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Oregon Family Magazine

Finding Purpose in an Empty Nest

08/28/2023 ● By Pam Molnar
My youngest child leaves for his senior year of college on Monday. For the life of me, I don’t know how that is possible. I am still trying to lose the baby fat from my pregnancy. Regardless, when I look over at my man-child loading up his car with a combination of pots and pans and video games, I know what they say is true – the days are long but the years are short.

While my son is approaching a new chapter and a big milestone in his life, I can’t deny that my life is changing, too. The light at the end of the parenthood tunnel is getting very bright and that means my role as a provider and decision maker in my child’s life is coming to an end. Yes, my role as a parent is changing, but my importance in their lives is not.

As parents, we give our children all the tools they need to succeed in life and now they need to take the baton and run with it. Although you might not be ready for a change, know that they have been thinking about this for a long time and can’t wait to flex their independence.

The good news is, we will always be needed as a sounding board and mentor, but they can handle the day-to-day. It’s time to start the next chapter of our lives, too.

Give yourself a little grace and a chance to grieve. You will have good days and bad ones. This chapter of life is uncharted, scary and sometimes lonely, much like how it was when you first brought your child home. It’s normal to be a weepy for a little while, but eventually, you will need to shift the focus to your new normal.

Make a plan to stay connected. When my daughters went to college, they often called me between classes to share their news or tell me about their new friends. My son, on the other hand, is not a chit chatter. I would only get a call or text if it was important. As a compromise, I suggested a Facetime date on Son-day and an evening goodnight text to keep in touch while he spreads his wings.

Focus on you. For more than 18 years, the focus has been on your children. Permit yourself to be a little self-centered. Get up to date on all medical appointments you have put off. Reevaluate your diet and start an exercise routine that includes cardio, weights and stretching. Go through your closet and decide what to keep and what to update. Try out a new hair color or style to go with your new role.

Stay in touch with your friends – especially those going through the same phase of life. Just like when our children were babies, we still need the companionship and advice of other parents going through our shared experiences. We need the reassurance that we are doing the right thing and a shoulder to cry on when we are frustrated or engulfed in self-doubt.

Practice what you preach. Remember when you told your child about putting themselves out there to new experiences? That’s good advice for you, too. If you are not sure what to do, make a vision board or a list that includes ideas. Do you want to learn something new? Start a business? Travel to somewhere on your bucket list? You can’t use your kids as an excuse anymore. Now is the time to do it.

Reconnect with your partner. My husband and I enjoy our date nights as empty nesters. We no longer need to work dinner around soccer games or worry about teenagers walking in on us. Use this next phase of your relationship to try new recipes that the kids would never eat, join a couples pickle ball league or take a long road trip to visit friends or family that have moved out of state.

Embrace the clean spaces of a quiet home. While we love our kids, it is so refreshing to leave for the day and return home to the same empty sink you left in the morning. You can finally enjoy settling into bed without the vibration of music coming through the vents or the loud one-sided conversation of your child playing Call of Duty with his headphones on. This is the kind of euphoria that is easy to get used to.

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