Once we become parents, we are parents forevermore. our identities change perceptively the moment Mother Nature inaugurates us as mum or dad. Yet the role we undertake when we welcome children into our lives is not a fixed one. As children move from one phase of their lives to the next, parental roles change. When these transitions involve a child gaining independence, many parents experience an empty nest feeling. Instead of feeling proud that their children have achieved so much—whether the flight from the nest refers to the first day of nursery or the start of college—parents feel they are losing a part of themselves. However, when approached thoughtfully, this new stage of parental life can be an exciting time in which mothers and fathers rediscover themselves and relate to their children in a new way.
As children earn greater levels of independence, parents often gain unanticipated freedom. Used to being depended upon by and subject to the demands of their children, parents sometimes forget that they are not only mum or dad but also individuals. As the nest empties, parents can alleviate the anxiety and sadness they feel by rediscovering themselves and honouring the immense strides their children have made in life. The simplest way to honour a child undergoing a transition is to allow that child to make decisions and mistakes appropriate to their level of maturity. Freed from the role of disciplinarian, parents of college-age children can befriend their offspring and undertake an advisory position. Those with younger children beginning school or teenagers taking a first job can plan a special day in which they express their pride and explain that they will always be there to offer love and support.
An empty nest can touch other members of the family unit as well. Young people may feel isolated or abandoned when their siblings leave the nest. As this is normal, extra attention can help them feel more secure in their newly less populated home. Spouses with more leisure time on their hands may need to relearn how to be best friends and lovers. Other family members will likely grieve less when they understand the significance of the child’s new phase of life. The more parents both celebrate and honour their children’s life transitions, the less apprehension the children will feel. Parents who embrace their changing nest while still cherishing their offspring can look forward to developing deeper, more mature relationships with them in the future.
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