Dads Get the Empty Nest Blues, Too
When my youngest child was ready to go to college, I drove him 1200 miles to Oklahoma, helped him get settled in his dormitory, and said goodbye.
Before leaving Jason, I made plans to come back for parent’s weekend and for a football game.
And that was that. Or so I thought.
I didn’t count on experiencing the fabled “empty nest syndrome.” I didn’t expect to miss him or feel such a great sense of loss. But it made sense that I would have those feelings. After all, I had devoted my weekends for about 25 years to my two children. I vowed when they were young that I would never be too busy to spend lots of time with them. Which I did. But with both of them gone, now what was I supposed to do?
It was at that point that I had to admit that dads suffer from the empty nest syndrome just like mothers. Traditionally, or so I thought, it was supposed to be moms who experienced this syndrome. They were the ones who supposedly devoted their lives to raising children and nurturing them as they guided them from play groups to sleepovers to soccer games to dating. Giving all of that up, so the traditional thinking went, leaves moms often feeling the blues when the nest is suddenly empty.
If your child is world-bound this fall – to college, a new job, or some other adventure – you may be a prime candidate for experiencing the feelings of being adrift without the structure of taking care of a child and doing all the tending that goes along being an involved parent.
But the empty nest syndrome doesn’t have to catch you unawares. You can be prepared and ready to cope with a new life; a life that will generally mean less conflict and commotion as your life with a teenager gives way to an existence with more peace and a lot more privacy.
It may be important to first look at how you’ve weathered other transitions in your life. If you’ve dealt fairly smoothly with other major changes, then there’s a good bet that you’ll do okay with the child-leaving phase of your life. On the other hand, if major changes tend to throw you a bit, be prepared to feel shaky when your last (or perhaps only) child is packing to leave. That means you can count on being sad for a while and feeling – like I felt – as if a big part of life is changing.
So, if you’re experiencing the empty nest blues, try to pamper yourself and give yourself some room to experience those sad moments.
Also, look at the other parts of your life and see how firmly grounded you are in your other roles. How are your roles as wife (or husband), friend, or employee? Can you focus on strengthening those roles now that your role as dad or mom is coming to what feels like an end? How can you be better at those roles? What’s your vision for the future?
A satisfying marriage will provide emotional support through most of life’s transitions, but this transition involving the departure of your child can be weathered best if your marriage is a good one.
Of course, your marriage could crumble if you were staying in it for the kids. Nothing will expose the rotted foundation of an unstable marriage like not having kids around. That could mean you may need to schedule some counseling sessions to figure out how you’re going to cope with both the loss of your child and a not-so-stable marriage.
Finally, for the immediate future, make some specific plans for the first days you’re going to be childless. Plan activities with your spouse or your friends. And if you haven’t done anything interesting with either spouse or friends lately, now’s a good time to change that.