Every July, August, and September, my email inbox and social media direct messages fill up with soon-to-be or new empty nesters who are reeling from the transition to the empty nest. My heart goes out to them, and I do my best to answer every single email and direct message. Today, I’m sharing some of the empty nester FAQs that I get, along with my answers. Some of these are specific questions I’ve received, and some are compilations of questions I’ve received on the same topic. Please feel free to share this post with others if you think it could be helpful.
As I’ve shared before, the empty nest adjustment is a form of grief, and as such, it looks and feels different for everyone. Often the anticipation of the empty nest is the worst part! I have the opportunity to speak to many groups about how to prepare for the empty nest, and I’ve found that people either tend to underestimate or overestimate the impact of the empty nest on their lives. Those who underestimate it may be somewhat blindsided by the sheer weight of their emotional response. Those who overestimate it may be surprised (and even feel guilty) that they enjoy life in the empty nest more than they thought they would.
Empty Nester FAQs: Soon-to-be-Empty Nesters
Q: My nest will be empty next year. My daughter is a senior in high school and is chomping at the bit to get as far from us as she can. What’s going on?
A:Differentiation is a normal phase our kids go through on their way to adulthood. It’s the process by which they become individuals, apart from their parents. During this process, they may question and challenge the things you’ve taught them. Don’t panic! They have to become their own people, and there is no short cut. They all go through this process sooner or later.
Q: We’re leaving for college in two weeks, and I can’t seem to get my son motivated to do anything to prepare. All he wants to do is hang out with his friends. Help!
A: Your son is (understandably) nervous about the huge life change he’s about to experience! He’s trying to distract himself from his anxiety and maximize the last few weeks of the comfortable and predictable nature of life as he currently knows it. Don’t take it personally, and don’t pressure him. He’ll get there, but it may not be on your schedule.
Q: We’re taking our daughter to college in three months, and I’m not sure she’s ready to navigate life on her own! I still feel like I have lots I want to say to her and work on with her! I don’t know where to start.
A: Don’t feel bad! This is a universal feeling for soon-to-be-empty-nesters! Be honest with your daughter and tell her exactly what you just told me (but maybe in a gentler way!). You might even apologize for not working with her on these things sooner! (I’ve found that when I humble myself, accept responsibility, and apologize to my kids, they’re a lot more amenable to whatever comes next. 😃) List off a few things you’d still like to go over with her, like cooking, laundry, or handling doctors and health insurance on her own. Tell her you’re excited about this new phase in her life and that she’s going to need to bear with you as you “finish strong” as a parent. When something comes up that you need to teach her, refer back to this initial conversation: “Remember when I apologized to you for not teaching you a couple of things I think you need to know before you leave? Well, this is one of those things! So take a deep breath, and listen up for a few minutes, okay?”
Q: I’m really worried about losing it on drop off day and embarrassing my daughter. Any advice on how to keep it together? A: This might sound blunt, but here it is: If you truly love your daughter, you’ll take the focus off of yourself that day and put it on her. You absolutely cannot lose it. You may be facing a big adjustment, but she is too. Finish strong as a parent and do all you can to encourage her and build her up on that day. Make it about her, not you. As soon as you leave, you can deal with your own emotions. Do not put that on her. She’s got plenty of emotions she’s dealing with herself.
Q: How am I going to feel when my nest empties? Am I going to be thinking about my kids all the time and wondering what they’re doing? How do I know I’m going to be able to move forward myself?
A: The adjustment is different for everyone. Don’t rush it! Give yourself time, lean into your emotions, and feel them fully. If you need to talk to a friend, mentor, minister, or counselor, do it! Work on looking for the blessings of the empty nest, and consider keeping a list of them when you spot them. Then embrace them as they come and slowly nudge yourself forward. (See below.)
Empty Nester FAQs: New Empty Nesters
Q: I’ve given my life to raising my kids, and at this point, I haven’t got a plan or even a coping mechanism in place to help get me through life as an empty nester. I’m panicking! Where should I start?
A: Make a list of everything you’ve wanted to do, but haven’t had time. The items on your list might be as simple as cleaning out the garage, as big as going back to school to get an advanced degree or even as huge as making a lifestyle change like eating healthier and getting fit. Talk things over with your spouse or close friend, and start making plans to take action and move forward in do-able, small steps.
Q: I’m afraid that we’ve put so much emphasis on raising our kids the past few years that my husband and I have lost touch with who we are as a couple. What can we do to reconnect once the kids leave?
A: Consider planning a romantic getaway to a destination where you’ve never been. Be honest with your spouse about your desire to reconnect. Talk about what that might look like on a practical level. Lots of couples find that the first months of the empty nest are like a second honeymoon! Others have drifted so far apart, and they need to see a marriage counselor in order to get things back on track. Be intentional, nurture your marriage, and give it the attention it needs.
Q: As a single mom, I’ve focused my entire life around my job and my kids. Now that they’re gone, I might want to start dating again. How do I do this?
A: First of all, have a conversation with your kids about your plans, and make your intentions clear. (Blindsiding them in a few months with your new boyfriend is not a good idea! 😬😂) Then join groups where you’ll be likely to meet someone with common faith, hobbies, or interests. Also, consider dating apps and letting your friends set you up on blind dates. Don’t feel quite ready to tackle dating again? See the next question!
Q: Now that my kids are gone, I realize that I’ve been using them as somewhat of an excuse to neglect things like my health and fitness, my sense of fashion, and even keeping up with technology! What should I tackle first?
A: Don’t get overwhelmed! Make a list of the things you feel need your attention, and break down each one into manageable small steps. Then chip away at it! Make appointments with your internist, gynecologist, dermatologist, and dentist for check-ups. Make a complimentary styling appointment at a store like Nordstrom, WHBM, or Anthropologie, so that a professional can help you learn about current styles and what would be most wearable for your body shape and lifestyle. When it comes to tech, check out my Tackling Your Tech series or use Google or YouTube. And, I hope it goes without saying, consider signing up for the Empty Nest Blessed subscriber list, because I cover all of those topics! 😀
I started Empty Nest Blessed after seeing friends struggle to move forward once their nests emptied. After the initial grief, many of them had a tough time moving forward. I get it! I struggled too! My mission at Empty Nest Blessed is to bless, encourage, and inspire empty nesters as they seek to live lives of purpose and meaning after their kids leave the nest. Motherhood is a sacred task, and in some ways, it never really ends. But just as our kids move on and grow, we have the opportunity to as well.
My favorite thing about this long sleeve swing dress is the way it glides over your body, beautifully camouflaging any lumps or bumps. (Now that’s my kind of dress!) With bare legs and sneakers, it’s perfect for the transitional months! When the weather gets cooler, wear it with black tights and booties. I paired it with super fun (and inexpensive) earrings for a pop of joyful color! Finally, I added this perfect-for-empty-nesters “Off-Duty” raffia tote. As empty nesters, we may be “off-duty” when it comes to parenting, but there’s still lots of growing and exploring to do in life.
Thanks for walking through this season alongside me. 😊