“Overcoming the Empty Nest Syndrome or At Least Keeping it Under Control”
For those who are empty nesters or for those who are feeling the beginning trappings of symptoms of it, i.e., the young ones about to leave the nest, either through marriage, going off to college, or wanting to move out, I understand your pain and suffering and the feelings of loneliness. Both of our daughters have now gone. They both went off to college, and then they both married. We understand what feelings you are going through or are about to feel. The feelings are powerful; yet, they can be overcome or at least put in some perspective.
Now, some of you probably are excited to have your little chicks leave the nest. Some of you are saying “good riddance.” For most of us, however, having children ultimately leave the nest is a challenge, one that we definitely do not look forward to but know it is forthcoming. At least, it was for us.
But, thanks to some reading and contemplation and chatting about this topic, my wife and I feel that we have overcome some of these feelings and placed the others in perspective. We don’t proclaim to be completely cured of the “empty nest syndrome,” and we probably never will be. But this we know well: Having children leave the nest is part of life, and we need to prepare for it in order to cope.
Here are some thoughts/counsel/recommendations that my wife and I have adhered to or attempted to follow throughout our lives. They are not necessarily in any order or any priority.
Remember that empty nesting is part of Life—No matter what anyone tells you, the empty nest syndrome is just a part of life. Children are born. Children grow up. Children leave your home. While it may not be that cut and dried, this is the sequence. Sometimes another sequence happens: “Children return home to live with you.” Once you understand that empty nesting is or will be a part of your life, you should begin doing things to prepare or help you overcome these potential feelings.
Establish traditions with your children—Perhaps, this is one of the most important aspects of parenting, which will ultimately create long-lasting connections between parents and children. Children need good traditions on which to fall back on. What Joanne and I have discovered is that the traditions we started with our family have become their traditions after they were married. While we want them to begin their own traditions, there is nothing wrong with them hanging on to certain traditions that are wholesome and family-honored. This sharing of traditions will connect you forever, no matter where your children end up.
Do things together with your children—No matter what they say, children do enjoy doing things with you. Just recently, Joanne and I were watching a re-run of “I Love Raymond.” Raymond hears that his brother Robert is going on a re-enactment of the civil war with his father. He assumes that his father asked Robert and feels bad that his father didn’t ask him. Finally, after some subtle badgering, the father asks Raymond to go with him. Then, he finds out that the father didn’t ask Robert to go. In the end, Raymond said to his father, “I just wanted to spend some time with you.” Now, Raymond’s father is depicted as the consummate uncaring father; yet, Raymond wanted to spend time with him. Our children are the same way. They want to spend time with us. Ironically, the times they remember most are usually the small things.
Teach your children gospel principles—In our Church, teaching your children about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is paramount to an eternal family. Thus, we spent time reading the scriptures daily. The gospel became a staple in their daily diet along with attendance at Sunday meetings and their Young Women’s program. Both of them received their Personal Progress medallions—equivalent to an Eagle Scout Award—as a result of hard work and dedication to their spiritual and personal goals. Consequently, both daughters married returned missionaries, both Eagle Scouts, in the temple of the Lord. And they are raising their families the same way they were raised. Having a spiritual base is a key ingredient, in my opinion, in having a successful and happy life.
Think of empty nesting as a new start—One way to think about empty nesting is that it can be an opportunity for a new start for you. What we discovered over the years while the girls were growing up is that we spent an inordinate amount of time with them—watching movies with them, going on vacations, attending speech and drama events, traveling to their basketball games and tennis matches, and doing a host of things with them. Sometimes when we do this, we fail to remember that we need time for ourselves. Our first responsibility, though, is helping our children grow and progress and guide them to become what they want to become. There are times that they need a bit of motivation to do a few things. When they are gone, you can think of this time as starting over or beginning something you have wanted to do. Make goals and go out and accomplish them.
