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How to deal with an empty nest when your kid grows up, and goes away to college? No matter how prepared you think you are, you can never be ready for it when it hits you.
I actually thought being aware and working consciously through the years of high school would really help me prepare for my partial empty nest; I thought soaking up and savouring every moment with my first-born before she goes off to college will make the transition easier; I thought talking to my friends who have already experienced it and knowing early on how to deal with an empty nest, how to prepare for that moment will somehow ease the pain; Boy, was I wrong!
Though I am experiencing only a partial empty nest, let me tell you, it hurts the same. To think I actually had a plan drawn up to keep myself totally occupied so I don’t mope around, didn’t help one bit. All my best laid plans went down the drain.
No matter how prepared you think you are, you can never be ready for it when it hits you. In my case, I spent about a month and a half on auto-pilot, just doing nothing more than what was absolutely required of me. I spent most of my time reading books and watching shows, (and believe me I NEVER EVER watch TV shows) and it was quite strange.
But I didn’t fight it. I didn’t try to distract myself intentionally. I just did what I felt like doing at that point of time. I gave myself time to feel and process whatever I was going through.
I still don’t know what to call that phase… But it looked like I had completely lost interest in all the things I liked doing once. I kept wondering if I would ever go back to being my normal self again. I wasn’t crying but I wasn’t being myself either. Then slowly, without really fighting the phase, I got back to being myself again.
If you ask me, just go with the flow and trust that things will get better. Don’t fight the feelings. Time heals everything.
How to deal with an empty nest, then? Here are 7 other moms sharing their thoughts and feelings.
Being a working mom herself, Kiran made sure her two boys grew up to be independent and self-sufficient. Though she was confident and convinced that her son will manage things very well on his own, it still was heart wrenching when it was time for him to move out.
The mere thought of her little boys growing up and moving out gave her the jitters. She realized the vacuum that her son’s absence will cause her once he left home to a distant land but convinced herself that it would be selfish to stop him from achieving his life goals.
During this time she decided to quit her long standing career as a teacher to help in her son’s admission process and travel preparations and make the most of her time with her son. Around the same time, her husband had to shift base to another city for work which made matters worse for her. With her elder son in the U.S, her husband in a different city and younger son busy with his education, she felt completely lost. Her once busy life with a full time job and home bustling with two young boys suddenly felt empty.
Kiran says her life just became dull and void all of a sudden. Her wonderful home that was once filled with chatter and laughter now had vacant rooms and silent walls.
That was a terrible time, she recalls. Shuttling between visiting her husband and keeping herself busy visiting friends and relatives was the only things that helped break the monotony. But after a couple of months of this routine she thought she would go crazy if she didn’t take stock of her life but going back to work didn’t spark any interest in her anymore.
That’s when she decided to do what she had always wanted to do but couldn’t find the time for it with two young kids; She decided to register for the PhD program. With time at her hands and support and encouragement from her family she is now pursuing her Doctorate. Life’s good as with the help of technology she tries to keep the void at bay, and her family stays connected with each other.
She says her heart is now content and her family is making it together in their own ways. Instead of gloom engulfing her days she found a new lease of life through furthering her dreams while her son pursues his.
Jasmine is a writer and a Spoken Word Artist and a proud mother of a son who has just flown off the nest 4 months ago for pursue engineering.
She says nothing prepares you for this and it hits you only once they fly off. She adds candidly that, “Preparing ‘ourselves’ was nowhere on the agenda as preparing ‘him’ had consumed us totally.”
She recalls that the final parting at the hostel gate seemed very graceful but it was only when the flight took off that the avalanche of emotions got unleashed. As the plane gained height she felt that they were leaving their whole world behind in a city that wasn’t theirs.
But time helps like nothing else does. She says that sharing the pain with her spouse and being there for each other was what helped immensely. Instead of remaining in their shells consumed with grief (yes, grief is what she calls it) it helped to pour out their feelings and console each other.
She wisely adds, that holding on, is holding their growth; letting go is giving them wings. On her part she says she immersed herself more into her work and started traveling for work too, something she hadn’t done earlier. Writing had come to her rescue too as it has always been her comforting cocoon and has helped her tide over lots in every phase of life.
