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The Truth about Life Transitions & How to Cope

Life Transitions

The Empty Nest & More

Sobbing; that’s what I was doing. Standing smack in the middle of my son’s room so I’d have a perfect view of everything that reminded me of him. I promised myself that I’d wait before I went in. I broke my promise. Life transitions are messy after all.

It’s been 10 years since I broke my promise yet, I can still see that room so vividly. The red throw pillow where he rested his head was still scrunched up from the night before. The others were stretched along his perfectly made bed. That’s what he did when he finally got up. For as long as I can remember. The wooden desk caught my eye, cleared of the stacks of paper and holiday cards. The laundry basket, empty for the first time in 4 weeks. (I knew he waited for me to give in and do his laundry for him – and I did.) Sweatshirts thrown over his closet door and more teenage stuff just scattered around.

He was gone. Back to college after his month-long winter break at home. I really missed him already. I think I missed him before he left, reminding him of all the things he needed to do when he got back to school. Most of all, I missed the smiling face, with those silly earphones perched on top, that greeted me every morning—or afternoon as it often was. Over-protective, helicopter parent, too hands-on. Go ahead, say it. That’s what I was and still am. But listen up—I’m his mom.

Life Transitions

Letting Go

My significant link to this universe has been, well, mothering. I’m talking about my child—who was nearly a grown man himself. And, it was hard to let go.

It was days later that I found relief from the sadness, perhaps a bit emotional, but that’s who I am. I recovered. I took the next small step. My letting go was his rite of passage.

Even if I didn’t long for our endless incessant debates, right out of philosophy 101, I could still see that this kid was changing and thinking and moving. My letting go enabled me to see a human being apart from me and whole in his own right.  More, much more important, it allowed him to toss his own net—get out there and fly. If you don’t let go, you can’t move on. It’s a small step in a big way.

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We all know that letting go is never easy. But there are ways to gracefully cope with big life transitions like your kids leaving the nest:

Free Yourself

We can’t hold onto the past. It hurts, I know. But failure to accept a situation puts us in a prison of our own making. Everything changes – it’s the only constant in life. The sooner we can accept that the easier life becomes. It doesn’t matter what uncomfortable situation you’re trying to deal with or which big life transition you’re facing, the solution is the same. Let it go to free yourself.

Here are 5 simple tips for letting go:

Understand that Relationships Change

People and situations change which automatically affects your relationships. Being aware and understanding this helps you to be clear on your role in your relationships and accept the role that others play in your life too. This may not be easy to do but it does help to prepare you for an inevitable life transition.

Don’t get invested in a Specific Outcome

Being invested in a specific outcome when it comes to dealing with other people is setting yourself up for disappointment. You can’t guarantee the outcome you desire when it comes to other people so it’s better not to have too many expectations. Letting go means accepting that you can’t control the actions and behaviors of others.

Recommended Reading: What to Do when People Behave Badly

Develop a Positive Mantra

Your inner dialogue can either propel you forward to the other side of a difficult transition or it can keep you stuck. Positive mantras offer a way to reframe your thoughts and overcome emotional pain.

Practice Self Care

Letting go isn’t easy, it isn’t comfortable and it doesn’t happen overnight. So, be gentle with yourself. Give it time. Practicing self-care is a wonderful way to help you get to a point where you can let go. Self-care can mean writing in a journal, setting boundaries, making time for yourself, and doing the things that bring you joy.

Recommended Reading: The Most Important Thing You Can Do While You’re Stuck at Home

Allow Yourself to Talk about it

Surround yourself with people who love and understand you and then talk to them. Even if you can’t be with them in person, you can speak to them on the phone, the next best thing is to be there, facetime, or have a Zoom call. You can’t keep your emotions bottled up inside forever. Give yourself permission to speak about how you’re feeling. Without this important step, you’ll be unlikely to let go.

Life Transitions

4 Ways to Manage When Your Kids Leave the Nest

The new school year is about to start which means the kids are heading back to school or college (and yes, some are returning this year). This can be such an emotional time of year for parents. I know from first-hand experience how easy it can be to end up sobbing in your child’s room after they depart.                                        

In full disclosure, I have twins so I had to send 2 off at once. Can you imagine how hard that was? So, if you’re a parent preparing for your baby to leave home for the first time, this guide is for you. This is a big life transition, no doubt about that and you’re probably feeling anxious, worried and most of all, sad.

Luckily, these feelings diminish over time if you deal with them in a healthy way. So, I’ve compiled a few ways to cope with empty nest syndrome. Follow this advice and you’ll soon be able to resume your normal life and not focus too much on the absence of your child.

