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Mary Pat is an empty nest single mom of two sons. She writes tips to help fathers in the transition on her free newsletter www.emptynestdad.com.
My two sons are 24 and 25.
I enjoyed their company at every stage of their lives and being a mom was at the heart of my existence. Dropping Zach off for college, then Sean the next year, was one of the hardest parenting moments I’d ever had.
It was especially tough after going through a divorce with their father just a few years earlier, when they were 15 and 16. When my second son left, I felt a feeling of loss. Suddenly, it felt like I was alone at home, with nothing to do but miss cooking for my sons, talking to them, and picking them up from school. I was an empty nest mom.
Fast forward to today…
I’ve created a great life for myself. I still miss my boys like crazy, but more than anything, I’m proud of the men they’ve become. I’m excited to be a Grandma one day. And lately, I’ve found a sense of purpose in helping my friends, both men and women, who ask me for advice as their kids leave for college. And as a social worker of 20 years, I noticed a weird pattern.
Fathers, in particular, seem to feel like they’re “not allowed” to miss their kids, or outwardly express it.
That’s why, for the empty nest Dads out there, I asked Suzanne to share this post simply to say: You are allowed to miss your kids. You’re in this, too. It’s not just moms.
Here are a few tips that personally helped me cope with the empty nest transition…
1. Write down 5 things you’re grateful for every day.
You can download the free Lift app for your smartphone to keep track of writing down 5 things every day.
Think this sounds cheesy? It isn’t!
Research shows that “counting your blessings” actually rewires your brain.
Check out the findings of one study conducted at the University of Miami:
“They instructed people to keep a journal listing five things for which they felt grateful, like a friend’s generosity, something they’d learned, a sunset they’d enjoyed. The gratitude journal was brief — just one sentence for each of the five things — and done only once a week, but after two months there were significant effects. Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier.”
A separate study in the Clinical Psychology review offers that gratitude journaling can instill in you “a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life.” Missing your children is tough. Feeling better depends on changing your outlook.
2. Have something to look forward to.
When your child leaves, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. You miss them so much. You worry about the times you could’ve been a better parent. On those days you’re really missing your child, here’s one tip that helps me tremendously:
Have one thing you’re looking forward to.
It could be…
- a movie you want to see
- an exciting date night in your marriage
- an upcoming trip or vacation
Open your calendar. If nothing fun is coming up, email two of your best friends to schedule dinner at your favorite restaurant next week.What’s one thing you’re looking forward to?
3. Find someone you can talk to.
It doesn’t have to be your wife. Talking to someone–anyone–openly and honestly about what you’re going through is healthy. It has nothing to do with being a man or woman. It’s about being a parent. Other fathers go through this, too. Check out these comments, all from Dads from empty nest syndrome articles online:
“My little girl is on her way and I will miss her so much. I know I’m suppose to Man-Up and be tough but I wasn’t prepared for this kind of pain.”
“Just so everyone is clear on this… it is not just Moms who go through this…I am immensely proud of him and happy for him, but I have been feeling extreme grief in the knowledge that my favorite buddy is not going to be a major part of my day to day life any more.”
“As a dad of two wonderful daughters (20 and 16), I’ve often wished that there was more discussion pertaining to dads’ difficulty with this transition.”
“One of the things that I keep beating myself up for are the times when I could have been a better Dad. I know none of us are perfect, but there are times that I am not proud of, when I was not the Dad that I planned on being when I first held her.”
Nobody expects you to “man up” or not feel sad when your buddy of 18 years leaves home. This is normal for every parent.
You’re not alone.
To sign up for Mary Pat’s free newsletter go to www.EmptyNestDad.com