For two years, Dr. Margaret Rutherford wrote NestAche, a blog devoted to the turmoil she felt when her nest emptied. Her personal experience adds weight to her advice as a veteran psychologist. The following are some of her insights.
• Anticipatory Grieving: Allow yourself to begin visualizing in advance what it will be like without kids around, not that you begin to live in the future, but to try to accept the change before it happens.
• Relish: At the same time you feel sadness, it’s important to take delight in where you are. Do this by compartmentalizing: give yourself distinct moments when you allow yourself to ‘go there’ and anticipate the grief while mainly staying in the moment and relishing what’s happening real time.
• Weaning From the Kids, Kids From Mom: I see 30 patients per week. If I suddenly stopped, that would feel bizarre. Similarly, a full-time parent has given exponentially of their time and energy. Take baby-xsteps, offering greater and greater independence in small doses.
• Redirect This Fount of Industriousness: Reach forward into your own future using your industry, creativity and perseverance, traits of a parent. It’s not too unlike retirement or other massive transitions where you have to live in both present and future mode as change hurtles toward you.
• Be Smart: For the kids’ sake, resist being in constant contact after they leave and learn how to live without knowing everything that’s going on in their life.
Some kinds of grief will last a fairly long time and our culture isn’t comfortable with that. You may be encouraged to ‘snap out of it!’ but I say that it’s okay to be sad sometimes. Balance your sadness with a drive to rebuild. Focus on what’s good in your life.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Margaret Rutherford is the author of the newly-released Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from Perfectionism, Find Self-Acceptance and Live a Happier Life.