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How to avoid “Empty Nest” pain when your child leaves

This weekend a wonderful neighbor wrote to me that her son was leaving for college and she was going to have an empty nest, so she was offering to come over to care for our 4-week old daughter. “You could run errands, sleep or go out for dinner. I just want to hold that baby!”

We will certainly take her up on it. It is a win-win. We get some relief and she gets to fill the child-sized hole that she is anxious about. 

The quietness at her home may bring a special kind of sadness. Nearly everyone in their Legacy Interview makes mention of the time when their children left home. As a culture, we don’t categorize “kids going to college” as a pivotal moment, but I am coming to see that “empty nest syndrome” is as life changing as having a child, just in a different way. 

An idea for dealing with “empty nest syndrome”

It has often been said the people that live the longest and happiest lives are those that can get past grief. Children leaving for college may not seem like a moment to grieve, but if you find yourself dealing with the pain of nostalgia, consider recording a time capsule of you (and your spouse) talking about what it was to become a parent.

This is not a difficult thing to do, it just takes a little bit of effort to get started, and then it will flow. Before you know it, you will be done and have something of deep value that also made you feel a lot better along the way. 

How to record your own Legacy Time Capsule:

    1. Find a pen and a piece of paper. It could be in your journal, or it could be scratch paper. The goal is for you to have a place to jot down memories that you don’t always think about, so you may want a place where you won’t worry about if it is in order.
    2. Set a timer for 45 minutes and allow yourself to remember the past you had together. Think about life before children, the days after you became a parent, and the person you developed into as you raised your children. As you think of memories, write down a few words that will help you recall them. 
    3. Put down the pen and paper and give yourself 24-48 hours. You will be astounded by the amount that you will begin to remember as you go through your day(s). Sleepovers, messes in restaurants, long forgotten tantrums and arguments will come to mind. Let them come and go, jot down the ones you want to capture.
    4. Set a timer for 45 minutes and record yourself telling these stories. You can just use a voice recorder or video recorder on your phone. Using your list tell the stories as you remember them. Let yourself laugh and cry as you feel the emotions. Give as much or as little detail as you want. If you want to record memories like these on video consider these tips
    5. Email the recording to yourself. Now that you have the recording of your stories, send it to yourself. Make the subject title something very clear and easy to search for 4 years from now. (example: Memories after Charlie left for college). 
    6. Feel differently now that you have captured these memories. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and I can confidently say that once someone knows that their memories and stories are recorded, it changes how they feel about those memories. Knowing you have this recorded and that you can send it to your child when they complete some major life moment (maybe when they have kids of their own). 

It may seem like a big task, or something you can procrastinate, but don’t. Writing this down will be therapeutic and there is nothing your children will cherish more than their origin stories.  It will help them understand you as a human in a way they likely can’t see right now.

Here are some questions you should consider answering:

  • What was your life like before you brought them home from the hospital?
  • What do you hope they remember about their childhood?
  • What did they talk about when they came home from elementary school?
  • Who was a friend that they really cared about when they were a kid?
  • What was something they did that made you so upset at the time, but now you can laugh about?
  • What do you hope they get out of their education?
  • What made parenting harder than you expected? What made it worthwhile?
  • What makes you proud of them?

If you want to go through this process but the thought of doing it by yourself seems overwhelming, consider hiring us to do a Legacy Interview.  Our interviews aren’t just for end of life, we can create them as a time capsule focused on the parenting part of your life. If you bring your spouse we will get both of you thinking and talking.

When we are done, we will send a beautiful video of you sharing memories of their childhood and your life. It will be a gift they will cherish for the rest of their lives, and it will become more valuable with every passing day. A memory that never fades, will help you get past the nostalgia of the empty nest. 

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