When your Child leaves for University/College #emptynest

man and woman studying at a park

Our eldest left for University in September, and whilst the nest isn’t completely empty (we still have our youngest daughter at home) I have experienced all the different, and difficult emotions that come from this; it’s a real plethora of feelings.

As Robin Sharma says in ‘The 5am Club’, “All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end” As our eldest steps out into the world, many hours away by car and train, I am filled with trepidation, worries, and yet at the same time, such immense pride and joy. I can still feel the physical pull that seemed to emanate from my chest as we drove away, leaving her there in a strange place surrounded by strangers. The actual heaviness and physicality of that moment was so huge I know I will always remember it. Not being able to be near her every day, the first major physical separation in our lives, was already starting to leave a void, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that.

Grief and loss appears in different forms, and this was one of them. I have been no stranger to grief and loss over the last few years, and I know from experience that having these feelings again can bring up old wounds. I had to fight really hard to stay strong. Being a Grief & Loss Informed Coach, and my own personal past experiences of grief, certainly helped me through this. The reality is it’s completely normal to experience these feelings as your child leaves for University or college, you feel a profound sense of loss at the end of your significant period of life living together; whilst also admitting that things may never be the same again. This is a start of their journey into the world, and that may never bring them fully back home.

Recognising and validating my emotions was the first step to giving myself permission to grieve for this lost aspect of my life. If we don’t allow ourselves these emotions to come out, they can so easily pop up in other areas of our life, so it’s crucial to do this. It’s all a part of the grieving process. But then I started to think of the positives that came from this experience, and there was more than I originally had thought of. I had started to shift my mindset and it was helping.

I still get to enjoy my youngest daughter at home, and whilst her time for flying the nest is coming around quickly, I can be present with her in each moment. My role as a parent has really changed over the last few years. We become advisors to our children, and as I’m on my own journey of personal development and learning, I feel quite capable of adapting to my new advisory role, even if that is doing a facetime to figure out how the washing machine works or which button turns the cooker on! But it’s also being there when new situations come up for them and they need that extra bit of support or comfort. It’s being there when the fire alarm goes off at 4.30am on their 3rd night there, and then again a few days later, and then again a few days later too!! It’s being there when they learn of something truly awful happening, far too close for comfort, but also it’s being there for all the exciting times of new friends, clubs and adventures starting.

With all of this comes an experience of your ‘new’ child, the person they are turning into throughout all of this. I have always felt immense pride with both my girls and their achievements as human beings, but the pride you feel when you recognise that they are changing, adapting and growing, and becoming aware to things in life is truly amazing and I wasn’t prepared for that, it’s been another blessing.

So whilst this time has brought up feelings of grief and loss, it has also brought up feelings of new growth, further pride and awe. This is also the start of my own rediscovery of who I am outside of my mothering role and my own growth. As our children step out into adulthood, I feel myself stepping out into a new role as a parent and a person. With all the different feelings going on like anxious thoughts and the loss of them being so near, there is also the new feeling of excitement, excitement for their new path into the world and for my own. There is a sense of freedom for both of us now, but also with the amazing feeling of connectedness and bonding that we have fostered during all our years together. It is time for all of us to embrace these new feelings and step out into another phase of our lives, whilst acknowledging the pain that this brings and knowing that that is OK.

The empty nest gives you more time to think about what you put on hold whilst raising your children, and knowing that now could be the perfect time to invest back into yourself and your own personal growth. It is a new chance to rediscover life in its new form. This phase in your life can be a transformative and new enriching experience when approached with an open heart and different mindset. As I tell my daughters (as hard as it is) ‘the only constant thing is change’.

Fly baby bird, fly.

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