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Parenting is Hard When Start to Have an Empty Nest

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

This last half a year away from my daughter has been killer. I am a momma with a whole lot of empty nest syndrome. I feel so bad for not being with my daughter Atlantis, with all that she has gone through this year.

I have spent a lot of time beating myself up about it.

In this year since she moved into her own house, she got married and divorced, and got into a near-fatal car accident. All of it while I was far away. It hurts inside sometimes, almost more than I can bear.

I am suffering from what is known as Empty Nest Syndrome.

According to Better Health,

Empty nest syndrome refers to the grief that many parents feel when their children move out of home. This condition is typically more common in women, who are more likely to have had the role of primary carer. Unlike the grief experienced when (for example) a loved one dies, the grief of empty nest syndrome often goes unrecognised, because an adult child moving out of home is seen as a normal, healthy event. Upset parents may find few sources of support or sympathy. In many cases, empty nest syndrome is compounded by other difficult life events or significant changes happening around the same time, such as retirement or menopause.

In my case, it is exacerbated by two things:

  • I chose to move away

  • My daughter is struggling

So, people think that I brought this on myself. I suppose that is true. I did bring this on myself. I am the one who left home, not her. I am the one who left. It is supposed to be the child who leaves and not the mother.

Part of me feels like I have failed as a mother.

I left my child.

What kind of mother does that?

The kind of mother who has other responsibilities for aging family that needs to have someone nearby. The kind of mother who thought that her daughter was in a stable relationship of her own with her new fiancé and was building a life that didn’t need her mother hovering over her.

I thought that my daughter had a partner who was going to care for her, love her, and build a life with her. Unfortunately, both of us were wrong on that count. Her fledgling engagement quickly turned into a whirlwind marriage. Then quickly soured and turned to divorce.

Every time I think about that, I think about what I could have done differently to spare my daughter some pain. I was worried that they were too young to get married. But they had assured me that they were going to wait until 2025 to get married, so that they could both be 21 for the wedding. But that didn’t pan out.

Parenting adult children

When you are parenting adult children, you begin to fade into the background. Yours isn’t the loudest voice that they hear anymore. They have friends, lovers and other family members that they look to for advice too. Not to mention, their own hearts are their compass now.

You have to allow this to happen, you have to allow them to make their own choices, even if those choices inevitably turn out to be mistakes in the long-run. In the short term, only they can really know what is going on in the depths of their lives, and they have all the information to make their own decisions.

If you try to intervene too much and be a helicopter parent, then inevitably they are going to shut you out. Your voice can’t override their own.

They are learning their way in the world, learning to take care of themselves and to live on their own terms. They are entering the world of college and career, and living on their own for the first time.

Adult children are responsible for themselves and their lives. They are paying their own bills. They are making their own budgets, their own purchases, and working their own jobs.

They are learning things like how you should always get more than one price quote on home repairs, and that it is good to have home owners insurance and warranties on appliances.

Being a first-time home owner comes with a lot of responsibilities that aren’t always anticipated at the beginning, and there are constantly things in need of upkeep around the house. This can be repairs and maintenance, trash removal, mowing the grass, or a plethora of other things.

No matter how much you tell them about the need to be responsible and to set money aside, they don’t really internalize how difficult things will be until they get to that point themselves.

They are now doing things that you have always done for them in the background. They are doing the dishes, the laundry, the cooking, the shopping, and making the household run. They are learning just how much work all those things that magically happened before actually take.

Adult children are learning how to make the transition from teens with some responsibility, to adults with all the responsibility.

The role of the parent changes

The parent isn’t the one calling all the shots anymore with an adult child. The parents fade into the background, as someone to help and advise instead of the one making all the choices about what to do next.

I wonder if I thrust my daughter into this role too soon, before she wanted to take on this level of responsibility. I wonder if encouraging her to become a home owner instead of to live with her dad was the right way to go.

But I thought there would be two of them. I thought of them as a team. I thought that she would have someone else to have her back when things got tough. But their partnership didn’t last. Maybe I should have known better than to put faith in such a young relationship. But I trusted them.

Now that my daughter is alone with all of this on her shoulders I am beating myself up. That is why I haven’t been writing parenting articles as much as in the past. I feel like I didn’t properly fulfill the role of a mother. I feel like I let her go off before she was really ready. And I regret that.

So many regrets sometimes with your kids. Sometimes, you don’t really know what is best, no matter how much you read about the psychology of parenting. Sometimes the reality is different than the theory. You can’t always know your child’s capacity for what they can do until they are tested.

My daughter’s first year on her own

This year has tested my daughter for sure. And she still seems to be doing well in spite of it all. She is managing calls with doctors, calls with lawyers, and getting a new car to replace the one that got totaled. She is relying on her dad for help, and he is coming through.

Still, I feel guilty for not being there. I feel like I should be right there by her side through all of this, instead of just on video calls. I feel like I should be carrying her through the hard times.

But, she has learned how to carry herself. She has become an adult in these last months and learned to do it on her own.

She has learned about divorce paperwork, eviction, and going to small claims court. She has learned about home repairs and all the associated time and cost. She has learned what it is like to survive despite the odds with her car accident.

This year has been a trial by fire for her, and I am so proud of the way that she has come through it all. She is a strong person, a fighter, and someone who knows that life can’t be sunshine and roses all the time.

She has shown a surprising amount of bravery and resilience through everything that she has gone through during this time. She has asked for help when she needed it. And, she has learned to become a strong person.

As a mom, maybe that is what success is. Having a child that is capable of taking care of themselves through all of the toughest times.

Still, in some ways, I feel like I failed her.

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