As a mom of three young adults, I often get asked what it’s like when your kids leave the nest…
My response now is very different than it was when my firstborn went off to college in 2013.
I can tell you the mental energy it takes to parent young adults is soooo much more than I ever anticipated when they were younger.
And when they actually leave home – it truly tugs at our mama heartstrings at the same time as causing all the emotions in our heads to go crazy!
August and September are the months of college drop offs which also makes it empty nester syndrome time…
Because I would have LOVED to read a blog post like this and know I WAS NOT ALONE – I felt a strong urge to write all the feels down to share with any of you about to experience this stage of life soon too!
I am adding a little about our parenting philosophies to this blog post as well because well – how can you write about empty nesting without first talking about what kind of parent you are?
Maybe some parents of younger kids will read this post too and have an a-ha moment from something I say here or even better – learn from some of my mistakes!!
I am quite attune to the fact that sometimes circumstances with raising kids are way beyond a parent’s control.
We can do everything right and yet it still doesn’t work out the way we were hoping it would.
I read a quote recently that really hit home as far as things not working out the way we expected with our kids:
At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.
I believe everyone is born with their own special temperament and personality.
And sometimes, even the best of parents just can’t make sure everything ends up okay.
I am very grateful for the blessings my three children have given me.
There were MANY years where it was just plain difficult for us as parents and some things have been just heartbreaking to watch our kids go through.
But honestly – that is life isn’t it?
saying goodbye is not easy…
I Am Sure Nobody Has to Tell You Time Goes Fast…
That statement is the understatement of a lifetime – isn’t it?
It is oh so very hard when you are in the middle of all of it to be able to step back and appreciate all the little moments.
My husband always tells me that it is often the memory of something that can bring you more happiness than when you were actually present in that time.
I can tell you – that is so so true with parenting – especially as they grow and challenge you more and more!
Sorry – but those teenage years can be quite brutal…
My Relationship with My Three Children…
My two girls and I have a very close relationship.
Building my mother-daughter relationship with them has been a huge priority for me these last 26 years.
I wanted both of them to feel they could turn to me for absolutely anything – even if it was something they knew I wouldn’t approve of.
Because in the end, a mom is the only one that knows their children from literally the first moment of their existence. This is a pretty strong connection – but also one that needs to be nurtured and tended to a lot.
I was very lucky that my girls were so receptive to my incessant efforts to foster a positive relationship with them.
Even though I am quite sure they are rolling their eyes behind my back alot.
Heck- probably while they are reading this blog post 🤷♀️.
My relationship with my son on the other hand has been a whole different experience…
He and I had our fair share of struggles and knock down drag out fights when he was a teenager.
He wasn’t quite so receptive to my “annoying mom” efforts to be an integral part of his life.
I can certainly say that now that he is in his 20’s we are in a much healthier and positive place (phew!).
All I Ask of the People in My Life is Honesty…
The one thing I have ALWAYS asked for from my kids is 100% honesty- I cannot stand being deceived or lied to (among many other pet peeves I have 😜).
And in return- I am an open book with my kids as well.
Now mind you, I am married to my high school sweetheart so I guess I don’t really have a wild and crazy past to be sharing with my kids but still – EVERYTHING that has happened in my life has been shared with my kids – good, bad, embarrassing, proud moments…
I truly believe this was incremental in growing the bond I have with my kids today.
We Asked A LOT of Hard Questions…
I have been told I ask a lot of questions – sometimes appropriate, sometimes not 🤷♀️.
My philosophy on that is – what’s the worst that’s going to happen?
And let me tell you how many times I bit the bullet and asked a question to one of my kids and opened up a whole conversation that I didn’t see coming.
SO ASK THE QUESTIONS!! ALL OF THEM! ALL THE TIME!!!
With our honesty policy, those hard questions always led to the conversations when we got to know our kids the best.
Even now with all of our kids being young adults and out of the nest, we still ask the questions!
I think the lack of risk of being grounded nowadays has opened the honesty window even more ;).
We Made Being Involved a Priority
My husband and I also made it a priority to be very involved with our kids lives.
I was the girl scout leader for both of my girls’ troops, room parent more times than I can count, took dance classes with my youngest (that one was VERY hard for this band girl with no rhythm btw 😂), was booster club president for all of their extracurricular activities as well as team mom for most of their sports…
However – there is a difference between being an involved parent and a helicopter parent…
We always made sure our kids felt struggles and did all the work to actually succeed in life BY THEMSELVES.
