I never thought of August as a transitional month. In September it’s obvious. The days get colder and shorter, we start seeing color changes in the trees, and the kids go back to school. But there’s a strange melancholy to August. Even though it’s still summer we know that fall is just around the corner and there’s a sense of grieving. Parents that are launching a child to college feel that grieving most acutely. For them, August is an all-out transitional month. And the fact that many of us are still enjoying summer makes the pain of the transition even harder.
Many parents know the transition from full-time parenting is going to be hard. Others, like me, are taken by surprise. When my last child left home I was excited. Finally, I was going to have time to myself. But when I returned home after leaving him at college I was surprised by how lonely the house felt. I too, began the grieving process that goes along with the empty nest. This August I have a few clients that are getting a child ready for college, and they too are struggling. It seems like a good time to talk about what to do when one preparing for a major change such as this.
The first thing one can do is simply to notice and accept the way you’re feeling with love and self-compassion. It’s helpful to know that the feelings of depression, loss of purpose, guilt and anxiety are normal and go with the territory. For most people, they will pass with time.
Secondly, this is a good time to take stock of relationships with everyone in the family. These relationships are changing and it’s important to notice where they stand now, and what changes are needed. Married couples notice that their relationship has changed over the years. It’s common for couples to drift apart emotionally during the childrearing years and it’s often not until children leave home that they realize how far apart they’ve drifted. This is an opportunity to get to know each other again. Spend time together and remember the things you love about each other. Talk about the changes you’ve gone through over the years and where you are now.
Your relationship with your launching child is obviously also changing. Consider establishing a set time to catch up with him or her. Before the advent of cell phones parents always did this, because it was the only way to be sure to connect. Now parents can contact their children daily or even hourly to check on them. Such frequent contacts are borne more out of anxiety than a mutual desire to talk. Plan your connection times with your child. Figure out how much frequency is good for both of you so you feel reassured but your child also has space to feel his or her independence.
If you have other children at home, you may want to reevaluate those relationships also. Many parents feel compelled to tighten their grip on children more in order to feel needed. Avoid this temptation. Understand how much support and supervision is needed for younger children and keep the balance aligned so that they can grow in independence also.
Remember, this is also a time when you can reconsider your own needs. If you’ve been at home, maybe it’s time to consider jobs or career prospects that you have set aside. If you’ve been working and juggling roles you may find there’s more time to pursue a hobby or take a class. Treat yourself. Your child isn’t gone forever, and now you have more time for you.
Keep in mind, also, that the empty nest doesn’t always stay empty for long. Nowadays, it’s very common for adult children to return home. Census data from 2008 show that as many as 34% of all 18-34-year old’s live at home with parents. So, enjoy yourself during this time. You never know how long it’s going to last.
Finally, keep paying attention to how you feel. Some people struggle with Empty Nest Syndrome more than others, and some fall into a deeper depression that they need help with. If you would like help during this time or have other emotional concerns that you’re struggling with, consider seeing a professional. At Compatible Counseling Solutions we would be happy to help. For more information:Click Here