My husband and I became empty nesters at the young age of 40. That was almost two years ago, and when my youngest child went away to college, my friends wanted to know how I coped.
Frankly, it wasn't so bad. I definitely miss seeing my kids' sweet faces every day, but being an empty nester is fantastic. I'm not saying there wasn't an adjustment period, and yes, my husband and I did shed a few tears. However, this big stage in a parent's life occurred pretty seamlessly at our house.
In retrospect, this is what made the transition so smooth:
1. I didn't lose my identity as an individual when I became a parent.
Don't get me wrong, I am proud to be a mom, but I never got so immersed in my kids' lives that I forgot my own interests. During their upbringing, I graduated with my own college degree and enjoyed the hobbies of decorating, volunteering at church, and playing lots of tennis. When I scan the posts on university parent forums, let's just say it's very evident who the helicopter parents are.
2. I was always a spouse first and a parent second.
My husband and I always said, "The kids are coming along for the ride in our marriage." We called the shots. We knew they were going to fly the nest someday and it would be just the two of us before too long. This kept our marriage strong and we were a great example of a happy married couple to our kids. My husband also knew that being a great father included being loving spouse to the mother of his children.
3. I prepared my kids for the real world, and thereby prepared myself for their departure.
I trusted my parenting. In the blink of an eye, kids are all grown up! However, I had 18 years to teach them about responsibility, work ethic, kindness to others, our family morals and values, and how to navigate life. I always expected them to live up to their potential. Instead of shielding my kids, I tried to empower them with strength to make them ready to face the world.
4. I took on a new challenge.
The hours in the day I spent as a hands-on parent are now spent pursuing my newfound passion: a graduate program in holistic Health and Nutrition Education. I also have time to blog about various health topics, recipes, and share my personal wisdom and growth.
Instead of being sad my children are not physically close by, I enjoy the present moment when reminded of fond memories. It's all in the attitude. Our daughter is a college graduate, living in Atlanta, and "making it" out in the real world. Our son is a sophomore at a university in the northeast, far away from our home in Tennessee. When a memory pops in my head, I stop and relive the joy I felt during their upbringing. All the loving, fun times seem to dwarf the times I was ready to sell them to the circus.
5. I recognize the benefits of having kids move out.
Experiencing parenthood was one of the greatest joys of my life. However, the house stays much cleaner when they're away. I have no idea what's on the local school calendar. There's noticeably less dramatic screaming, crying, and stomping (I'll admit some done by myself.) As an extra bonus, my husband and I don't have to wait until late in the night to get romantic.
6. The time my kids and I are able to spend together is concentrated quality time.
We enjoy each other's company more now that we're all adults. My kids actually ask for my opinion! There's rarely any scolding or complaining. Both kids like to return home to visit, which lets me know I did something right. We have great, stimulating conversations, which is much better than a 10-minute discussion about who emptied the dishwasher yesterday.
7. I'm excited for a bright future ahead.
I love to see my children pursue their passions and succeed in the real world. This is an exciting time in their lives. Hopefully soon there will be more graduations, new jobs, and weddings to plan. I actually have felt the urge to be a grandma lately, which lets me know I've fully embraced this new stage in my life. I still feel young and vibrant, and I plan on redefining the stereotypical grandma role!