When Maya Shepherd prepared to leave for the University of Tennessee in 2009, her parents were starting their own new phase in life: the empty nest.
“Barbara and I had been married for 24 years and most of those years had been with children,” said Harold Shepherd. “I think both of us were looking forward to spending more time together.”
The Shepherds didn't spend a lot of time talking about the transition, but they both acknowledged it would take some time to get used to having an empty nest.
“My wife was an elementary school assistant principal,” Shepherd said. “Most evenings she called it quits by 9 pm, which is when I was still wide awake. With Maya at home, there was always something going on. I anticipated incredible quiet with just the two of us.”
Anticipating the empty nest makes a lot of parents very nervous asking questions like, "What will I do with my time? How will my role as a parent change? Do I remember how to cook for two?" One woman commented, “If people knew how much fun the empty nest years were, they would never divorce.”
Mike and Kari McCleery have been in the empty nester season of life since 2003.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” McCleery said. “It was hard leaving Ashley in Birmingham, but both of us knew we had done our part as her parents and it was time to let her move on.”
As the McCleerys found themselves in this new season of life, they began to examine how their parenting role would be different.
“In the midst of the transition my mom told me, ‘When you have children you never stop being a parent. You just parent in a different way when they go off to college, get married and have children of their own,’” McCleery said. “It’s true. Our kids still need us, but in a different way. We have helped Ashley move in and out of many dorms and have been there through the good and the really tough times. Our oldest is now married with children and we find ourselves helping out with the kids so mom and dad can spend time together.”
McCleery made these suggestions to parents who are just beginning the journey:
- When dropping off your child, leave them with a positive experience. There were some tears shed, but not until they were back in the car.
- Instead of focusing on what you are losing, consider what you are gaining – time together.
- As hard as it may be, let them have their space. Let them be the one to make the first call. It is crucial to recognize they are on their own.
- What you are feeling is not unique. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to someone who has already walked that road.
- Recognize that men and woman deal with the empty nest differently. It takes time to work through it.
Celebrate! Parenting takes a lot of time and energy. Your goal for the past 18 years has been to get your child to this place. Give yourself a pat on the back and celebrate.
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As a Certified Family Life Educator Julie writes and speaks on issues related to strengthening marriages and families.