For those who are empty-nesters or those who are feeling the beginning symptoms, my wife and I understand your pain, suffering, loneliness and other feelings. Both of our daughters have now moved out.
For most of us, having children ultimately leave the nest is a challenge — one that we definitely do not look forward to but know it is forthcoming. Although powerful, these feelings can be overcome or at least put in some perspective.
We don’t proclaim to be completely cured of the “empty-nest syndrome,” but we do need to prepare for it.
Remember that empty-nesting is part of life
No matter what anyone tells you, the empty-nest syndrome is just a part of life. Children are born, grow up and leave home. While it may not be that cut and dried, this is the sequence. Once you understand empty nesting is real, begin doing things to prepare or help you overcome these potential feelings.
Establish traditions with your children
Perhaps, this is one of the most important aspects of parenting. Children need good traditions on which to fall back on. What we have discovered is the traditions we started with our family have now become their traditions. While we want them to begin their own traditions, there is nothing wrong with them hanging on to certain traditions that are wholesome and family honored. Tradition sharing connects you forever.
Do things together with your children
No matter what they say, children do enjoy doing things with you. They want to spend time with us. Ironically, the times they remember most are usually the small things.
Teach your children gospel principles
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaching your children about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is paramount to an eternal family. Thus, time reading the scriptures and studying the gospel together became a staple in their daily diet along with attendance at Sunday meetings and their Young Women program. Consequently, both daughters married Mormon returned missionaries, who are both Eagle Scouts, in the temple of the Lord, and they are raising their families the same way they were raised.
Think of empty-nesting as a new start
One way to think about empty nesting is that it can be an opportunity for a new start for you. During our children’s growing-up years, we all spend an inordinate amount of time with them. Sometimes, we fail to remember that we need time for ourselves. Granted, our first responsibility is our families. When they are gone, think of this time as starting over or beginning something you have wanted to do. Make goals and go out and accomplish them.
Begin preparing now for empty-nesting
If your children haven’t left yet but are on the cusp of leaving, begin preparing now. The challenge usually lies with unpreparedness on our parts. Sometimes we think that it will be a lifetime before our children leave, but the lifetime often barrages us before we know what hit us. If we set annual goals to accomplish, including what we will do after the children leave the nest, we will be a lot better off. We need to invest in ourselves for that day.
Resurrect something old and learn something new
Often, our identity and skills become subservient to the identities and skills of our children. But learning should never end. When the children leave, you will probably have time on your hands. You may have to resurrect an old hobby or skill or learn a new one. Today, you can learn so many new things at your local community college or even online.
Continue to date
We are firm believers in continuing the dating process. We have been counseled that dating must not end after marriage. Rather, we should date each week. When I was a college president, my schedule was extremely busy. We decided that we would have lunch every Thursday. We enjoyed our times together, whether it was a quick burger or lunch at our favorite Mexican or Chinese restaurant. The place was not important, but spending time together was.
Keep in contact
Once children leave the nest, there is a tendency to believe you will never have contact with them ever again. We have discovered the girls still want and need contact. They love to call their mother and just chat about cooking, recipes or whatever. Now, with one grandchild, we try to Google chat once a week so we can establish a relationship with our granddaughter. With technology, it has never been so easy to communicate.
Seek opportunities to serve
One way to eliminate some of these feelings is to serve others. In your community, there are innumerable ways to serve. If you belong to a church, talk to your pastor or bishop about other ways to serve. There are just so many ways to extend ourselves.
A sense of humor is a key to blocking the empty-nest feelings from taking over. One of the biggest challenges that we will ever face is when our children leave home, but knowing you taught them well and remembering all the fun times with them should bring a smile to your face. Dory in "Finding Nemo" nonchalantly counseled us, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” So, following Dory’s example, we should say to ourselves, “Just keep smiling. Just keep smiling.”
So, whether you are currently empty-nesters or are facing that situation in the near future, remember there are ways to prepare and keep yourself rolling ever forward.
Having grown up in rural Idaho, Darrel Hammon has long loved being outdoors, growing things, and seeing things the way they could be. He has taught 9th graders and undergraduate and graduate students and served as president of two community colleges.