Begin preparing now for empty nesting—If your children haven’t left yet but are on the cusp of leaving, now is the time to begin preparing. Read about the syndrome. Think about some of the things you can do to become better acquainted with your surroundings. The challenge usually lies with unpreparedness on our parts. Sometimes we think that it will be a lifetime before our children leave. That may be true. But the lifetime often barrages us before we know what hit us. It has always amazed me how fast our children grew up. One day, they are in 6th grade, and the next day we are registering them for college. If we are careful and set annual goals for us to accomplish, including what we are going to do after the children leave the nest, we will be a lot better off. It’s like saving money—investing a little bit each month will yield good returns later. We need to invest in ourselves for that day—for it will definitely come.
Resurrect something old and learn something new—Often, our identity and skills become subservient to the identities and skills of our children as they grow up. But your learning should never quit. When the children leave, you will probably have lots of time on your hands. You may have to resurrect a hobby or skill or learn a new hobby or skill. Today, you can learn so many new things at your local community college or even online. What about a new language? A new computer program? Is your journal caught up? What about your family history? Your own history? You may even have to dust off that old camera or buy a really nice digital camera.
Continue to date—Joanne and I are firm believers in continuing the dating process. Before we were married, for most of us, dating was fun albeit a bit intriguing. We have been counseled to never quit dating after marriage. Consequently, Joanne and I have continued to date each week. Additionally, when I was a college president, my schedule was extremely busy. We decided that we would have lunch every Thursday when I was in town. We enjoyed our times together. Sometimes, we just had a quick burger at Sonic. Sometimes, we had a nice lunch at our favorite Mexican or Chinese restaurant. The place was not necessarily important, but spending time together was the most important thing. If you are a single parent, there are many opportunities to associate with other single adults in your area. Take advantages of your community’s resources.
Keep in Contact—Once your children leave the nest, there is a tendency to believe that you will never have contact with them ever again. They leave; they are gone; and that’s that. Contrary to this belief, we have discovered the girls still want and need contact. They love to call their mother and just chat. Often, one of them is about to cook something and call their mother to talk about recipes and how to cook this or that. The calls to me usually have to do with writing a paper or asking whether they should make this decision or that one. Now, with one grandchild, we try to Google Chat once per week so we can establish a relationship with our granddaughter although we live 7.5 hours away. Families should always communicate. With technology, it has never been so easy. Nothing, though, compensates for actually seeing your children and giving them the hugs they have been craving—you have been craving. Remember, though, they have their own lives now, and we shouldn’t be intrusive in their lives.
Seek opportunities to serve—One way to eliminate the lonely feelings that often accompany the empty nest syndrome is to serve others and to extend yourself. In your community, there are innumerable ways to serve. For example, my wife volunteers at our local hospital and symphony. If you belong to a church, talk to your pastor or bishop about other ways to serve. You can write a note to someone you know or send a birthday card to family and friends. We write birthday cards to the young single adults with whom we work in our church. The next Sunday at church, these young people hightail to where we are and thank us profusely for remembering them. I think in today’s texting world, people still crave the handwritten word. Ink on the page is still an incredible thing.
Keep Smiling—Keeping your sense of humor is a key to blocking the lonely feelings from taking over. Since you have prepared for this day, you will smile—amidst the tears. Having your children leave your home is one of the biggest challenges that we can ever face. But knowing that you have taught them well and remembering all of the fun times with them should bring a smile to your face. When we dropped our oldest off at college, we all started crying as we left the parking lot as we watched her disappear and kept crying out to the freeway. But we hadn’t been gone for more than ten minutes, when she called and told us that she loved us. Yes, the tears were there, but we smiled, knowing full well, it wasn’t good bye. Dory in Finding Nemo continued to say throughout her journey, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” So, following Dory’s example, we should say to ourselves: “Just keep smiling. Just keep smiling.”
So, whether you are currently empty nesters or are facing that dilemma in the near future, remember there are ways to prepare and keep yourself rolling ever forward. Good luck!