It seemed like it would never end. You got your kid through all the rigors of college applications (and maybe a few rejections along the way). You helped them make lots of memories during their senior year. You made sure they packed everything they needed for school and then carried it up all those flights of stairs in their dorm. You tried to hide your tears when you had to leave them on campus. And then you came back home — without them.
So now what?
Many parents experience Empty Nest Syndrome after their kids leave for college. According to "Psychology Today," the symptoms include sadness, loss, depression, loneliness, distress and a loss of meaning and purpose. Moms who don't work outside the home can be hit especially hard.
Empty Nest Syndrome is painful, but part of a very normal transition in life. Your child is starting college and you are now entering a new stage in life. You've probably strongly identified with being a "mom" for a long time. But now it's time to reconnect with the other aspects of your life as well. Here are a few questions to help you move through Empty Nest Syndrome and spread your wings again.
What's Going On With You and Your Husband?
Do the two of you still feel connected? Or have things been so busy that you are more like strangers? If that's the case, now is a great time to rebuild your intimate friendship. You probably have more time to spend together, and you may even have a little extra cash for some fun weekend trips or other new experiences. If you want to refocus on your relationship now that you are empty nesters, my book Strong Women, Strong Love is a great resource.
Could Your Other Relationships Use Some Attention, Too?
Just as you might have neglected your marriage due to your focus on parenting, you may also have let some of the other relationships in your life fall off the radar. If your "social life" used to revolve your kid's activities, think about the other options you have now. Perhaps you can hang out with the old friends you never seemed to have time to connect with before. Or maybe you could get to know your colleagues better by taking part in the after-work activities you used to skip. However you choose to expand your "relationship portfolio," doing so will help with the feelings of loneliness that Empty Nest Syndrome can bring.
What Are YOU Interested In?
This can be the hardest question for many women to answer! You may have lost touch with your dreams, ambitions, passions and hobbies as you raised your kids. Now, just as you reconnect with others, it's also time to reconnect with yourself. What activities would enrich your life? What would be just plain fun? (There's a bonus here, too. When you pursue your own interests, it often spices up your marriage.)
What's Meaningful to You Now?
According to the famous psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, you are now in stage of life called generativity vs. stagnation. At this stage, we feel compelled to create something meaningful that will outlive us. We start thinking a lot about making a difference and leaving a legacy. If we feel like we are failing at these things, then we have a sense of stagnation and disconnection.
Of course, you've already done something incredibly meaningful: nurturing a child who is now thriving at college. But as you're remaking your life, look for other projects and relationships that enable you to make a contribution and feel connected something bigger.
With your child in college, there's no denying that a part of your life is over. But an exciting new part is beginning. Enjoy your marriage, your other relationships, your passions and, yes, your grown-up kids!