Flying the Coop and Empty Nest Grief

I’m going to be real and honest with you. An opportunity came up last week for my son to move to an apartment on a college campus 45 minutes away, and I’m not ready. Notice I didn’t say that he’s not ready, he’s very excited.  He will be living with his cousin who attends college there. Since my son is taking online classes, he can technically live anywhere, but I’m not ready.

This really isn’t about me, is it? I am thrilled that he has this opportunity, but it wasn’t in our plan.  He was going to attend community college for two years, then transfer to campus for his last two years. I’m supposed to have another 10 months to get used to the idea of him moving out.  He still plans on finishing community college, and he was going to transfer to that state school anyway, so it’s a little early… big deal. Why is this so different than when my oldest son lived away from home for 9 weeks this summer?  This is what many of my other friends have felt over the last few months…it’s grief.

A grief that my baby has grown up, grief that his childhood is officially over, grief that I now have grown children and my job is over. My kids don’t need me!! Bring on the waterworks. But again, this isn’t about me! Things have been put into perspective for me recently as another family just brought their 20-year-old son home from college to go on hospice care, and yet another family had to bury their son due to suicide. Why am I feeling sorry for myself? He is doing exactly what my husband and I have raised him to do.  But my heart is still sad.

My husband has had is own sadness as well. He and my son are two peas in a pod and do a lot together. They meet other guys on Friday mornings for Bible study, they hang out watching sports together, they cook food on the smoker together, and they both spoil our dogs like crazy! This move will definitely change the dynamic in our home. I am going to acknowledge these feelings, get them out, and then put them in their place.

But it’s all so exciting! Watching my son and my nephew move their furniture up three flights of stairs and seeing the joy on their faces was priceless. Setting up their kitchen, along with my sister, was so satisfying. Witnessing the boys roll their eyes at their moms for suggesting they add some fruit to their shopping cart was hilarious, especially when we said that fruit snacks don’t count. These emotions are the ones I should focus on, not the negative ones.  The boys are making grown-up decisions. They were able to call the electric and cable companies to get their accounts. My son has already started looking for a job. The pride that swells from my heart makes it feel like it’s going to burst out of my chest!

I have a lot of work to do over the next couple of weeks. But these tips will get me started.

Coping with the empty nest

  • Cry it out– it’s okay to get your emotions out, grief over the loss of an era in your life is healthy. The key is to not do this in front of your children and to not let it be more than a day.  Dry your tears, wash your face, put on fresh makeup, and SMILE!
  • Reconnect with your spouse– plan weekend getaways, awesome trips, or date nights. This life you built started with just the two of you, find new reasons to love your spouse even more.
  • Redecorate-if you’re anything like me, the artwork in my house is mostly framed portraits of my kids. It’s time to redecorate. Put up fun pictures with your friends to show that you have a life outside of your kids. Find cool art. Choose new paint colors.  Have fun!
  • Get a job– I hate to even include this one, it was my husband’s idea. Okay, maybe it was his suggestion to me. Gulp!! To him, it isn’t even about the money, but about the social aspect and personal pride of getting up every morning, showering, dressing nice, and going into work. I haven’t jumped on board with this one. I like being in charge of my own schedule; I plan to vacation more, I am in 2 bible studies, I have a Bunco group, a book club group, a coffee group. I love to go to movies with friends, or lunches, or mani/pedis. And I am still a part-time hairstylist, where I can pick up a few new clients per week.  I get where he was going with this.  The point is to not just sit in the house. Get out and enjoy life!
  • Focus on Health- This is a huge one for me. Now that I can really change up my cooking style, there will be fewer burgers and pizza, and more vegetables.  I’m going to start a new class at the gym and really start taking care of myself.  I don’t feel like I have to be available or clear my schedule just in case the kids are home. I can create an in-home sanctuary for myself and my husband.

As I am typing, I am away from home on a weekend getaway with my husband and friends.  We are having a great time away, which more on that in another post.  But I am making a plan for a new kind of normal when we get home.  And it starts with repainting an empty bedroom.



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