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  • Writer's pictureChris Williams

It wasn’t pretty, but I survived my first year as an “Empty Nester.”

Updated: Nov 1, 2018

It has been a year since becoming a mother with no children living at home (“empty nester” they call me) and I have been having this overwhelming feeling to share my story as I know many of you have children leaving for college for the first time in the upcoming weeks/month. I am not a writer so bear with me during my probably not so correct writing style. It’s my hope that my story will help someone who is going through emotions of a child leaving to start their next journey. I did not write this for sympathy; I wrote it to start a conversation as I heard very little from my circle of friends about their experience of becoming an empty nester.

I think the feelings that parents experience may be the same no matter what the circumstances are for their child leaving. I can only speak from a mother’s perspective but it would be interesting to hear some comments from fathers to see if they experience the same type of emotions.

And here it begins:

How do you say goodbye to your child and not feel a loss in your heart? Even knowing that the child is now an adult and leaving for college or a 14 year old leaving your home…saying goodbye, giving them a big hug, getting in the car and driving away…how do you not lose control? I was in such a state of shock when I drove away, that I didn’t cry until I sat in my house all by myself that first night. I was heartbroken. Trust me, I cried plenty the week before and while I said goodbye, but once I got in the car….nothing…just numb. How do you not miss your child when you walk by their room and everything is exactly the same as they left it? You go into their room to just feel close to them. You smell their pillows so that you can smell “their” smelI. It makes you feel closer to them. You open their closets and look at their things. You open the drawers to their dressers and look at their clothes. You look in their night stand and go through all the items they left behind. You hold their pillow and you cry.

How do you process that even though you know your child is healthy and living his life, you feel the loss of a child? I don’t want people to misunderstand my feeling of the loss of child as I can’t compare my loss to someone that has actually lost a child by death as I knew I would see my child again…but to me it was a loss. I did not know when I would see my son again. I was mourning the loss of living with my son in our home, taking care of my son, having a relationship with my son, loving my son, and being a part of his daily life. How do you not fall apart when you have those “first moments?” I was in Target about a week or two after my son moved out and like a million other times, I needed to pick up a few things in the food section. As I started going through the section that has all the snacks like granola bars, etc., I felt this overwhelming sadness come over me as I realized I no longer had to buy snacks for him. I had this intense meltdown where I started to cry uncontrollably and had to leave my cart in the isle and go home. It seems like I continued to cry for weeks. I can’t remember how many times I found myself on my bathroom floor crying during those “firsts.”

How do you not feel the need to purge? One day I woke up and had the desire to clean out all of my son’s items in his room and get rid of the clothes that were too small, pack up his books, sell his sports items and close the door to his room as I couldn’t bear walking past his room anymore and seeing an empty room. The door to his room stayed closed when he was not home. Only about 2 months ago was I able to begin to leave the door to his room open as I received some good advice from a friend who said to put a heart on the outside of his door to represent the love in his room instead of seeing the sadness. I didn’t put a heart on his door but I slowly started opening the door each day. A little longer each day/week until now it stays open in between his visits except on the times I catch our dog Emma laying on his bed and need to close the door to keep her out. Emma misses him too!

Who are you if you are no longer a full-time mom? When you only have one child and they leave the nest or your last child leaves the nest it suddenly hits you that you no longer have to take care of a child. No more homework, no more lunch making, no more carpools, no more sport activities, no more extra laundry….there are many “no mores” that you will realize. At first it feels really good to have all this extra time but then it hits you….I’m not ready to focus on myself…I want my child back home!! Again the tears flow. Some of you might be celebrating that your child is an adult and off to college. I thought that is what I would do when my son went off to college at 18. I was not mentally prepared for him to leave at 14. Who was I if I was not a full-time mom as that was the greatest thing to me? The million dollar question was “who am I now?”

