empty nest 224.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dear Dr. Batya,
My youngest daughter finished university, has a wonderful job and is about to move out of the house. Many friends have warned me that the house will feel very different with her gone, and I am nervous how this will be for all of us. While I know she could always come home if things don't work out, it is time for her to have her freedom and independence. That said, as everyone talks about the empty nest, I wonder how it will impact on us.
- D.A., Kfar Yona
Whether your child is leaving home to go into the army, begin university, get married or she simply feels ready, this transition can't help but have an impact on both the one leaving and the ones left behind. The move may leave you with lots of questions and concerns as well as a void that, if handled right, can be wonderful to fill. Roles get redefined and your child will not return in the same way in which she went off.
Sending your child off can be scary. Not knowing just what to expect can feel overwhelming. The best way to deal with it is to talk about what the move out of the house means for everyone. What are each person's desires and concerns? The more prepared you feel your daughter is for being on her own, the easier it may be on you although you'll all have some adjustments to make, especially if you depended on each other. Even going by her bedroom may be a sad and painful reminder of what "was" as you face not being quite ready to let go or have her grow up and move on.
Having perhaps defined yourself through your role as a parent, you will experience a sense of loss on many levels and may need to start to define yourself differently. Letting your daughter grow up and giving her the freedom to mature and stand on her own two feet at times will require adjustments on both your parts. What once was predictable will now be less so and as you now relate to each other as two adults. It's still tempting to take over and be a controlling parent. Don't! You'll have to find other ways to cope and feel needed. This is perhaps one of the hardest aspects of letting go after so many years.
You and your daughter may also find the time leading up to her departure to be more tumultuous than usual as each of you tests the waters of separation. Kids seem to challenge the house rules a bit more, and you may find yourself wishing that she would just leave already. Nonetheless, as soon as she does leave, you'll miss all of the great things about her and the quiet in the house just won't feel the same. That is until you get used to it, or for whatever reason, she decides to return.
What are your concerns as a parent? Are you worried about how and what she'll encounter as she moves into this next phase? How will she manage her money, new and old friends, studies, relationships, alcohol, drugs, her new surroundings, freedom and culture shock in general? How often will you talk to her and how do you keep in touch without smothering her?
These are all areas where you'll need to dance around each other until you become comfortable. It takes time, but in the meantime you may see increased anxiety, sadness, sleep issues and heightened stress, and you both may wonder if you made the right decisions. Will she make it, and what if it doesn't work out, she's lonely and she'd like to return or do something else?
As you begin this new phase together and yet apart, as a parent, you can be there and be supportive, whether it is to offer a listening ear, an open door or an occasional home-cooked meal. Once the settling in phase is over and the anticipation of what will be is replaced by familiarity and routine, the transition will become easier. As your job changes from manager to occasional consultant, this may feel like the real loss. You'll no longer be needed in the same way.
Boundaries, roles and rules change and this takes getting used to. That said, you'll learn to manage and may even learn to like it as you refocus on other things. Your relationship with your other children and with your husband will change as well. In the meantime, you may want to make changes in your child's room, finally sorting out stuff that has accumulated for years. Be careful in your zeal to finally get in their room to clean that you leave lots of who they are behind.
Only you and your child can determine how you'll navigate this new stage in life. If you can be there for her and recognize that she will be working hard, you'll find ways to deal with your barrage of questions that will simply go unanswered. Send her a real letter, or an occasional care package. Find ways to show her you are there as needed and recognize that as a parent, you are doing a wonderful thing for your daughter. As you give her guidance and strength, you also give her the confidence to grow and stretch beyond her comfort zone, problem solve and achieve independence. That is a gift that will last a life time. Good luck.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.