As a spoken word artist her performance titled ‘Growing up with you’ showcases this phase and she says she feels stronger, healed and happier every time she performs it.
In her opinion, each milestone though uncomfortable helps us grow. And this is one such milestone.
With her elder daughter deciding to pursue a course which would essentially take her out of town, Ritu had started making peace with the fact that she would have to face a partial empty nest soon. This was also the time when she decided to quit her job as a KG teacher to spend more time with her daughter and help ease the transition for her. But no amount of mental preparation helped when it was time came. She says it was quite difficult especially the first few months.
Imagining life without her first born wasn’t easy. She recalls placing an extra plate on the dining table or adding a 4th player when they played family games almost instinctively. Those moments brought back the pain. Entering her daughter’s room always evoked deep sadness and void inside her. It slowly started taking a toll on her health too.
She soon realized that this couldn’t go on, as she wanted to be fully present for her family members and to her younger daughter who needed her. That’s when she put a positive spin to her thoughts and accepted the fact that this phase is essential for her daughter’s bright future and she needs to fulfil her ambitions.
She decided to engage herself in activities related to her well-being. She joined a dance class, started aerobic exercises and physiotherapy for her back pain. She turned her attention to her passion for home décor and decided to redecorate her house and also helped a few of her friends with their homes too. She started baking regularly which was something she always loved. All this slowly helped her move on with her life.
With fixed times for calls, messages and visits during holidays, the emptiness is becoming bearable and she is starting to feel like herself again.
Mamta a resident of Gurgaon is an educator by profession. She says it was only when her daughter was in high school that it dawned on her that her only daughter’s ambitions might take her away from her cozy nest. She says that her daughter’s talk about universities abroad made her proud of her ambitious girl but inside her heart sank.
Mamta remarks that the helicopter parent in her had even tried to subtly discourage her daughter from applying to far off universities. She says that though her inner turmoil was on all-time high she made peace with herself and decided instead to be happy and grateful that her daughter had bagged admission in a prestigious institution.
She recalls feeling like a victim of circumstances and found herself lost in a zombie like state. Though she was heartbroken, she was glad to know that her daughter had acclimatized very well in her new surrounding pretty soon.
She tried learning new skills and tried her hand at baking and embroidery but nothing seemed to help. Mamta adds that it was her friends at her workplace who became her saviour and her pillars of strength during those initial days of struggle when she would breakdown any time. It was her girl gang who saw her through this tough transition.
She says though her heart aches and pines for her daughter, she is slowly becoming stronger by the day and memories of her daughter keeps her going strong.
Shaihida, is a mother of 2 beautiful girls. She says that she never really gave much thought to the empty nest phase and therefore she wasn’t ready to accept it when it happened. When the time arrived for her daughter would leave the house, she wasn’t mentally prepared to deal with the effects this mammoth change would bring on.
So from the very moment her daughter moved out, it became difficult for her to imagine her day to day life without her presence in the house. But seeing her younger daughter miss her sister terribly made her realize that she needs to put on a brave face and make peace with it sooner for the sake of her younger daughter.
Shaihida says it took time, but she learnt to accept the fact that this phase is crucial for her daughter to gain independence and it is a huge learning experience for her. Knowing it will help her become a wiser person capable of making better decisions helped her transition through this tough period.
She says at that point her coping mechanism was to drown herself in her work. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism, but it was the only thing she could think of, because she recalls that she was becoming an overbearing mother constantly calling and checking on her daughter which she didn’t want to do. And over a period of time, she has learnt to accept the changes this phase had brought it. She is a much calmer parent and looks forward to a new self.
In Mallika’s case, it wasn’t just that she had to cope with her son’s moving out of home for college but it bought along a huge change in the form of her family shifting base back to their hometown after almost 17 long years. It was a bittersweet moment when they realized how these two major transitions had come along almost at the same time.
Surprisingly she says, this relocation and bidding goodbye to all her dear friends and acquaintances somehow helped her overcome the initial anxiety of her son leaving the nest. All the commotion distracted her from drowning into sadness over her feeling of empty nest.
