Friday, 20 September 2013 10:26

The Launch: Dealing with the Empty Nest

By Meghan D. Lemery, LCSW-R | Families Today
In the past few weeks many proud parents have packed the car full of hand sanitizer, closet organizers and new laptops to launch their chicklets into the collegiate world. While this is an exciting time full of promise and new adventure for your child, the process of letting go can be a surprisingly difficult time that leads to sleepless nights and a heavy heart. Giving yourself a pass to grieve the end of one era and the beginning of a new one is key to getting through this transitional time. I remember my launch from the nest like it was yesterday. The year was 1993. We borrowed my sister’s maroon minivan, packed the car with my new pretty floral bedding and headed on the road to Charlottesville, Virginia where I would begin my first year at the University of Virginia. As we pulled down the driveway I can still remember the lump in my throat. While I was excited for the new journey, a part of me was terrified at being 10 hours away from family, friends, and the only home I had ever known. And while we often focus on preparing to launch our young adults into the next passage of life, we often fail to acknowledge and recognize the heart-wrenching experience and process parents go through as they pack their babies off to school. Those first few weeks at school I called home twice a day. I would often begin the conversation about my new crush or annoying suitemates and my mother would be silent on the other end. “Mom? Hellllooooo? Are you there?” More silence. This was unspoken code for tears. She would just abruptly stop talking. Then of course I would start to cry and there we were sharing a silent brutally ugly cry on the phone trying to get used to this new experience. In order to make my childhood bedroom look more lived in, my mom would walk across the carpet just to see footprints in the room. This ritual, she later shared with me, made her somehow feel better about my absences. Dad took to what we have affectionately named “The Wailing Bench”. This is a tiny little bench in the backyard surrounded by trees. Anytime my parents dropped us off at college my father would retreat to the Wailing Bench to have a good ol’ cry. The point is this: launching your child off to college can be an extremely painful heartbreaking experience. While all parents cheer their children on to success and feel their hearts swell with pride as their baby walks across the stage to get their diploma, the transition to the next phase is a sensitive emotion filled process. Make sure you give yourself quiet moments to reminisce when your young adult was just a wee lad. Go through pictures or take the time as a family to talk about the days when your family was young and new. Change, even good change, is a process and for any new phase or passage in life we experience we need to grieve the old. Acknowledging your feelings doesn’t mean you will fall down a deep dark hole of depression; rather, acknowledgment honors the parenting experience and gives your feelings a chance to be processed. Talk to your partner, call your bestie or 911 your therapist to get some help getting through those difficult first few months. This may be an excellent time to get away for a few days or take some time off of work to allow the dust to settle. Don’t make the mistake of trying to dive back into the routine of your life. Tune in to how you feel and be honest with yourself about what you need. Many parents feel a huge loss of identity when facing the empty nest. We all know parenting is a 24/7 job and when the house becomes quiet, the terror of what comes next can be paralyzing. It’s okay to feel scared and out of sorts, however, when you stay in this place of fear you close the door to the next passage of your life. What dreams have you put off because you were dedicated to raising your children? This is a great time to sign up for the cooking class, take a dance lesson, travel to Europe and reconnect to the adult relationships in your life. Doing something new that requires growth, focus and attention can help you realize that parenting is one of the many hats you wear, but not the only hat. I see many couples who seek couples counseling when the nest is empty. They have become so consumed by raising their children that they feel like awkward strangers. The relationship has been a low priority and they often feel lost about how to reconnect. Take time to get to know your partner again and don’t put pressure on yourself to be in a place that you are not. Take up an activity together that requires you to learn and have fun. Whether it’s golf, bird watching or joining the circus, do something active together. It’s okay if the spark doesn’t come back right away, go easy on each other and be honest about where you are at. Don’t beat yourself up if you cry on the phone with your newly launched child. You are showing them that it’s okay to experience loss. One of the best things you can teach your young adult is the importance of being vulnerable with your feelings. This vulnerability and raw honesty is what connects our spirits to one another and takes our relationships to the next level. Parenting is by far the most difficult, challenging, hardest, most wonderful fulfilling job on the planet. As you enter the next phase of development for you and your family, take some time to reflect on what an amazing parent you are. Remember all of the unconditional love and support you have given your babies. Behind every successful child is a present parent. Your children could not be where they are without you. You have helped to raise a kind, capable, strong successful adult who is ready to take on the world and share their sparkle. Do not minimize the valuable role you played and will continue to play in their lives. Take time to celebrate your contribution to the world as you explore the endless possibilities and opportunities that are set before you. If you need to borrow the wailing bench for a few weeks, call me. We still have it in the backyard. To all of the empty nesters who have just launched chicks, thank you for your devotion and commitment to raising the next generation. Ms. Lemery is a psychotherapist practicing in Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs, N.Y. For more information visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..p
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