It’s February. I remember the last Valentines Day I was going to have my son at home. As well as the last Ides of March. The last Maypole Day.
It can get a little ridiculous.
I tried to get my heart and my head on straight about this empty nest I was about to experience.
I had counseled people making other life transitions, like divorce or retirement. I learned that preparation was key to those transitions going well.
I followed these five steps. Very purposefully. Started way before he actually left.
It helped a lot. So I offer them to you.
1) Relish each stage of your child’s life. Then let it go.
Stay in the present and enjoy, rather than worrying that there is a set amount of time for childhood. You relish that time. You wrap yourself up in it. Then you can let go when it’s time.
What is “letting go?”
It’s not looking back.
When one of my goddaughters was four, her mother asked her if she was looking forward to turning five the next day.
With tears in her eyes, she said, “No Mommy, I loved being four.”
We parents are like that sometimes. We cling to our children and wish they weren’t growing up. We look back and say, “Oh, if only they were 2, or 4, or 7 or… ”
(Well, maybe no one wishes their child was 13 or 14 again. We kinda want to skip that age.)
Instead, look forward to the next age. There will be new things to learn.
It’s just the unfamiliar is always more scary.
Relish. Then don’t look back.
2) Work on your relationship with your partner.
This may begin with questions.
How has being parents affected your relationship? Have you maintained a good balance? Are you glad to see him or her walk in the door at night?
I would encourage that you and your partner begin talking a year or more before that last child leaves about what it’s going to be like without children in the house. Talk about what you are looking forward to. What are your fears. If you are having these kinds of talks, that’s a good sign about your marriage in the first place.
Sometimes, a child can serve a function in their parents’ relationship. A “buddy”. A “confidante”. This is not good, mind you. For the couple or the child. His or her departure may reveal what has been sealed from view. You may need to tackle some real problems.
You may need to get to know your partner again.
3) Start focusing on friendships, both new and old.
As active parents, many of us put our own lives on hold to focus on our kids. (That whole relishing thing from #1)
Our friendships are vital however. Keep the old ones close during this hands-on parenting time. Then with empty nest, you have more opportunity and time to create new ones.
Your child’s life will be filled with fresh experiences. It’s good if yours is as well.
Old friends are to be treasured. New friends? Your world expands even more.
A lot of folks will tell you they don’t know what their talents are. What they have to offer.
“I was a good mom, but I don’t know what else I can do”.
I give an assignment to patients who can’t answer this question. Think of things that either, 1) You have always wanted to do but never done, or, 2) Your best friend would tell me, “Oh, she would never do that.” These again are simple things. Do-able things. I ask that the patient do one thing a day.
Example of #1 would be – go down a street you have always wanted to go down. Eat a vegetable you have never eaten. Read a magazine that you have been curious about. An example of #2, for me? To wear red shoes. I don’t like my feet and I don’t wear flashy shoes.
It is always vastly interesting what happens with the exercise.
It is to show that change can occur. That you can grow in ways that you did not realize.
Some if you are saying, “I am not creative. I don’t have any talents.” Try the assignment. You have to find hope first that you can grow. You can inch out of your comfort zone.
Start branching out. Baby steps. That will give you the energy, both mental and emotional, to take more risks.
5) Taking time to care for yourself.
We all hear this until we are deaf to it.
How many of you do it? There is more research coming out every day on how regular exercise, good nutrition etc. can greatly increase the chance of a more positive aging experience.
You have to make yourself important. You have made your child important. If you are caring for aging parents, which many of us are at about this time, you are making them important.
[tweetthis]Time is a reason. Not an excuse. To take care of your mind and your body.[/tweetthis]
You can hear more about mental health and many other topics by listening to my podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to my website and receive one weekly newsletter including my weekly blog post and podcast! If you’d like to join my FaceBook closed group, then click here and answer the membership questions! Welcome!
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Images courtesy Deborah Strauss.