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Guest Post: Empty Nest Syndrome

The most common advice I received when my daughter was born was to enjoy every moment I have with her — because those moments don’t last very long.

I spent the next year wading through dirty diapers and crawling through sleepless nights, wondering why anyone would miss such a thing.

But last month, as my wife and I helped our little girl pack her bags for her cross-country move, I realized exactly what those people were telling me.

With a suddenly silent house to live in, I kind of wished I had a few diapers to change, a crying baby to soothe or — dare I say it — some math homework to help with.

I still don’t know where the time went. It seems like just last month that I was walking hand-in-hand with her down the street as she wobbled on legs that were just learning to walk. Now, she’s tackling adulthood with the same determination she used to take those first steps.

At times, I wish I had her same bravery.

I was aware of the phenomenon of Empty Nest Syndrome long before my daughter left home, but never gave much thought to it. Children growing up and leaving the nest is part of parenthood and should be expected.

Guest Post - Empty Nest Syndrome

In fact, I bought into the idea that this would revolutionize my life. Everyone said I’d suddenly have all of this extra time with no responsibilities. I’d be able to do anything I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it.

But, I had no idea just how hard it would be to say goodbye. In the days and weeks after she left, the worries only seemed to get worse. Did I teach her everything she’d need to know? Was she prepared to trade the small town in Florida where she’d spent her whole life for the traffic and congestion of Los Angeles? And what about all of that spare time that we now have that was supposed to be such a “blessing.” It felt a lot more boring than I expected.

I used some of that time researching Empty Nest Syndrome to make sure my feelings were normal. What I found were dozens of very reputable sites that were attributing the feelings of loneliness, depression and lack of self-worth to mothers. One even called it a “predominantly female syndrome.”

Well, great, I thought. Now I’m lonely and less of a man.

That’s when I took to several social media platforms and spoke to other fathers. It turns out that not only was I not alone, but there are thousands of fathers, if not more, who have experienced, or are experiencing, the same thing.

One father reached out to me, saying that his son is only a few months from leaving home. He’s a wreck about it and didn’t want to say anything to anyone because he worried it’d make him look like a “pansy.”

These feelings are very real and, for some reason, most fathers don’t want to talk about it. I suspect it’s because of the stigma that some experts put on it by calling it a “female” syndrome.

Empty Nest Syndrome isn’t a clinical condition, but Psychology Today defines it as “a feeling of loneliness or sadness that occurs among parents after children grow up and leave home.”

That’s putting it mildly.

In the days, weeks and even months following a child leaving home, parents go through a transition period in which they may experience feelings of loneliness or loss. At times, the feeling can feel ironic, since we spend years teaching our children to be independent and take on new challenges. For me, it still feels like a “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it” feeling.

Parents can also experience grief when their last child leaves the home because they now feel:

* A lack of an identity because their child is no longer at home

* A lack of control over their child’s actions or security

* Extreme grief and fear that their child may be gone “forever”

* Long periods of grief while reminiscing on memories

* Worry that you did not properly prepare your child for their next step

These feelings are perfectly natural and, like all things, subside in time. Each day gets a little easier for me, as I’m sure it does for most parents. Instead of focusing on the negative, I’m trying to remember the positive and feel confident that everything we’ve taught her will serve her well in her upcoming adventure.

No matter where you are in your parenting journey, there will one day come a time when your child spreads his or her wings and decides to leave the nest. Make sure to prepare your child for what’s to come, but also prepare yourself for the inevitable feelings of grief and sadness that you may experience.

Plan some outings. Prepare to kickstart a new hobby. Find some way to stay busy, knowing that it’s going to get better.

But, in the meantime, let me give you some advice that I once received. Enjoy every moment you have with your child. They don’t last long.

Author Bio:Ray FitzGerald is a long-time teacher of gifted (high IQ) elementary students in the U.S. After leaving the classroom, he now shares the life lessons that helped his students become high-achieving children and adults at RaiseALegend.com and on the weekly Raise a Legend Podcast.