Empty nesters miss their kids during the big and small moments.
At the Dinner Table
Talking over dinner is one of the most consistent and universal ways for families to connect. Over half of the country’s families regularly eat dinner together without the TV on, sharing about their days and talking about current events and future plans, among many other topics. The empty chairs at the table where children used to sit can be a tough and overwhelming reminder of the lack of day to day conversation and time together.
What you can do: Try eating your meals in a different place. If you regularly ate together in the kitchen, set the dining room table for you and your spouse to eat together. If you rarely went out to dinner with your kids, find local places to go 2-3 times a week. If your budget is tight, look for discount coupons in your local paper.
Back to School
Back to school in your neighborhood can be a poignant reminder of the ritual of getting ready for a new school year. Whether you looked forward to school starting and your kids getting back to a routine or you dreaded the end of a carefree summer, back to school is always a big deal for families. Seeing parents dropping their kids at school, watching children walk by your house with new backpacks and shiny new shoes — be prepared for some unexpected tears. As they get into their rhythm of school every day, you will relax, too.
What you can do: If you are feeling generous and philanthropic, buy a bag full of schools supplies that your local elementary school needs. Any staff member at the school will be delighted to tell you what is tops on their wish list.
At the Grocery Store
Your food bill will significantly decrease when your kids are gone — though it may not mean any more money in your pocket if you are paying for college. In any case, food shopping can be a trigger for tears as you wander up and down the aisles and don’t buy the foods your kids eat that perhaps you don’t — potato chips, frozen pizza, giant bottles of orange juice and gallons of milk. Cooking for two sounds like less work, but when it feels like everything is packaged for a family (can you buy less than 8 burger buns?) it can be difficult.
What you can do: If you find the grocery store to be a really difficult place, you can have your groceries delivered — many chains have that option. Some stores also offer curbside pickup. If you still want to do your own shopping (which you will, eventually), make a list and avoid the aisles that may make you blue.
In Your Kid’s Bedrooms
Though we battle with many of our teens about cleaning their rooms and tore our hair out about their sloppiness and messiness, stepping into their pristine, untouched rooms can be heartbreaking at first. Those piles of clothes and drinking glasses left behind each day were annoying, yes, but they also were subtle reminders of the family you are part of and the children you were raising.
What you can do: First of all, close the bedroom door. If your young adult has been gone for a while, you can change the way the room is used while saving a space for when he returns. Replace the bed with a pull-out sofa, put away the posters and mementos for safe keeping and create a workspace or retreat for yourself or your spouse. Your grown child may be upset at first, but if he is living on his own it’s time for you to make your housework the way you need it to.
Right Before They Leave Home
The anticipation of the empty nest can be far worse than the reality of it. Staring at the packed boxes and emptied bedroom closet the few days before your young adult leaves for good, whether he’s going to college, moving out on his own or getting married can be extremely sad and scary. You’ve spent a long time being a mom to your kids, and when the day comes that they set out on their own for a life lived without you to witness, manage and enjoy each day it can feel ominously like the end of something. It isn’t though — it’s only the beginning of a new phase.
What you can do: Try not to be teary-eyed and sad those last few days before your young adult leaves home. Plan a special dinner, whether at a restaurant or cooking his favorite meal at home. Keep in mind that as melancholy as you are feeling, your young adult is having his own emotional reaction to the big change to come as well.
Right After They Leave Home
The silence upon returning home to an empty nest for the first time can be deafening. No TVs blaring, no video games being played, no music that you can’t stand blasting from their rooms. But wait, just a little while, and eventually, though you will miss the sound of them laughing with their friends or the reassuring sound of the front door closing late at night when they return home from an evening out, you will find a sense of peace in the stillness and quiet. It may not be all the time, and you will have moments of deep sadness — but as you grow more accustomed to your empty nest you will grow to like it more and more.
What you can do
If possible, plan a long weekend getaway. Consider it a palate cleanser for your soul — a change of scenery and time to relax and reconnect with your significant other can do wonders to adjust your attitude and to let go of your sadness and loneliness. Plan activities for weeknights, whether it’s an ongoing Scrabble tournament, a binge watch of a new TV show or taking a class. Don’t look at the empty nest as something to lament, but as something to adapt to and enjoy. Your young adult has started the rest of his life — now it’s time for you to start the rest of yours.
To access your AWP EAP services, call 1-800-343-3822. Your EAP is here to help with family, work, health and legal issues. EAP Services are provided at no cost and are 100% confidential.
Alliance Work Partners is a professional service of Workers Assistance Program, Inc.
Copyright © 2018 Workers Assistance Program, Inc.