We also never forced them to do any extracurricular activities that they were not interested in- those decisions all came from them.
Well except boy scouts for our son – he needed some nudging on that one for the first year until he realized what it involved and actually started enjoying it 😊.
We Let the Kids Make Mistakes!
Our kids made plenty of mistakes.
We felt that our job was to guide them and help them figure out how to fix those mistakes.
My husband and I both strongly believe you learn more from mistakes than successes so if you don’t let your kid make mistakes, you aren’t doing them any favors.
We also believe in the “freshman experience” for college. There are so many things for kids to learn in that year on how to be on their own and independent.
And to learn from the choices they make as well as the consequences of the bad choices without mom and dad hovering over them.
All of our kids are fiercely independent and I truly credit this independence to us being there for encouragement and help during the tough spots but in the end making them figure it out on their own- this includes financially 😳.
My Organized Personality Trait Helped Us Schedule All the Things
I am an EXTREMELY organized person as well as insane planner (yup I’m that annoying girl that asks you if you want to make plans three months in advance…).
You can actually read my blog post with tips on how to plan ANYTHING here!
This personality trait however annoying it may be – was quite helpful in juggling all the things with my husband and his budding career and our three kids.
We had our first child in grad school so his schedule has always been quite chaotic.
That said, I was able to make sure that my husband’s shift work schedule was perfectly aligned with the ability for him to be their soccer coach, take father daughter dance classes with the girls on weekends, be an assistant scout master for my son’s boy scout troop, appease my wanderlust with lots of family vacations, and be a leader in the Indian Guides and Princesses organizations.
If you are a young parent and don’t know about this program – YOU HAVE GOT TO LOOK IT UP!).
Fathers take their sons/daughters with a whole group of other dads/kids camping every single month!!
Honestly – it is where a lot of my husband’s dad friends have come from over the last 25 years. I cannot speak highly enough about this activity!
By the way – it’s only when you are actually looking through all your old photos that you realize because you are always the one taking the photos – THERE ARE VERY FEW OF YOU!
Learn from me moms of young ones – have someone take your photo with the kids – ALOT!
So here are some photos I took of all the activities my husband did with the kids 😂.
My husband was medicine man for my daughters’ Indian Princess tribes
and took Father Daughter dance classes with both of our girls for over ten years 🙂
Now On to the Main Topic of What It’s Like When Your Kids Leave the Nest:
Now that you have our parenting philosophy background we can get to the empty nesting part of this post…
We had a gradual entry into empty nesting as our oldest and youngest are six years apart school age wise.
Back when my oldest left in 2013 – we were still very involved in my son’s boy scout troop and my youngest daughter’s lacrosse team and dance school.
Empty Nest Syndrome
The Unexpected Sadness
Before my oldest left, I honestly thought I was prepared to be an empty nester.
Boy was I wrong…
I already told you I am very close to my girls.
In 2013 when my oldest was a senior in high school, our relationship was pretty solid as a share everything and support each other bond.
I was probably just as excited for her college experience as she was (okay – maybe that’s a tad of an exaggeration).
But I was excited about the football games, the sorority (I was hoping she would join my sorority – she didn’t FYI), the dorm life that she was about to experience.
I knew it was going to be an amazing experience for her and I couldn’t wait to hear all about it and visit her on parent’s weekends to see her new life!
She Left for College and Didn’t Look Back…
That first parent’s weekend didn’t go as planned- our daughter was sooo happy and enjoying her new college life so much that she really had very little interest in seeing us.
We didn’t get that many texts from her that whole first quarter and I took it hard.
It took me about three months to realize (with the help of my husband) how bad my empty nest syndrome (i.e. depression) was.
Like – rarely getting off the couch, not wanting to socialize with anyone bad.
My husband had his work and honestly I think they just handle the whole empty nester thing so much differently than moms do because while he missed our oldest, he didn’t get nearly as depressed about it as I did.
I don’t even think she got homesick for a solid year and a half at college.
So while that is EXACTLY what we as parents want for our kids- it didn’t help my depression and (truthfully) resentment towards everyone whose kids were homesick.
If I had one more parent tell me that I was lucky with how independent and strong of a child I had raised – I might have actually hit them.
All I kept hearing was THIS is what I was supposed to want and that I was being rewarded for raising my children to be so confident on their own.
