As a mom of three young adults, I often get asked the question what’s it like when your kids leave the nest? My response now is very different than it was when my first born 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!
We just got back from a ten day Pacific Northwest Getaway after dropping my youngest off for her second year of college last week. I cannot tell you how happy I am to finally have a blog to share my personal experience with what it’s actually like when your kids leave the nest! I would have LOVED to read a blog post like this from someone and to know I AM NOT ALONE!
My two cents on parenting…
I am adding my two cents on parenting here in this blog post as well because how can you write about empty nesting without first talking about what kind of parent you are? So hopefully 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 also the first one to recognize that many circumstances with 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 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 were 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 really are brutal…
Once our youngest was around three years old, we started traveling a lot as a family (see my previous post about all the road trips we took with the kids). This was a huge part of spending time off the grid with the kids and just simply making memories to last a lifetime…
My relationship with my two daughters…
My girls and I have a very close relationship. Building my mother-daughter relationship with them has been a huge priority for me these last 25 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 🤷♀️.
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 truly believe this was incremental in creating the amazing relationship I have with my kids today.
I ask a lot of questions…
I have been told I ask a lot of questions as well (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.
Be Involved in Your Kids Lives!
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… my volunteer list with my kids is two pages long so I won’t bore you with that resume…
There’s a difference between being an involved parent and a helicopter parent…
Don’t confuse being an involved volunteer parent with being a helicopter parent btw! We always made sure our kids felt struggles and did all the work to actually succeed in life BY THEMSELVES. Our kids made PLENTY of mistakes and our only job was to guide them and help them figure out how to fix those mistakes.
I have heard stories of parents doing their kids homework for them. Much to my children’s chagrin – that is just something we never subscribed to. There are consequences for every action we as humans take and kids need to learn that. Plus – I suffered through school already – it is their turn now 😂. So yes – our family value was always – do your own homework – lol. However I was always the first one to say – how about we find you a tutor for this subject???
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 all learn from our mistakes so let the kids make 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- even if that means paying their own bills after college graduation (well most of them anyway) 😂. Most of the adults I know started from nothing and are doing pretty good for themselves now so why would we take that experience away from our kids? There is so much you can learn when you are panicked about how to pay the rent…
My organizing personality helped us schedule all the things as a family 🙂
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…). 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. Remember – we had our first child in grad school so his schedule has always been quite chaotic… you can read about that here if you are interested!
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 (and if you are a young parent and don’t know about this – YOU HAVE GOT TO SIGN 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. However the sadness I felt when she left was quite unexpected. Before she left, I honestly thought I was prepared to be an empty nester- I was wrong…
I already told you I am very close to my girls. But in 2013 when my oldest was 18 years old, our relationship was already cemented with a type of share everything and support each other friendship. I was probably just as excited for her college experience as she was – the football games, the sorority (I was banking on the fact that she was going to join my sorority – she didn’t FYI), the dorm life. 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 nester 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 tbh 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 was getting close to the end it seemed.
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. This letter has never been sent and actually I even destroyed it – 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 nester sadness – I know it was a therapeutic thing for me to do at the time.
How I Finally Started Turning Things Around for Myself
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 but 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.
We started working on updating our house
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! Obviously painting it dark brown was step one…
This was the original color of our house. This photo was taken after we changed the front door but while we were replacing the shutters around the front exterior windows.
The contractor for these 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…
We also got a new front door, changed the casings around our living room windows, and changed our staircase 😎.
So there you have it – I had home projects to focus on and was exercising like crazy. I can honestly tell you that those two things really did help me get out of my empty nester funk. 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…).
Then I Went Back to Work Part Time…
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 work force. 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 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!
So Here is Your Takeaway for What It’s Like When Your Kids Leave the Nest:
IT IS HARD AND ONLY TIME WILL MAKE THE FEELINGS OF THIS STAGE BETTER!
I would venture to say it is just like losing someone you love – only I promise they do come back eventually! However – everyone is different in how they feel about this stage.
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 sadness about this chapter. 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…
My oldest now lives in LA, comes home a decent amount, calls home a lot and is one of my closest friends by the way. 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. He and I have a very different relationship than I do with the girls. He is our only son (obviously) and his relationship with both me and his dad is a typical parent/son one that thankfully has matured into exactly what I had hoped it would! He definitely gave us a run for our money when he was a teenager (he has his mom’s stubborn and opinionated traits 😬) – totally a topic for another day!
And you all know our youngest is in college now too. With every child leaving, I have learned more and more what to expect from this chapter. That isn’t to say I wasn’t terrified of driving home after her college drop off last fall. She and I are also quite close so not having her in the house was going to be another HUGE adjustment. Luckily 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 ❤️.
Travel helped keep away all the sad feelings when my last left 🙂
I had also planned an awesome road trip home that you can read about here in hopes of squashing another bout with depression with my baby leaving. Totally helped! That first quarter with her gone actually went quite fast however I did have a lot of trips planned the last three months of 2019 🤪.
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…
And now there is a pandemic in the world – which has changed my empty nester experience quite heavily. My oldest comes and goes from home often as she has been WFH since March and expects to for most of 2021 and my youngest is just not sure what the status of her college’s experience with the virus is as of yet… only time will tell I guess. But for now – I am still officially an empty nester…
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!!! I will be writing a blog post about how to start a book club soon – they are my tribe ❤️
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 two best friends that live in my neighborhood and we attempt to walk together as often as our lazy butts will get us 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 and will have its very own blog post!! 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 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!!
When I started typing this post – it was supposed to be a PNW getaway weekend itinerary post about our trip last week after we dropped off our youngest at college with just a few tidbits about what it’s like when your kids leave the nest. That will obviously have to be a separate post! I have already written a few posts with fall travel itineraries to get your wheels in motion about where to take your empty nester adventure – Vermont, Tennessee…
Who knew I had so much to say about empty nesting? 😂
I hope at least some of what I have said here is helpful to you as you parent your kids and then let them leave the roost – I am most certainly not an expert on any of this. This is all just my personal experience with the whole empty nest thing 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! I am always an email or Instagram DM away if you need me!
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