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Coping with a new normal when the kids leave the nest
Empty Nest

The rite of passage that is moving away from home and going to college or out into the world is like the start to a new, exciting, much anticipated journey. Most young adults are seething with excitement and chomping at the bit to embark on this new adventure that is life. However, for the parents, this can be a time of dread, sadness and grief. It is not uncommon to experience a mixed bag of emotions that include pride and love but also feelings of deep loss and sadness.

Letting go and getting used the “new normal” can be quite a process and a difficult one at that. Parents will tell you, it doesn’t matter how old a kid is: he or she will always be that cherished baby that was brought home from the hospital so many years ago. Letting go can be particularly difficult because it is almost as if the parent continues to see those qualities of the small child they raised in the young adult that child has become. When the adult child finally leaves, it can be like watching that small child leave home to go conquer the big, scary world that parents vowed to protect their children from while they were growing up.

Knowing how to cope during such a time of adjustment can help the process be less painful and can also help to find new joy and meaning in life.

Allow yourself to ride the emotional roller coaster

Parents love their children. It is impossible to love someone so much and to not feel intense emotions when he or she leaves home. Emotions can shift and change frequently and dramatically during a time of big adjustment. It is important to not push the emotion away but rather to experience it. Emotions are important to the healing process, and allowing ourselves to feel emotions helps the brain to work through traumatic and distressing events so that we can eventually make sense of the situation and move forward with life.

Reach out and utilize support

Riding the emotional roller coaster alone can make a difficult and scary situation worse. Reaching out and talking about the experience is also helpful to the brain in resolving conflicting emotions and grief. Verbalizing emotions and thoughts helps the brain to slow down and also gives us a chance to hear ourselves. It also gives us a chance to get other perspectives and feedback from loved ones who can help to shed new light on thoughts and perceptions. Reaching out also can be a great reminder that although the house may feel lonely with a child leaving, you are not alone in your life.

Find new ways to enjoy life

Parenting takes up a great deal of time. Even as a child grows older and requires less care for basic needs, school, extracurricular activities and family activities take up a great deal of time. When a child leaves, parents may find that they have too much free time on their hands, which can contribute to feelings of emptiness. Finding new, creative ways to enjoy the free time can help with coping and can also help to find new ways to have fun and find joy in life.

Find ways to stay connected and have a relationship with your adult child

Relationships between parents and children change over the life span. They are at first completely dependent on you and you are the center of their universe. As they get older, they become more self-sufficient and other people in their lives (such as friends and significant others) can become more the focus of their attention. Each adjustment can be difficult, but keep in mind that even as adults, kids need their parents. Find common ground and interests that you and your adult child can enjoy together. Reminisce about the past but acknowledge and respect the adult version of the child you raised.

Be patient with yourself and the process of adjustment

Life transitions are difficult and they are usually not easy. Kindness to oneself during times of adjustment goes a long way in nurturing the adjustment process so that it is faster and more efficient. It is hard to let go of the little child who once depended on you and thought you were an all-knowing being. Allowing yourself to acknowledge and feel your emotions will ensure that you will be able to get to the place of acceptance and thriving in your new relationship with your adult child, and will allow you to celebrate the adult your child has become.

(Anastasia Pollock, MA, LCMHC, is clinical director at Life Stone Counseling Centers. She is certified in EMDR through EMDRIA. Learn more about her by visiting lifestonecenter.com or email info@lifestonecenter.com.)