FYI – those comments sort of helped later down the road but at the time I just couldn’t see that…
I Started Questioning So Many of My Decisions…
I had been a stay at home mom for 18 years at this point and to have my daughter just leave the nest and not look back all of a sudden put me into panic mode – what am I going to have after all of them are gone?
What did I build for myself for these last two decades?
I honestly felt angry at my husband for having his successful career while my mom career felt like it was coming to an end.
It Just Takes Time to Adjust
I wish I could tell you what the magic trick was to get over all my sadness, resentment, and anger with this new empty nester chapter of my life that was just beginning – but I think it just takes time.
I have never been one to handle change well (like ever 😬) so this HUGE change took it’s toll on my mental state.
I woke up in the middle of the night shortly after my oldest had left and just started crying.
I got up and decided to write a letter to my daughter.
Luckily I never sent the letter and actually I even destroyed it later. I was a sad and angry person when I wrote that letter and I never wanted my daughter to see it accidentally.
But I do know there is something to be said for journaling and just plain “getting it out”.
While I can’t say it cured my empty nest syndrome – I know it was a therapeutic thing for me to do at the time.
How I Finally Started Turning Things Around for Myself
We Started Updating our House
The January after my oldest left, we started some big home projects.
And I had a lot of decisions to make with those.
This was soooo helpful to have something big like this to move past how sad I was with being an empty nester.
We moved into our house in 2003 and were so focused on raising the kids and being ridiculously active in their lives (as well as my husband building his new career) – we just didn’t give our house much attention.
That said – we clearly had a lot of room for improvements to our house!
We made some minor changes to the exterior details of our house (took off the shutters) and painted it a super dark brown!
I was going for the Cape Cod wooden shingle look which is still one of my favorite looks.
We will likely never move from this house and it is a builder grade home so I figured – there are things I can do to sorta kinda get my favorite look for MY house!
I have actually written a blog post with tips on what you can do to customize a builder grade home.
You can find that post here!
This was the original color of our house. This photo was taken while we were replacing the shutters around the front exterior windows.
We also got a new front door, changed the casings around our interior living room windows, and changed our staircase posts😎.
My house has since been painted AGAIN to be Sherwin Williams Gauntlet Gray with all new exterior lights and house numbers.
You can check it all out on my home tour pages!
I Got Better About Exercising
The contractor for those initital projects moved at a snails pace (and I mean SLOW as S*@*).
With me still a SAHM – I just needed someplace to go to get away from the contractor. So I started spending a lot of time at the gym.
By a lot – I mean 2-3 hours every morning.
Pretty much got in the best shape of my life in 2014…
Then I Went Back to Work Part Time…
I can honestly tell you that those two things really did help kickstart getting out of my empty nester funk.
And my oldest FINALLY started texting and calling home just to say hi.
Did I mention she didn’t do that either for the first six months she was gone? – yea that sucked….
In 2015, a good friend of ours offered me a job in the finance department of the hotel he managed.
I was part time and oh so scared of getting back into the workforce.
But knew this is exactly what I was so resentful of:
that the kids and my husband were moving on with their lives and handling these big changes to our routines perfectly while I was still in the status quo of being a stay at home mom while time was saying its ending!
This job couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!
Flash forward five years – I now work part time as an accountant (which actually was my job for the three years right out of college that I was not a stay at home mom 🤪) and have started this blog!
I Turned to my Book Club Friends
I have also belonged to a book club for the last ten years and those women are the world to me!
Most of us are in the same stage of life which has made coping and talking through this stage that much easier!
If you haven’t formed a book club yet – I wrote a blog post on how to form one!! You can read that here.
So Here is Your Takeaway for What It’s Like When Your Kids Leave the Nest:
IT IS HARD AND ONLY TIME WILL CURE EMPTY NEST SYNDROME ❤️
However – I have learned that everyone is different in how they feel about empty nesting.
I met a woman at a wedding about a year after my oldest left – when she told me she was a empty nester too I thought for sure we would bond over our commonality of empty nest syndrome. She was rather abrupt in making it clear to me that it was a very easy transition for her and that she loved it.
This honestly took me by surprise that she said that and to this day I am curious what her circumstances were that made her so ready to be an empty nester so easily. But like I said – we are all different in how we handle things that come our way 🤷♀️ ;).
My oldest daughter now lives in LA, comes home a fair amount, and calls home a lot.
So all those tears and frustrations years ago have faded.
My son left for college up in the LA area three years after his sister did.
