with author Steve Truitt
tips to combat empty nest syndrome
The hardest thing to do in life – it’s been said – is to raise a child from birth to college while avoiding the men in white coats, a padded room with soft food, and a box o’ wine hangover nearly two decades in the making.
And once you’ve reached that important milestone, after the years of irregular sleep, hospital visits, broken hearts, sibling rivalry, homework, driving lessons, boyfriends and girlfriends, parent/teacher conferences, soccer games, and the endless other sacrifices you’ve made which statistically cost you an average of a million dollars, you’re left behind by your university-bound offspring, faced with a life that for the first time in at least 18 years is your own again.
The depression, or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children come of age and leave their childhood homes has become known as Empty Nest Syndrome. It’s very real, and I’m asked all the time to help couples adjusting to this new phase in their lives.
Typically a big trip, or house remodel is a great way to shake the kid blues, but you might not want to sign up for that cruise around the world just yet, Mom and Dad. Given the anemic job market for graduating seniors, you may be welcoming your wayward children back home and into your newly-vacant lives. An increasing number of adult children between 25 and 34 are now living with their parents at home. Psychologist Allan Scheinberg notes that these "boomerang kids" want the "limited responsibility of childhood and the privileges of adulthood." In short, it’s more parenting for a higher price.
You might want to think twice about missing that precious child, because, before you know it, you could be finding creative ways to promote the joys of outdoor living! So if you’re more worried about your kid putting down post-grad stakes back home than you are the brief adjustment to a quiet, selfish life of your own, here are some tips to hedge your bets that once they’re out, they’re out:
Start a savings plan early. Set up a mutual fund for your child when they are 10 years old. Low risk – solid growth. Contribute to the fund and encourage family members to do the same for birthdays and holidays, so that when they graduate, they will have a strong nest egg from which to launch into the world. This little financial plan teaches them that while money doesn’t grow on trees, it at least earns interest.
Have them learn a trade. Sure they can major in French Impressionist Carpet Design, but understanding how to re-pipe the kitchen sink, lay tile, change tires, build a fence, or paint a room can allow them to find work in any down market where other vocations have hundreds of applicants for one position. Plus, it will save you a ton of dough when you need something fixed around the house!
Pick a radical political position and stick to it like glue! Nothing turns a kid away like you ranting about the government taking away your right to marry your ’78 Buick LeSabre. You can destroy any kid’s desire for coming home by simply turning his or her old room into a shrine for the Sham-Wow! guy. Trust me, sending care packages and postcards from the edge before they think about coming home is a good way to make them think twice about returning to the Twilight Zone.
Remember, every stage of life is adjustment. It took a while to get used to having kids, it will take a while to get used to not having them around. Be careful what you wish for moms and dads… kids have a wonderful knack of making you forget who you were before they came along.
Are you living (or soon to be living) in an empty nest? Tell us your story.