Being a parent changes you, inevitably, and your priorities change. Your children go to the very top of your list of priorities and we often hear parents say things like my children mean everything to me or I live for my children or my children are my life. All this is sweet and is often associated with being excellent parents. Being a parent is the greatest lesson in being selfless and putting other people first.
Putting your children first does not mean never stopping every once in a while to think about yourself. Remember your children came into this world through you but you do not own them or their lives. You bring them into this world and raise them so that they can then live their own lives away from you. If everything you do and think has to do with your children what will you do and think when they pack up and leave the house one day to live their own lives? There are cases where parents feel betrayed when children want to spread their wings and fly away, to a college or university in another city, to live with friends or on their own or when they choose careers that were no their parents’ choice. The problem there is all the parent had was this child to take care of and fuss over and what will they do once s/he is gone? If your hobbies are “watching Disney movies with my children”, “making clothes for my children”, “going to the park with my children” and never taking a walk on the beach or knitting or hiking what happens when your children no longer need you to take them to the park? Or when they think the clothes you make them are no longer cool? This is not to say don’t enjoy being with your children or doing things for them but have something that you do that is purely for you that you do on your own or with friends or with your spouse/partner.
How to prepare for empty nest years way before the nest is empty
- Plan ahead. Make a list of the things that you cannot do now that the kids are in the house that you will do when they are gone. You can even think about living arrangements. If a big house is going to feel empty and lonely you can plan to move into something smaller and cosier. Or you can plan to move to different place which will feel fresh and you can create new memories.
- Teach them independence. Part of the reason why some parents find it difficult to relax when their children leave home is that they are worried about whether or not they will make it on their own in the “real world”. If your children can cook for themselves, clean up after themselves, budget and spend money wisely and things like that you know they will be able to hold their own. If you are still packing lunch for teenage children and cleaning their rooms for them then chances are you are going to find it difficult to let them go and they are going to struggle when they leave you.
- Make friends. Your children may be your life and the reason you live but one day they are going to love and leave you. Don’t be the mother whose phone calls they dread because even though they love you and appreciate your concern, they do not want to discuss every detail of their lives with you because you have no one else to fuss over and nothing to do. Make friends while they are still at home so that when they leave you already have people round you that you spend time with.
- Spend lots of time with your spouse/ partner. If you are in a marriage or relationship do not make your lives just about the children because one day you will find out that when they children are gone and you no longer have to deal with them daily the two of you have nothing in common anymore. That will make letting go of the children very difficult. So before the children leave always make time to stay connected. When they finally leave you will still have each other and you might actually enjoy the privacy.
- Be independent. Work hard now and be able to stand on your feet. Some parents need the children around because when the children start working they bring groceries. And you know that when they leave so will the groceries. Use your own hands and abilities now to make your own money and give your children a chance to use their money for what they want to do. Times are tough for everyone, your children cannot always finance you as well as their own families or needs.
- Take good care of yourself. Eat right, exercise, go for regular check-ups and make it easy for your children to be away. There are illnesses that one cannot avoid but the ones that you can avoid, please do. You do not want to be the parent who is always complaining that children do not visit enough and ignore you when you are sick. They have their own lives to live and you taking care of yourself helps them.
- Always know that they will go. The mental preparation is good for when they actually go. Spend quality time with them, do not miss precious family moments and when they finally leave you would created memories.
All this is not to say that goodbyes will not be sad, they will. It’s a jungle out there and letting your children go to fend for themselves is scary but it does not have to be the end of your life or happiness.