"Your kid's leaving home? Crack open the bubbly! Think of all the free time you'll have!"
But some of us will be forcing a smile and the bubbly will be to drown our sorrows, not celebrate. And what's wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.
Our children have been the primary focus of our thoughts and emotions from the moment we knew of their foetal existence. We think of them when we wake up, before we go to sleep, and several million times in between. No matter how busy we are with work or other commitments, there is always a "to do" list in respect of our children - waking them up; feeding them; dropping them off; picking them up; nagging about homework; trying to ensure they and their environment are clean and tidy; sorting out their phone contract; taking them shopping; making sure they have regular check ups with the dentist and optician; worrying about their screen time; making sure they eat healthily (or at least not too unhealthily); planning their birthday gifts and celebrations; saving for their Christmas presents, etc, etc.
And then they're gone.
There is a big hole in our daily lives. We may have partners, other children, pets, jobs, close family, good friends, hobbies....but none of those is the same shape as the child-shaped hole in our lives.
We're proud of our children - haven't we done a good job?! - and excited for the new opportunities they have. We want them to be happy and we worry desperately if we think they might not be...but at the same time a part of us wants them to admit that they'd be happier with us and to come home.
Not only have we expended gobsmackingly huge amounts of emotional and physical energy on our progeny, but we've unconsciously reshaped our identities around them. Parenting is not just what we do, it's who we are. Our lives have revolved around it for years.
So what now? We've been so needed and so busy for so long...and now it feels that the best part of our lives is behind us, that we're fading into irrelevance and old age.
This is a huge change for us. Huge! It's only natural that we miss our kids, that we feel lost, that we grieve for the way things were. Empty Nest Syndrome is real and valid and bloody painful.
But being an Empty Nester doesn't have to define us.
Let's not spend so long hammering on the door that's closed behind us that we fail to see the door that's opened ahead of us. This is our time to rediscover ourselves, to peel back the layers and reconnect with the sense of self that gave way to parenthood.
We can focus on the empty nest or on the blue sky: what do you choose?