What Nobody Tells You About Empty Nest Syndrome

October 27, 2017  |  
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Gettyimages.com/Mother hugging teenage son as he packs for college

Nobody is ever prepared for empty nest syndrome. How could you be? Think about the days and months that lead up to your nest becoming empty. You’re helping your child apply to colleges, tour colleges, go over his college essay, pick out volunteer work to boost his college resume, talking to him about that volunteer work, meeting with his school counselor, packing his things, picking out dorm furniture….WOW. Just writing those things out is exhausting. You don’t have a moment to think about the fact that your child is leaving in the days leading up to him actually leaving. And then he’s just…gone. It’s chaos, followed by alarming stillness. So no—there’s no time to mentally prepare yourself and it can come as a bit of a shock. Here is what nobody tells you about empty nest syndrome.

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You can’t reach out as much

You can’t call and text as much as you used to. You want to, but part of your child becoming a little adult is that you leave him be. You no longer need to check in about what he’s having for lunch or when he’ll be home. You didn’t realize how much of your phone activity was eaten up by your child.

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Mornings are so weird

There is no sense of urgency. For the first few weeks, you’ll pop up, ready to hit the ground running, packing lunches, talking about who is going to what afterschool activity, coordinating who is picking up whom. Now you wake up and all you have to worry about is your morning?

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You face your own mortality

Raising a child for 18 years is a pretty effective way of avoiding your own mortality. You’re so focused on the life you’ve created—the one that is following you—that you haven’t looked at the life (and death) ahead of you. Empty nest syndrome gets you thinking a lot about your own mortality.

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You enjoy not worrying

At first, you really enjoy how much you don’t have to worry. How is your child getting places? When will he eat? What will he eat? Suddenly, a million things you used to worry about just…go away. You still worry about them but you can’t do anything about them, so you worry less.

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Then you worry about not worrying

Eventually, not worrying feels really weird. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night one day, gasping for air, realizing that you haven’t known exactly what your child—your flesh and blood—has been doing every hour for the last several weeks. How could you let that happen?!

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It may not affect your partner as much

You may be surprised to find that the empty nest doesn’t affect your partner as much as it affects you. If you’re a woman who birthed that child, you’re just biologically bound to be more affected by this change.

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You just don’t know where they’re sleeping?

Sometimes the fact that you don’t know, for certain, where your child is sleeping each night will really weird you out. That’s one thing you always (or mostly) knew when your kid lived at home: where he was sleeping.

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You need the rest of your family intact

You really need the rest of your family intact at this time. If you have siblings, if your parents live in town, if you have cousins—you need those bonds to be close and stable.

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Some of your friends are too busy for you

You may feel like you’re ready to have a coming out to society party—a “Hi! I’m a free woman again! Let’s hang out!” party. But you may find that a lot of your friends already have busy lives that they built while you were rearing kids, and they don’t have much time for you.

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You just shop for you and your partner now

It’s very strange to just think about you and your partner now when you grocery shop, when you get things from the pharmacy, when you pick out vacation destinations…Purchases are just about you and your significant other now?!

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The house is so quiet

The house is unbelievably quiet. Even if your kid wasn’t very loud, you suddenly become aware of the soundtrack he used to provide to the house, even if it was just the beeping sounds of his video games or the brushing of his teeth.

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You miss the mess

For years you wish your child wouldn’t be so messy. Now that he’s gone, you’d take the mess if it meant getting to have him back. You almost resent your spotless home.

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You feel like you’ve lost your identity

You didn’t realize how much of your identity was tied to being a mother. So much of how you thought, how you behaved, and how you made decisions, revolved around the fact that you were an active parent.

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Realizing you have other things you’ve been neglecting

You realize that some other areas of your life could need some TLC. Like your friendships, your career, your physical health, your hobbies, your marriage…

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Eventually, it becomes exciting

Eventually, you stop feeling sad about having an empty nest and you become excited. The world is your oyster. You can rediscover who you are, take up hobbies, cultivate your social life, travel, go back to school…Who knows?!

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