Though she didn’t jump in and take a job in the new place immediately, she used the time to catch up with friends & family she had been away from for so many years. She also prioritized taking care of her ageing and ailing parents and in-laws now that she had more time at hand. She also used her time to work towards her passion for a greener earth by joining an Environment Committee to bring about positive changes in her immediate surroundings.
Being a trained Kathak dancer, she started honing her skills once again after such a long gap. Mallika says this really helped her reconnect with herself again.
She says that these may not be fancy solutions, but these simple things keep her happy, healthy, and fruitfully occupied. She keeps reminding herself about the importance of letting the child venture out, teaching him to fly so he grows into that lovely human being that she had envisioned him to become.
Kala Ravi Sarathy
Kala is a mother of two, a blogger, an interior designer, an aspiring writer, a dreamer and doer too. She says she knew her daughter would definitely be flying the nest after her graduation and that she had mentally started planning for life without her near while she was in college.
It was at this time when she quit her full-time career as an interior designer and decided to spend the best years of family life being at home with her family. She wanted to take up a hobby or passion that she enjoyed and that would sustain the pangs of separation she was bound to face when the time came. She says she chanced upon blogging at this point of life and she is extremely thankful for that. It has given her a space to vent her feelings and share her passion for words. She also started attending regular annual workshops on improving her life through the power of subconscious positive thinking which helped her immensely in this transitional phase.
Something she regrets not doing is making new friendships or renewing old friendships, simply because she’d been too busy and involved in her own home-building.
When the time came for her girl’s departure to the college and country of her dreams, all she remembers is how it went off in a blur of activities. Though she stayed strong all through, it was at the airport see off when she finally broke down at the departure gate. Kala remembers that she avoided looking at her empty bed and cupboard and resisted the urge to call out her name when it was time for dinner. The only respite was the WhatsApp video calls and the rest of her family who had her back.
She says she is still coping with the transition since it’s been a little over a year since she left. Seeing her daughter learning and growing and the realization that this decision has been great for her makes her proud and happy. She now knows that it won’t be long before her son too will be ready to spread his wings and follow in the footsteps of his sibling. So, she now consciously makes an effort towards forging new connections with like-minded folks. She is also blogging more, her blogger friends have become real-life connections she treasures.
This is what she has to say from her experience – “Once both my kids are out of the nest, it is the time to enjoy my life, travel to exotic places with my husband, learn new arts and crafts, spend more time with ageing parents and generally be proud of myself for raising a happy family. Stay Positive!”
Now that’s something that really seems like a very sensible and joyful thing to do!
While preparing for our little bird to leave our nest, it’s important that we prepare ourselves for the new phase of our lives too. It’s time to introspect, rearrange our priorities, shift the focus inwards, do more of what you love, do what makes you happy. It’s time where you are not required to be physically present for your child like it was needed before and so now’s the time to make time for yourself, your spouse and for your new stage of parenting. Focus on spending time as a couple again because after almost two decades of parenting it might be difficult to see yourselves other than just parents. Take time to cultivate hobbies and activities built around what you like to do as a couple.
17 years, and add another year to the pregnancy, and it’s almost after 18yrs of constant attention, caring, loving, nurturing, and your child being your number one priority in the whole world, your baby is stepping out into the world. Out of your safe haven, warm embrace, and out of sight too. It’s going to be hard, almost unbearable; so during this time give yourself grace, be kind to yourself. Take time to process and internalize the purpose of this transition. As a mom, you know that this phase is very crucial for your child, for they need to follow their dreams and ambitions to make a life of their own.
Here’s what I learnt from this phase of my life.
Take heart that this phase too shall pass and we will learn to embrace our new and revised role of parenting a young adult, and pretty soon that will become our new normal. And when you give it time, you will soon start enjoying the new, more mature and friendly comraderie that develops between you and your child.
Though it might seem like life with your child living under the same roof with you is over, it doesn’t have to be all sad. Your child still needs you, just not in the same way as before but they need you; to be a parent, a friend, a guide. It’s just that your family dynamics are changing. Your relationship with your child is evolving, and though it may not be the same, you will continue to grow as a family. There will be different milestones, events and celebrations.
Embrace this change with grace!
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A mother of two amazing kids and a teacher by profession, I have varied interests.
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