Six tips for parents doing it tough since their kid left home

Some people cruise through it, some suffer in silence, some move on quickly.  Your kid growing up and leaving home is a very personal journey.

I was shocked by the comments following an on-line story from a woman describing the grief she felt when her grown daughter moved interstate. They were super close, and the daughter had nursed her in illness, for a while.

Our survey of around 70 parents showed an overwhelming sentiment of “sad” in relation to a child leaving the nest.  What surprised me was the lack of empathy in the comments!  The readers’ scorn can be paraphrased as ‘get a life, stop being so selfish and self-indulgent, you should be happy for her, and people grieve when a child dies and they are gone forever, so get over yourself.’  It was pretty brutal.

They seemed to feel she had no right to grieve her daughter’s absence.

Maybe we interpret the experience of grief so uniquely, it is hard to relate to others?  But we do know that grieving is a very real part of letting loved ones go, even if we are able to still chose to see them.  A forever loss is not comparable, and the grieving will be different, of course, but when something precious is removed from our lives, we grieve.  We grieve the end of relationships with people, things, houses.

I grieved for a long time when I lost years of photos of my children. I will carry a tiny pebble of grief in my heart over this, probably for ever. This doesn’t mean I haven’t processed it. It just means it matters.

We can grieve any absence whether temporary, or permanent. And it is often what was associated with the loss that we grieve, rather than the person (or thing) itself.  Our survey shows parents grieving for parenting – the act of parenting little ones.  The end of an era.  And we grieve even when things haven’t always been rosy. Grief is complicated.

While a child moving interstate and being in touch with home base cannot be compared in any way to the experience of losing a child forever, the associated grief (for some who experience this) is certainly legitimate and real.  A loved family member no longer being around in such an intensive capacity? Daily routines and treasured moments now rare? Nearly two decades of childhood, and all that comes with that most astonishing, rich, complex, pervasive, mind-bending chapter of life, over?  Absolutely grief is natural.

So if you’re doing it tough – what’s next?

  1. Acknowledge your grief and try and talk about it. It’s normal and ok you are feeling this way. You are certainly not alone in having this reaction.
  2. Let your friends and family know you are struggling. Maybe they are too? Can you support each other?
  3. Stay connected to your kid without burdening them every day with your woes – this is their time and as a parent, you still have to be in that seat.
  4. Try not to make it their job to comfort you. They have their work cut out for them building their new life. Support them, respond to them. The more involved you are in a supportive way, the stronger your relationship will be. Letting them ‘get on with it’ while you sit home and sob won’t necessarily help either of you.
  5. Respect their new freedom, and let them know you are there.  The wonderful world of text makes little reach outs so easy.
  6. If you feel it’s clumsy with your kid – you think you shouldn’t text, they think you’re being clingy, or too aloof – have a conversation!  Discuss what will work, what do they need from you right now?
  7. Think about how you spend your time, your work, hobbies and friends. Where can you start to put more energy for greater fulfillment?

I work in my daughters room now. (I snaffled that superior room after she left.) I’ll sometimes sit back and look at her shelves and reflect. I love that.  Go in to their room and reflect when you need to. It’s your journey.  Then turn to your life, and find the rewarding, the positive and the fun, so next time you talk to your kid, you have a tale to tell of your life.

But I’m really struggling!

If you’re really struggling with the change, seek out support.

Maybe call on other parents from the school who might be experiencing the same, or go and chat with a professional. Counsellors are a great resource for helping you process the change. They can help you initiate little changes in your thinking and actions to help you build a strong future for you, and your kid.

Some useful books on adjusting to your empty nest

Some people are fine with the transition – but if you need some help exploring this time and figuring out what’s next, there are a few books you might enjoy.

The Empty Nest: How to survive and stay close to your adult child by Celia Dodds

Empty Nest: What’s Next?: Parenting Adult Children Without Losing Your Mind by Michele Howe

Refeathering the Empty Nest: Life After the Children Leave by Wendy Aronsson 

From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life by Melissa Shultz

Find more here.

Find a counsellor in your local paper, do an on-line search, or try an online registry like this one.

Or share you story hereWrite it down if you prefer and mail it to  us to share on this site. It can be anonymous 🙂

Related Reading

How useful are the ‘5 stages of grief’ when your kid leaves home?

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