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Challenge: Back to School

Empty Nest School — What We Learn When Our Kids Go to College

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Wait a minute! It’s our children heading back to school — so what do we parents need to be “schooled” in?

Letting go, adjusting to an empty home and learning ourselves again, for starters.

Last year, the empty nest fast track swept me up in a whirlwind. My quadruplet daughters each headed off in their own directions during the pandemic. Because I’d done the college sendoff with my two older daughters, I thought I knew the drill and had little to learn. Boy, was I wrong!

Maybe you’ve dropped an older child off at college and done the same thing. Going back home to your other kids, you fall back into the usual routine of daily life and parenting. While feeling the gap and missing all your children in the nest, overall — not much changes.

When the last of your children go off to college and you return to an empty house, suddenly you realize you have to relearn everything. The simplest of things feel meaningless and daily routines seem empty.

The harshest realization? How little you actually know about yourself!

As you’re left alone with your thoughts, you start asking questions like:

  • Who am I?

  • What is my identity?

  • What do I like to do?

  • What is my purpose?

You never had to think about these things before, because — duh, you’re a parent! Life is so busy and full that if you did stop and think about something as deep as your purpose, that thought was quickly interrupted. You put it on hold as you rushed off to your child’s next sporting event or dance practice.

Now, with the home eerily quiet and left alone with our thoughts, we can finally hear them.

For me, it was time to get to work. The usual researcher I am, I started by reading, googling and joining anything empty nest related.

Looking for anything that rushed through the hard stuff (who wants to feel these feelings?) so I could figure out how to transition into my new normal. Except, so much of what I found was sad, lonely and depressing. This isn’t really what my new reality looks like, is it?

As I started this next chapter, I didn’t believe the empty nest meant my life was over. But I couldn’t find a how-to manual to make sure my best years could still be ahead of me. So you know what I did?

I decided to write my own! Thus, Empty Besting was born. I challenged myself to take the sad things I was reading and feeling about life in the empty nest, and find their opposites. Determined, I knew I could create new truths to live my best life.

One of the first things I needed to learn was letting go.

The reason I say “learn” is because I don’t think letting go

ever feels natural and is something we have to work on.

Our instinct is to hold on the same way we did holding their hand

when crossing the street and if they tried to break free, we

would hold tighter to make sure they would stay safe from

oncoming traffic. They know to look both ways now, but

still, aren’t two hands crossing together better than one?

They are ready to leave the nest, but are we? It’s often us

who aren’t ready to walk alone.

Do you remember when your child learned how to ride a

bike? They were feeling pretty awesome with a sense of

freedom as the bike’s training wheels kept them from tipping

over. Next, you assure them they are ready to move to the

next step with no training wheels. It’s time for them to be

brave. You don’t just expect them to have balance and go.

Instead, you run behind or alongside them with your hands

on the bikes as they try to steady themselves. Maybe they

were scared and you reassured them they would be fine and

cheered them on until ultimately they went on their own ...

they’ve got it! Remember in that moment how proud and

confident you both felt? Maybe they didn’t make it that far

before they fell down. I’m guessing there were plenty of

Band-Aids and kissing owies as they mastered the process,

but you were always right there to pick them up.

You aren’t going to send your child off to college in training wheels

or running alongside them with your hands on their bike—how

embarrassing. Instead, you are sending them off balancing

on two wheels. When they hit some loose gravel and lose

control, you will be there to cheer them on to get right back

up and encourage them to try again.

If we as parents try to hold on too tightly as they leave the

nest, our children will try to break free of our grip and run

away. Instead, we can learn that it is the right time to show

our kids that we trust them, smile, and wave to them as they

cross the street to their next neighborhood of adulthood. The

best part of that approach? Instead of running, they are more

likely to turn, smile, and wave back when they’ve reached

the other side of the street.

Learn to Let Go - excerpt from Chapter 7 in Empty Besting

Yes, it really is possible to take this sad time and turn it into something positive.

And the training wheels are off! They’ve got this — and so do we.

I worked on my how-to manual to help me get through the challenges we encounter in the empty nest. I saw several myths around “empty” life. As I really got to work on myself through the writing process, I decided to flip these misconceptions to create a “full” new life.

I realized how much enjoyment I found and thought, why not share this with others? (Like you!) I’m excited and proud to present my new book: Empty Besting — Break Through 12 Empty Nest Myths So that You can Adopt New Truths and Live Your Best Life. It’s my gift to every other parent looking for a better way to empty nest!

After spending the last year working on this myself, here’s a glimpse of what I’ve learned:

  1. The emotional journey feels like a roller coaster. One minute you’re down, and then the next, you’re up.

  2. The process of finding yourself again can actually be fun.

  3. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, a new challenge presents itself.

  4. The parenting role shifts when your children leave the nest — and can be even better than before.

One thing I do know for sure: Empty Nest School will always be in session — because we’ll never be done learning how to be our best selves and better parents!

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