Surviving the Empty Nest

My nest is undeniably, starkly empty. We've settled my younger daughter into her dorm room and bid farewell to my older one, who is in Germany for a semester abroad. My husband left for business in England just as the older daughter left. It's just me, the dog and the cat—and, undeniably, lots of tears.

I know I'm not alone in this sadness. Facebook is filled with photos of parents taking their kids to college and statuses talking of their loneliness and loss.

My sadness began creeping in even before the kids were gone, as they busily packed and ran errands to get ready for their departures. When my older daughter left for her first year at college, the days and weeks before her departure were almost as hard as the actual departure and days after—tears flowed freely over the "last" family dinner, the "last" gathering of friends in the pool, the "last" time she'd walk the dog.

I'm a veteran now, and there were fewer anticipatory tears. I know that my daughters will come back for frequent visits—and we'll still have family dinners, gatherings of friends and dog walks. But, I also know that it will be different from here on out. The kids are no longer part of the daily ebb and flow of our household life. 

Thankfully, they are both bright, independent, remarkable young adults, who are building lives of their own. I know we're lucky that they are following this path. And, I am also lucky that both of my daughters are great about staying in touch with regular texts, e-mails and phone calls, so I do still feel a part of their lives.

But, I also know that this is not an easy transition for many parents—and I'm one of them. My life for years has revolved largely around my kids' activities, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Now I'm faced with rebuilding a life of my own: rediscovering a relationship with my husband; renewing old hobbies and trying new ones; tackling house projects relegated to the back burner during the busy years of child rearing; taking trips that don't involve soccer games; building stronger friendships; and exploring whatever else comes my way in this new stage of life.

Many of my friends have been through this and have shared their advice and experiences. One threw a "pity party," which could only be attended by other women who also had empty nests. Sounds like a good start. Others—both men and women—acknowledge that it was the hardest time of their lives when they sometimes didn't want to get out of bed or leave the house. For some, it was a rough few weeks or months; for others, a year or several years.

Mostly, they advise staying busy and remembering that there are good days ahead. I'm busily filling my schedule with dinners with friends, out-of-town visits and reunions, stepped-up exercise routines, trips with my husband, yard work clearing our long-neglected yard and lots of house projects, starting with remodeling the girls' now-empty bathroom.

Still, I know the tears will sneak up on me, and some sad days lie ahead. If you've already made the transition to the empty nest, share your tips with those of us entering this next stage of life.

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