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Ready or Not, Here Comes the Dreaded Empty Nest! Will We Sink or Swim?

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Okay, Parents, with summer almost over, here it comes…

Time for the Kids to Head Off — or Back — to College. (Nooo!)

Do you get that sinking feeling like I do? You know it’s coming, but aren’t quite ready for the wave of emotions about to hit.

Last year, I experienced this -times four- with quadruplets heading off in different directions. Doubt begins to creep in as you think “I’m not ready... they aren’t ready.”

Identifying what was going on, I discovered more of a ‘me’ issue than a ‘them’ issue. I felt lost and worried, and had to remember that they know how to navigate the pool. Let’s splash around in our feelings for a few minutes so we can swim back to this solid ground.

Feels Like Throwing Them in the Deep End, Doesn’t It?

Part of the fear and apprehension in the empty nest is feeling that your kids aren’t ready to be out on their own. There’s the second guessing yourself on what you, as a parent, could’ve done better to prepare them.

Even worse, the nagging voice in your head telling you that you didn’t lay enough groundwork for them to be confident and steady while not under your roof.

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Seeing each one of my six kids off for their next chapter in life, it truly felt like throwing them in the deep end. “Now sink or swim.”

Recently, on a family vacation, I watched a couple of families interacting with younger kids poolside. It brought me back to memories of how challenging a trip to the pool would be with a 7- and 5-year-old — and four toddlers.

After blowing up arm floaties for the quadruplets and placing them securely on their arms, I’d do my best to watch my older two yelling, “Mom, look at me; Mom watch this; Mom, Mom, Mom...” while my head was spinning. You try blowing up eight arm floaties and not feeling lightheaded!

Need. More. Air. “Let me catch my breath before blowing up your inner tubes and beach ball,” I’d say.

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After I felt like I could stand on two feet again, I got into the pool. I let each of the quads jump off the edge with a splash. After I caught them and sent them off to the ladder, I’d prepare for the next to jump. One by one we’d repeat this with lots of giggles, smiles and “Mom, Mom, my turn, me next!”

Do you smirk and remember how wonderful it was the first time your child said “mom” — and how it didn’t take all that long before that word became WAY overused?

However, when your kids leave the nest, you now miss it. Where’s the happy medium?

For other trips to the pool, I needed reinforcements to watch the little ones. That’s the only way I could head to the deep end with my two older girls. I encouraged them when they felt scared to jump off the diving board.

Sometimes, I had to downright tell them to jump while treading water below. All the ways we reassure them: “I’ve got you, you can do this, I promise I’m right here.”

On the drive home, I couldn’t help thinking how much easier it would’ve been to just let them play in the kiddie pool and sprinkler. But then I’d bring myself back to how important it was for them to conquer fears and challenges to become stronger swimmers.

In the empty nest, I have to keep reminding myself that they need to be more independent to gain confidence. So they know that they have what it takes to get through hard situations, manage daily life and go after their goals.

They don’t need me butting in telling them what to do. But I’m still there to let them know: “you’ve got this and I’m here when you need me.” And when they need a lighthearted chat or that cheer, to give a “I see you! Great job!” from a distance.

Remember Their Swimming Lessons

Did you start off with your kids learning to swim by taking your baby or toddler into the water? Maybe you could see their fear or even some scared tears. You wouldn’t dare lose your grip on your precious little one! You helped them feel safe in your hands so they could get used to the water.

As they grew older, maybe you got them lessons, to gain certain skills before going to the next level. Many times, I’d stay and watch through large glass windows overlooking the pool.

On the day to jump in the deep end solo, I remember seeing one of the quads with her back turned to me. She was shaking her head “no.” Her whole body was shaking too. While I couldn’t hear her, I knew she was crying and terrified to jump.

Then one of her sisters sat and put her arm around her, rubbing her back and nodding “yes.” I knew she was reassuring her sister that she could do it — and my mom-heart melted. It worked. Finally, she got the courage and jumped, as her sister cheered. (I tear up too!)