Because of our challenging high school years and our relationship at the time, I cannot say I had the same empty nest syndrome feelings from three years earlier.
However, while he certainly gave us a run for our money when he was a teenager, we came out the other end still loving each other and being an important piece of each other’s lives ;).
And lastly, our youngest daughter left for college in 2019.
With every child leaving, I have learned more and more what to expect from this empty nester chapter.
That isn’t to say I wasn’t terrified of driving home after dropping off my youngest college in the Fall of 2019.
She and I are also quite close. But she is quite savvy with social media and always engages with me there and loves to FaceTime (things my oldest just never did) – so she eased me into the empty house quite a bit gentler ❤️.
This was my final experience of truly being an official empty nester.
One that if I am being perfectly honest with you – gave me some serious anxiety leading up to the big drop off in September.
It was obviously beneficial to me that I had already experienced empty nest syndrome symptoms six years earlier and could learn from what I had gone through.
With this go around, I was determined to have a different experience.
Travel Helped 🙂
I planned an awesome road trip home that you can read about here in hopes of squashing another bout with empty nest syndrome.
And that totally helped!
That first quarter with her gone actually went quite fast.
I had A LOT of traveling planned for the last three months of 2019 🤪.
Technically I had all sorts of travel planned for 2020 too. But as you know, the worldwide pandemic put a screeching halt to all of those plans…
Burney Falls had been on my bucket list for almost a decade and I finally made it there as part of our road trip home from dropping our last child off at college…
Then There was a Pandemic in the World…
Which changed my empty nester experience quite drastically.
If I learned anything since starting my official empty nester chapter, it’s that things can change on a dime.
What I had been preparing for mentally with this new stage, had a completely different start than I had expected.
My oldest comes and goes from home often as she has been WFH since March 2020 and is expected to for most of 2021.
My son was able to stay living at his apartment at his college and study online.
And my youngest has been trying to make the best of her college experience during these unprecedented times.
However, she experienced a sudden and very tragic loss of her best friend in January of her second year of college (during the second pandemic flare up) that changed my family’s entire world.
It 100% brought to light for all of us how fragile life is.
And how everything can change with the blink of an eye.
This loss has given me a newfound appreciation for even the slightest amount of time I am able to spend with my children.
And to say I love you.
And to make sure that no matter the challenge, we will get through it together.
While all three of them have physically left my house, they are all just a phone call away.
And that means EVERYTHING.
Here Are My Suggestions on What To Do When your Kids Leave the Nest:
Make sure you have a tribe to turn to!
This is soooo important!!
Even if your tribe is just one or two or three people, it is so important to reach out and just talk and share.
Or even better – just laugh together ;).
Write down your feelings (but it’s probably a good idea to make sure no one sees this letter or journal 🤪).
Start as big of a project around the house as you can afford (money and time wise!)
This was sooo helpful for me – obviously 😂
Exercise – truth be told I am a horrible exerciser!
Like bad bad… I lost almost twenty pounds that first year my oldest daughter left from all that time at the gym.
And have gained every single pound back.
But I have a few good friends that live in my neighborhood and we attempt to walk together as often as my lazy butt will get out there…
This may be obvious coming from me – but TRAVEL TRAVEL TRAVEL!
Never ever ever go straight home from a drop off at college!!
Take a day or two (or many if you can!) to make a memory with your significant other or family members that are with you.
This one is probably my most important piece of advice.
I am telling you – coming home to the house without them is HARD.
It is crucial to make an adventure out of the experience and have a happy memory of the time spent for the drop off.
I promise you – you will not regret this one!
And there is ALWAYS something to see around your kid’s college or new location… ALWAYS!
Start an Instagram or Facebook account or blog – this has been a GREAT way to meet other empty nesters or even just follow along on the journeys of people younger and older than you!
Read a book! Shortly after my oldest left, my book club read the book The Gift of an Ordinary Day.
I actually 100% wish I had this book years before then!
It is such a beautifully written book and a wonderful reminder to truly pay attention and just enjoy the little things!!
I hope at least some of what I have said here is helpful to you as you parent your kids and then watch them leave the nest.
I am most certainly not an expert on any of this.
This is all just my personal experience with the whole empty nester thing and empty nest syndrome.
But if I help just one person with this post to know they are not alone – then it was totally worth putting myself out there!
Who knew I had so much to say about empty nesting? 😂
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Home is where one starts from.
~ T.S. Eliot
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).