Interestingly, the teens of today spend their time differently than we did at their age. They juggle between school, homework, extracurricular activities, social commitments, preparation for competitive exams, college applications, peer pressure, and social media. This is also the time when any teenager spends more time with friends, but they still communicate with us even if it means seeking advice if there is a problem. I think all of this strengthens their bond with their parents and they care about how we respond to everything they do.
Possibly for many, I wouldn’t have been a perfect mother. I had strengths and weaknesses, I needed to do things that were just for me apart from my work. Focusing on my needs did not make me a selfish mother or a wife. It meant I cared about my well-being which for me was an important value I wanted to pass on to my daughter. I saw Aditi getting inspired from whatever little I had accomplished. She was motivated to work hard for realizing her dreams. She became responsible, adaptable, and independent at an early age using her intellect to achieve results. And now she had become a confident young lady ready to take up the career path of her choice. This took her a hundred kilometers away from her house and parents.
Although we encourage our children to become independent, the experience of letting go is painful. I am sure for most non-working mothers it’s more difficult to have no children around at home who once needed you the most. My work involves a lot of travel, and I am occupied most of the time, yet I keep waiting for my daughter’s video call before and after College. I am aware she has her chores to do and challenges to overcome like academic pressure, washing clothes, and being responsible for herself. I realize she is exploring, experimenting, and making her own decisions and does not need me for every little thing.
For me doing this transition was not as tough as for many around me whose days were filled with the hustle and bustle of raising kids. When you become parents, seeing your child so dependent and attached to you, you are not able to envisage the feeling of separation especially when the child leaves the nest to pursue their ambitions. It is better to prepare yourself emotionally for this moment instead of being clueless about your life and make the transition easier. Instead of handling all daily things by yourself, let them learn basic cooking, making their beds, arranging their wardrobe, and organizing their day. Help them understand their strengths, let them make a career choice, Guide them to pick up the right college or university, prepare them for the challenges they could face due to distance or time difference or roommates. Eventually, talking about these things prepares both of you emotionally for the big day.
Understand even if your kids are away from you, your job is not done. They still need you, but your role may change from a parent to a mentor now. Don’t bottle up your feelings, if you feel like crying, allow yourself to cry and grieve over the change that you are going through. Eventually, there will be more acceptance and adjustment to the new role and the reality if you haven’t prepared yourself in advance.
Since you have no pressure of picking and dropping children everywhere along with a load of housekeeping, dedicate this time to self-care and hobbies. Revive things with your partner which had taken a back burner because you were busy raising children. Become a part of a new social network, catch up with friends for lunch and dinner, plan a vacation or an adventure trip that gives you a break from those depressing thoughts. Engage yourself with activities such as tennis, yoga, and jogging. Participate in group activities and meet new people.
Set new goals like writing a book or running a marathon or starting a business. Follow these goals and you will have a lot of conversation topics when you talk to your children. Instead of counting the days since your child has gone, think of how you are going to surprise them when they are back in their holidays. The idea is to have something on your calendar, and you will look forward to each day. Apart from this, talk to your friends who are likely to enter the same stage of life. Talking to someone who is experiencing the same emotion helps in supporting one another. Last but not the least, reach out to a mental health expert who can help you process your feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.
I tell myself, ‘The empty nest struggle is real. While time will help you heal it, fill it with meaningful things, and move forward in life. Like Louis Armstrong said, ‘you have to see skies of blue and clouds of white and think to yourself, what a wonderful world.’