Yes, in life on their own, scary situations will come.

You may have to fight the urge to rush in to help. But remember, it doesn’t always have to be you. Other people are around who can help with support and encouragement.

We’re so familiar with all of those feelings the first time our children walk hesitantly to the edge of the deep end. Up pops the worry, “are they ready for this?!”

Your job as a parent is not only reassuring them, but also yourself:

  • They’ve had the swimming lessons

  • You’ve been there, ready to catch them, lots of times

  • It’s time for them to move on to this solo jump

  • They can’t be the only kid their age still in a lifejacket

Driving them to their college drop off feels just like that. Keeping reminding yourself — while it’s not easy, this is good for them. They are brave and ready to tackle the next stage in their life. Heck, you’re brave too.

Hanging onto control and micromanaging with countless questions, reminders, phone calls and texts is like sending them to College Prep 101 in a pair of swim floaties and life preserver.

They don’t need that extra layer of safety any more. They’re ready! And besides, that would be so embarrassing.

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Who’s the Lifeguard on Duty?

It kind of looks like ‘the cool job.’ Having passed all the swim safety courses, they sit confidently in the chair, decked out in lifeguard gear, topped off with sunglasses. They’re now getting paid to catch some sun while they stay alert and scan their surroundings to make sure no one’s in trouble.

When your kids were young, you probably thought little about that job — because no one could keep tabs on every move your kids made like you.

As your kids got older and a little more confident, your own confidence in their swimming abilities grew. Maybe you finally relaxed a bit in a lounger, catching some sun while reading a good book.

A welcome relief, the lifeguard provided an extra set of eyes — with their sole responsibility to monitor pool activity. You’d look up from your book from time to time to smile, wave and nod.

Yes, you still caught that amazing handstand! “Good job, you held that for twenty seconds, feet pointed perfectly out of the water.” Holding up eight fingers to give them an 8 of 10 on their water acrobatics.

Did you get to the point where you felt good enough to drop your kid off at the pool to meet up with their friends? The older kids could have fun and stay safe with lifeguards on duty, while you welcomed a few hours of uninterrupted alone time to catch up on whatever needed done before picking them up.

Now, in the empty nest, we parents get to be the life guards.

Sitting in the background, but ready to spring into action when needed. Hey, while we’re at it, let's be calm and cool — watching with some stylish sunglasses too!

It makes it easier — and even fun — to watch them do their thing.


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Welcome to Your Empty Best Parent Life: Lounging Poolside

Instead of looking at your empty nest, think of it as a new empty BEST life. You’re learning to relax and let them swim. Your kids are now adults. (I know, it’s even harder to believe than to say. But we’ve got to accept this IS our new reality.)

They might not be saying, “Mom look at me, Mom watch this jump” but you know what? I bet they still love it when you notice something brave they’ve done.

The very doing of daily life on their own — like passing a hard test; managing a part time job with school life; landing an important internship — gives plenty of reasons to send a thumbs up or a quick text. Even if they don’t say it, your kids still want you to tell them what a great job they’re doing.

But they don’t need us constantly telling them how to do it anymore. They might get the message that we don’t think they have what it takes. We don’t want that as parents, right?

Now is the time for encouragement to reinforce that they’ve got it.

They know what to do — and when they don’t? They can always come to us for advice and support.

That final hug goodbye might feel just as scary as watching them take that first solo jump off the diving board. Before you drive off the college campus, remind yourself that they’re ready.

You can sit back and relax in that pool lounger — because you know you’ve done all you can. And it’s time to soak up the sun and enjoy the view... watching your grown children start their next chapter.

They can’t stay in the metaphorical lifejacket of being under your roof, rules and daily management forever.

It’s time for them to use the tools they’ve learned and everything you’ve done to prepare them and…. Jump.

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