So your child has finished school and is leaving you. Don’t wallow. Look up, and discover the opportunities life can still offer you.
The Internet chatter about graduation ceremonies during June and into July was pretty prolific, Facebook photos sailed across my laptop, full of photos of proud parents, grandparents and smiling graduate students. And among the many happy comments, there were also hints of sadness or grief. Why sadness and grief on such a happy occasion?
Graduation not only celebrates finishing one’s schooling, it’s also a sign that children have come of age and are on the brink of leaving their childhood homes. It’s a significant life and family event because you are launching your young adult into their own independence stage. However, it is also a good example of that so-called, empty nesting at its best.
Although it is not considered an actual medical condition, it is well known the “empty nest syndrome” is related to separation anxiety, where a feeling of loss and sadness is mixed in excitement about the possibilities and adventure your child will be experiencing.
It’s a strange feeling: a mixture of up, down, sideways, forward and backward thoughts that run through your mind. For instance, you might bounce between worrying about your child’s welfare while next feeling a personal sense of rejection and a loss of purpose. That “empty nest” experience is very real.
On the other hand, think about it! The sense of adventure and possibility is not limited to the new graduate! It’s also an opportunity to begin a new chapter in your own life. So, instead of wallowing in despair and struggling with a sense of loss, look up and out and identify what opportunities lay before you! Now is the time to create a new identity for yourself besides being a parent!
Being a parent is also considered a personal identity. Thus, when your child moves out and goes off on their own, you may also feel a loss of your personal identity. Well, you just have to build another one.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean starting over with a blank slate. For instance, while being a parent, you may have slowed down your participation in a favourite activity, be it taking swimming lessons or playing bridge. The trick is to expand these activities once more.
It might also be a good time to look for other activities you’ve always thought about involving yourself in. This could mean returning to school and taking a graduate degree and/or attending university or college for the first time. After all, that old myth of “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” was disproven long ago. Make a list of activities you’d like to explore. Look up old friendships, plan a travel event; be sure to put some fun in your life.
Focus on time for yourself. You’ve spent so many years focusing on the needs of your graduate as well as other children, now is your time. This might also simply mean sitting and reading several books. You know, the ones you’ve been collecting and are still on the bookshelf! This is a good way to “come down” from the high of the celebrations. For some, going into physically active cleaning frenzy does the trick.
At the same time, if you have a spouse or partner, you now have time to literally “renew acquaintances”! I’m not making this comment in jest as I know parents are so busy they often neglect the other important relationship in their life. In fact, it’s well known that many marriages seem to dissolve after the children have left the home. What a shame!
Funny, though, grandparents can also experience some of this empty nest syndrome. I experienced it myself as I watched my oldest granddaughter parade around in her lovely graduation dress, new hairstyle and bright smile. And the sense of loss still arises when she turns down a dinner invitation with grandma to spend time with her friends. Ah well, that’s life! Onward and upward.
Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group and president of Career Partners International, Manitoba. She is also an author, professional speaker, radio host and news columnist.