Keep Busy

Even though you’re feeling down, it’s important to keep busy once the kids are out of the house. Maintain your hobbies or take up a new activity that you’ve always wanted to try. This means going for walks, taking up tennis, or starting an online yoga class. Meeting up with friends and socializing is also a wonderful distraction when done responsibly with masks and sanitized hands, of course. Plus, surrounding yourself with friends will help you move through this life transition faster. Just make sure to adhere to social distancing rules so everyone stays healthy. Your child is in the process of developing their own life now and it’s important that you maintain your own life too. A rich and active life is the best way to cope with this tough situation. Allow your child the space they need to assert their independence and give yourself the freedom to remember your own independence too.

Set a Schedule for Communication

You may feel tempted to contact your child daily; especially when they first leave. But this won’t help you let go and can be stifling for your child as well. Make sure they know they can contact you at any time for anything but limit your own contact to give them the space and freedom they need. One way to do this is to set a schedule that you both agree on for phone or video calls. This allows for healthy boundaries to be established. Grab your day planner and schedule a set time for communication every 3 days or once a week to check in with your child. You’ll feel better once you do this as you’ll have something to look forward to and it will help you remain close to your adult child without putting a strain on your relationship.

Credit: Erik Mclean
Reconnect with Your Partner

Although empty nest syndrome results in a type of loneliness, that feeling doesn’t need to last. Your child may be gone but your partner isn’t. This is the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your partner. After years of focusing mainly on the kids, this is your time to focus on each other again. By turning your attention towards yourself and your partner, you rekindle the romance and avoid any issues that can occur once the kids leave. Show your partner that you value your relationship by spending more time together. Use the opportunity to remember why you fell in love in the first place and discover activities that you can do together. Chances are your partner is feeling sad too, so keeping busy together may help you both. Schedule some couple activities or date nights with each other and put in your day planner so you stick to it.

Go on Vacation

It can be difficult to be at home once your nest is empty, so why not plan a vacation? If you find it challenging to overcome your feelings of sadness at home, then plan a vacation. Choose an exciting destination that you’ve always wanted to visit and go with your partner, or a friend. Although travel options are limited at the moment, don’t let it hold you back from getting out and exploring your own country. Take a cross country road trip or rent a secluded cottage by a lake or even head out to visit all the National Parks. There are numerous ways to take a vacation that ensures that you stay safe and healthy. Alternatively, start planning a big exciting trip abroad for next year. Not only will planning your trip and itinerary help keep you busy and get your mind off missing your child, but the experience will be beneficial too. Being in a new place that’s away from your empty home with lots of new things to try and do will help you let go and move through this big life transition. Plan plenty of adventurous or novel activities for your trip so that you’re too busy to think about life back at home.

Recommended Reading: Lost Luggage & How to Make Peace with Your Past in 2020

How to Cope with Change & Life Transitions

Life transitions are inherently difficult and tend to bring up a lot of emotions. But the way you approach these big changes determines your experience of them. Most people view change in a negative way which is why life transitions seem so tough. However, by simply adjusting your perspective of change, you can find great value in those big life transitions. Here are some ideas for coping with change and life transitions in a meaningful way:

Life Transitions Create Memories

Big life changes are memorable and this time will hold a special place in your life memories. If it’s monumental at the moment then you know it will leave a lasting impression. The intense feelings will fade but the memories won’t and one day you’ll appreciate that. Instead of trying to numb the emotions, appreciate that they will help make this moment in life a guiding lesson in the future.

Accept the Benefits of Change

Routine can be detrimental to your health so change is beneficial. Change in your routine actually helps to stimulate your mind and nervous system. This allows new neural pathways to form in the brain which helps you to grow and evolve. Even though small changes are beneficial, big life transitions offer you an opportunity for great personal growth.

Remember Your Past Transitions

We learn from experience and that worldly knowledge can serve us well. When you’re facing a challenging transition, remind yourself how you successfully navigated life transitions in the past. Remember how you coped with that experience and apply it to what you’re dealing with currently. This should give you the strength and courage to cope and embrace the change.

Dealing with change is an uncomfortable part of life. But moving through life transitions can result in a wonderful sense of achievement. The day I stood sobbing in my son’s room is still a vivid memory. Those emotions may have disappeared but the impact of that moment in my life is lasting. Only looking back can you appreciate the opportunities that can spring from change. These experiences help us develop and grow to become the people we are today, so embrace it.

Which life transitions had the biggest impact on you?

