time.
What I would do is actually look back at what your last conversation was and where you left it. If it’s positive, you can do little things, ask questions like how are you feeling today? At the end of the day, every couple of days, and I leave it there.
If they don’t respond a lot back that’s okay. If I know they’ve seen it, I’m pretty happy. A lot of it is just patience and adjusting to your new role and their new role. Please be patient with them because as difficult it is for you, it is for them too. Even if they’re super excited, it’s a huge adjustment.
Maybe your child did all their laundry and took care of themselves and didn’t need nagging. If they’re now in a place where they don’t have you reminding them, they may be continually thinking, what are the five things I’ve forgotten. The last thing they want is someone to pop in and nag them.
The best thing you can do is support and love them from afar because there are very few things you can do as a parent. You can’t go in and fix their teachers, things, and assignments. Hear what they’re saying and love them and know that they’re trying their best. Just love.
Working out what’s next and being gentle with ourselves
In terms of women making changes in the empty nest, some find they’re happy with where they are. Once they’ve done the work to realize that, having thought they were miserable about life in general, they realize they were just mentally beating themselves up. Once they get clear on that, they make smaller changes.
Then there are people who I think are going to make a big change and they do, but the change isn’t anything they thought it was going to be, once they’ve processed through everything.
Maybe they think they want to be a chef and then they discover over time, the more the layers peel back, that actually they get energy around toddlers and like to photograph them. That’s when they realize they want to do photography for parents instead!
We are our own worst enemy and the one thing I have discovered is that most women are horribly unkind to themselves with their thoughts and it is painful to hear them say it out loud. When you hear them say painful things out loud you can’t imagine what they’re saying inside, so just be kind to yourself and notice how cruel you’re being to yourself in your thoughts.
When you become aware of what you’re saying, like I’m fat, I’m ugly, I could never do that dream job I want to do because I’m not qualified. You need to stop beating yourself up and start being kind to yourself, as kind to yourself, as we want to be to our children. Then your life can change.
You can find out more about Coach Christine and listen to her great podcast:
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