The pain, sadness, and emptiness of a child leaving home are gut-wrenching. Empty nest. It sucks.
I have had the weird experience of an empty nest while my kids were still at home. Well, only one has flown the nest so far, so I'm not even done with it yet! At least I now know what to expect when the other one decides it's time to leave. (Sad.)
I started experiencing empty nest after they turned 18. It's the letting go of your "child" and allowing them to grow into the adults they are destined to be. It's a VERY weird transition. A very sad transition. A very hard transition. It was extremely difficult to realize it was time for me to let go of the reins and allow them to live their lives fully. After so many years of caring for their every move, guiding them toward what I hoped would create the best lives for them, then (what seemed like) suddenly, it was time to let that go.
I could cry right now, remembering how hard that was, and I could cry again, knowing it happens continuously to this day. I just want to keep them safe from life's perils. I want them to have an easy life with no roadblocks. I want to transfer the wisdom I've gained throughout the years to them, so they have it in their back pockets.
With all of that being said, I look back on time and acknowledge that they are doing pretty damn good. Sure, they've run into hard times, and they have already had to learn to navigate through some sticky situations. But they've done it, and they have done it well.
Let's talk about when empty nest first set in, though. Depression started slowly and then continually climbed for me. It kept getting worse. I had many of the typical signs of depression. I went through the better part of a year with no motivation, no hope, and underlying anger. In hindsight, I am grateful that I was at least aware of what was going on. It kept me honest with myself. Acknowledging the reason for my feelings helped a lot. Well, it helped.
Slowly, I realized I had to do something to pull myself out of this depression because I was at risk of changing who I was on such a deep level, and I feared the change would be permanent.
One day I heard or read somewhere (it's all such a foggy time) that we are each here to live our own lives. We are here to make our own mistakes and our own adventures. That, in and of itself, helped tremendously. I would remind myself of that when they were off doing things that scared me for them. (Like when my musician son took off on tour through the Rocky Mountains in the winter. Or when my daughter flew to Miami to hang out with a friend.)
Keeping in mind that they are living their lives helped get me over some rough spots. But then I looked back at when I was their age, and younger. I did things with such confidence and excitement (like traveling to Germany at 16 years old - alone. Or joining the Army at 17.) That was what they were doing too. They were/are doing and going where they felt/feel led to do. I was fine - they should be fine as well.
I realized that I had become a snore in the past 20 years! I spent those years hoping to set a safe example for my kids and growing up myself. If I didn't have them, would I have continued to be out in the world, doing things and going places that I wouldn't think of doing because I have kids? I'll never know, and that's okay. My kids mean the world to me, so raising them was definitely adventure enough. Because I had settled into my "role" as a parent, I realized I had stopped pursuing things for me and only me. They are now doing that for themselves, and that is great! That was another huge hurdle I overcame. Well, to be honest, it is still something I remind myself of when they are off on another adventure. They are living their lives!
Because of those revelations, I realized it was time to put my attention back on myself, and that's exactly what I did. I started doing things, little by little, that felt good to me. My kids sure didn't need me fawning over their every move anymore.
That's when I realized that I am still setting an example for my kids. I don't ever want them to wallow in their own pity or be so stagnant that they feel they cannot move toward their next chapter. I want them to continue doing exactly what they are doing - I want them to live their lives with excitement and vigor! I want them to experience new things, taste exotic foods, and see the love that is all around them at all times! And that is what I want for myself too.
Realizing this helped me move to the next phase, and that is one of my family fully living! We will have experiences together, and we will have experiences apart from one another. That is okay. That is life.
The key is just to keep going. To work through our fears and our sadness because there is greater understanding on the other side. There is so much more for us out there!
I genuinely hope that my experience can somehow help you get through your empty nest depression. It's hard, but getting through the muck is so worthwhile. It will take yourself and your relationship with your kids to a different, fun level.
P.S. I have realized that I am growing into the person I really want to be. I feel like I'm 8 years old again, not caring what people think of me! I love glitter on my face, wind in my hair and dirty jokes. And you know what? My kids kinda dig it. I'm still teaching. I'm still loving. I'm still guiding. But now I'm doing it by living my best life. How beautiful is that?