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Life Transitions

Comments 12

  1. Ronni, my heart went back to the time I said ‘good-bye’ to my first born at college. It actually ached for a few seconds vividly recalling those moments. Transition is hard. You are so right when you say that to move on, you have to accept the change – no matter what it is. I love your advice about reconnecting with your partner, staying busy and planning a trip – all great tips. Right now, I’m planning a trip with my family for December 2021. We are hoping that by then regulations will have eased and covid will be contained. It’s wonderful to have a project to work on and something to look forward to.

    1. Good for you Diane for taking care of yourself. I love that you’re planning a family trip for the end of next year. Bravo!
      I understood letting go to move on when my first husband and I separated. It was a long time ago and we have remained the best of friends. I recall there were some people who didn’t understand why I wasn’t angry at the time. It was so clear to me that I had to let go of any anger or I couldn’t move on with my life.
      It was a wonderful life lesson. We both found happiness with our new partners, with one another and of course with her children.

  2. I don’t really like change. I like predictability, which change pretty much rips to shreds. However, I can always look back and see how change helped me to grow in wisdom and empathy. If I only ever kept things exactly as I want them, I don’t think I would be a very kind person.

    I was very sad when my children left for school, but I was also excited for them. Sending kids back in this COVID era adds a layer of concern that I was lucky enough not to bear.

    My hardest life transition? Becoming a parent. The whole pregnancy, birth, new Mom thing was hard for me. Now that my girls are adults, I am so thankful that I have them and can’t imagine life without them. But I’m not one of those Moms who tells new mothers to “enjoy every moment.” Some of those moments can be pretty rough.

    1. Change can be really tough. We’re so used to what’s familiar and we become accustomed to it. Whether or not it’s good for us. We only know the answer looking back.
      A happy transition was when I became a grandmother. Though “grandma” sounds old to me (I think of grandma with short blue gray hair that’s been set in rollers.) there’s nothing quite likeit. That’s the bonus. Watching my daughter become a parent has been remarkable.

  3. It’s been almost a decade since our youngest daughter left for college. As I read your beautiful post, all those emotions came flooding back. I adored raising our girls and treasured being part of their growth as we learned to be parents. We raised them to be independent and ready to live in the world. So even though we knew that time would come, I was sad when it did. It’s not that I would never see them, but I knew that the close day-to-day life and interaction we had would shift.

    One of the things I chose to do was NOT to fill my time. I didn’t want to be busy and distracted. I wanted to feel the change, sadness, and loss. I wanted to adjust to what life was like with just me and Steve and genuinely feel that. I gave myself time to grieve, celebrate, and feel whatever I needed before letting new things in. It was my time of transition. Little by little, the heartache stopped. Then I heard my voice and thoughts for the first time in a long while. The house was so quiet. Because when the girls left, so did all their friends. We had been the hub of activity, and that had stopped.

    As I learned, their leaving the house was just the beginning of many transitions to come. Something similar to the quote you shared is one of my favorites- “Change is the only thing you can count on.” And with that, I learned to lean in, let go, and stay open.

    1. Linda, I think how you handled the transition when your daughters left for college was healthy. As I mentioned in my post, I have twins so I lost two at once when they both went off to school.The silence, the change in activity, and their empty rooms were a painful experience.
      I found that the best way for me to move through this transition was to allow myself time to do it.
      Also, I needEd to talk about it. So, I surrounded myself with supportive friends and family who understood and offered comfort.
      We do learn that life goes on, doesn’t it? Something quite lovely can spring from the other side.

    1. I know exactly what you’re saying, Sabrina. It’s not the year for very much, including vacations. I’m trying to indulge in self care and seeking other ways to bring my days meaning.

  4. I FEEL all of this. I’m a fiercely independent person, and an only child. At 33 and a mom of two, I’m working with my own mom to gently transition into a new phase of our relationship. It’s definitely not easy when you identify so intensely with being a mother. I get it… I cried when my oldest daughter turned 2 and my youngest cut her first teeth. I imagine myself in so many milestone situations, reminding myself that I must let go. We are blessed to have these circumstances. Great post!

    1. Melanie, you are a young mother of two and you have so many beautiful years and transitions in front of you. Change is really hard and it doesn’t matter what the source is.
      I have often found that the other side is much more wonderful than I could have imagined. It’s impossible to grow without some transitions in our lives.

  5. I always say that I love novelty but hate change — flip sides of the same coin where one feels delightful and the other feels forced upon us. I crave predictability with only occasional novelty (and the ability to return to what I know). Transitions are all difficult in their own way, but I can’t imagine how difficult the empty nest experience must be. Thank you for sharing your take.

    1. Transitions can be very difficult. Living with what is comfortable and familiar is so much more soothing. Change is certain to happen to everyone at some point. It’s important to take time to manage it all.

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