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Family & Relationships

The Kids Are out the Door. Now What?

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When Christie Mellor’s two sons—now 25 and 19—left for college, she and her husband, Richard Goldman, gave themselves a round of applause.

In Mellor’s book, “Fun Without Dick and Jane,” she reminds other parents that they, too, ought to celebrate this stage. “It’s a transition. It’s a change. If your kid is going off to college, or is traveling around for a bit, or has decided to take a job, or has some enterprising idea that has him or her very excited, then we’ve all done our job well, and we’re incredibly lucky that our kids have found a passion for something or another,” she says.

Both of her sons were fortunate enough to be able to go to college, and were excited about their newfound independence. She and her husband were thrilled for the boys—and also for themselves.

“It felt exciting, and like everything was moving forward and life was turning a page,” says Mellor. “When your kids leave home, it really accelerates the feeling of, ‘Okay, what do I want to be doing for the next 25, 35 years, and when can I start doing it?’” 

We asked the author to share some advice with the Get Old audience on preparing for and relishing an empty nest.

Here’s what she shared:

Start preparing yourself early so it’s not such a huge shock. It’s a good idea to start planning when they’re still in high school. If you have been spending every waking hour consumed with your kids, their schedules and their every need, then now is a good time to think about what you want your life to look like when they’re gone. Not everyone decides to sell the house and move to a little apartment in New York City, but it’s fun imagining the possibilities. You’ll have extra time that no longer needs to be devoted to the care and feeding of a teenager. 

Expect to be surprised by how you feel when they leave. Whatever you're feeling, go with it, and be prepared for the emotions to change. Don’t think you’re a bad parent if you don’t weep for days after saying goodbye to your kid in their first dorm. You may start crying at bad commercials on TV—or not! Your relationship with your kids will evolve as they grow into young men and women. If you’ve helped give them independence and autonomy, it will only help them. Their road will be bumpy because that’s life, and it’s a really good thing for them to learn how to navigate. 

Think about who you were before kids. You’ve evolved too, of course, and raising kids will always be a part of who you are. Consider what you want your life to look like in three, five, ten years, and make a list of all the stuff you want to tackle before you’re 80 (maybe you already have an old, yellowing list you made in high school, stashed in a box somewhere). You don’t have to do anything grand, because not everyone wants to climb Everest or live on a barge in France or see the Northern Lights. But think about yourself at 90 years old, looking back. After the kids left, did you continue living their lives, or did you pick yours up where you left off and live it as best you could? In my case, I was thinking, “Do I really want to be in this same house, wondering when I have to fix the gutters again when I’m 65?” And the answer was no. 

Allow them some distance so they can grow and accept adult responsibilities. In other words, don’t get an apartment near your kid’s college campus and visit every other day and bring snacks. Don’t feel like you have to send care packages every month, or sign up for one of those egregious care package services they will try to guilt you into. Don’t play intermediary with their professors at college (or bosses at work). Let them deal with their stuff and put out their own fires.

Fun times await you. It’s not just the sleeping in and the staying up late, but it’s the staying up late, maybe binge-watching a show you might have missed with kids around. Maybe it’s having lots of friends come over to cook, or maybe it’s eating cheese and crackers for dinner if you feel like it or having kimchee for breakfast or not having breakfast at all and not worrying about anyone else’s breakfast. There is a sense of, “It’s recess!” Or summer camp. There’s a feeling that you can rediscover your own rhythm and your own way of doing things again. Your time becomes your own. That’s a new feeling, if you’ve been raising kids for the last 18-plus years. Embrace it. 

Have your kids moved out? What did you do to celebrate (or mourn) the transition? 

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