How are you supposed to feel when you do not communicate with your child every day? You don’t let the phone out of your sight so that you don’t miss a call or a text. When you don’t get the calls/text messages, you check your phone to make sure it works, you have someone send you a text to make sure your text messaging works all the while you begin to get upset that the calls/texts are not arriving. You call/text to reach out….nothing in return. You ask yourself how can your child be too busy to take 5 minutes out of their day to connect with you. How come they can text their friends or a girl they like but not you? Doesn’t your child miss you as much as you miss them? You ask yourself “how come they don’t miss me?” When you finally see their name pop up on your phone, the whole world stops to exist while you take that call/text. Finally you begin to not call/text every day and not take the lack of communication so personally as you soon realize from many conversations with your child why they don’t call/text is not personal...they are busy living their lives. And slowly, you have to begin to do the same thing.

How are you supposed to feel when your child doesn’t come home as often as you would like? I was crushed when I got the first call asking “can I not come home this weekend as I want to hang out with my friends?” What about me…your mom, the person who gave birth to you…why don’t you want to see me? I miss you so much!! I wanted to be the cool mom so I said I understood…I cried for days. After months of the same conversations, I slowly had to realize that I had to fill my weekends with fun & adventures as that was the same thing my son was doing. Now when he comes home we have fun together and I cherish the time together. I get my hugs, my snuggles, my I Love You’s and I have a full heart when he leaves.

How are you supposed to feel when you don’t see friends anymore who still have their kids at home but you are no longer included in the activities because your son is no longer a part of that group? I miss seeing my son’s friends that he grew up with. I miss the tribe of friends who we could always count on for help when we needed it. I miss carpooling or watching the kids on school breaks, sporting events, the sleepovers and the birthday parties. Their lives continue on because they still have their kids at home. My circle of friends changed because my son’s circle of friends changed.

It’s been a year since I had to say goodbye to my son. Many of you have asked why did I let him leave? Trust me when I say this was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make…it wasn’t an easy one for many reasons which some I choose not to discuss in this forum, but the decision for me came down to that I have always encouraged people to live their best life and to look at life as a journey. How could I tell my son that he could not live the journey he felt he needed to go on when this is what I talk about almost daily to people and he has seen my vision boards in my office with my life journey on it? My son is happy, healthy, getting so tall, remains a good hearted person with hopes and dreams and he is the best son I could ask for.

My journey this past year was discovering who was as a 48 year old woman who found herself an empty nester, with a new career, a new husband, surrounded by great friends and many new adventures. What I know for sure through this past year is I survived!! It wasn’t pretty. There were tears, heartache, soul searching, trials and tribulations to keeping my relationship strong with my son, working on not taking every disappointment personally, hard work defining what my next year would look like, staying focused on my vision boards, more tears, friends picking me up off the floor and helping put the pieces back together and beginning again.

There were amazing times as well and I celebrated each and every one of those triumphs - started a new career, focused my time and energy on myself, got married, took a few vacations, sold my business, volunteered, went on fun adventures, laughed again and started living my new life.

As your kids go off to college in a few weeks or if your child leaves for other reasons, I just want to say that I understand your pain/loss, I understand your heartache, you will go through many emotions, you may feel guilty when you start living your life for you and not your child, you may bribe your kid to have them call/text more, you may cry many, many, many tears, you may celebrate that your child is gone, you may get depressed, you may be confused on what to do now that you are an empty nester, you may look at your spouse and wonder “now what do I talk to them about with no kids at home”….and so on and so on. There is no right/wrong way to feel…they are your embrace them and take one day at a time; one minute at a time if you have too! Surround yourself with a tribe of people to help you through this next journey of your life and know that you are not alone as lots of people go through being empty nesters every day and they survive. If you are celebrating being an empty nester then Woo Hoo and enjoy the amazing journey of a whole new world of freedom!! Thank you to my husband, my family, my tribe and my life coach for helping me get through this year. I couldn’t have done it without each of you! God has sent me an amazing group of people for the next journey. Woo Hoo!! Please feel free to start the discussion below if you have a story to share that could help others during their transition to becoming empty nesters.

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