Why Going Back to College Can Be an Empty Nester’s Best Friend
If your kids just left your house – and left you with an empty nest – I’d like to talk to you a little bit today. First of all, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m now into my fifth year with no kids around the house. I’ve been making the adjustment pretty well, or at least I like to think so.
But I have also had to face some obstacles. I’m writing about them today because I hope that maybe if I do, you will have an easier time than I did in making my transition from hands-on parent to hands-off supervisor of a quiet and empty nest.
- Obstacle one: The belief that education is all for the kids, not for you. You’ve just spent some very intense years encouraging and enabling your kid or kids to learn a lot and prepare for college. Along the way, it’s been all too easy to forget that learning isn’t just for kids. It’s for adults too. It’s for you. And when you enroll in courses, you’ll find just how true that is – and how education can help you put your own life back in balance.
- Obstacle two: The idea that your kids don’t need you anymore. It’s hard to avoid falling into that thinking. After all, you were driving your kids to all kinds of activities only a few years ago. Next, you were driving them to colleges. So it’s only natural to think that now that your kids don’t need you to do that anymore, they don’t need you at all. But that’s not so. In certain ways, your kids need you just as much as ever before. (They need you to pay some bills, but that’s not what I’m referring to.) They need you to find ways to be gracious about letting go, which can be about the hardest thing ever to do. But as parents, we should try to suck it up and show our kids just how independent we can be, and how involved in life. What’s the point, after all, of letting our kids know that it’s a hard transition for us too? Our kids know that already, and they don’t need us to lay any guilt trips on them. I’m talking about acting in a responsible and mature way, which can be quite a challenge.
- Obstacle three: The belief that you’re no longer who you used to be before you had kids. You remember who you were back then. Maybe you were someone who loved to participate in sports, discuss literature, travel, or make music. Now that your kids will demand less of your time, you can get back to some of the activities that meant so much to you before children arrived on the scene. Doing so will help get your life back into some new kind of balance. Taking some online courses can help you reconnect to parts of yourself that you set aside during your years of active parenting.
- Obstacle four: Minimizing the challenges of the transition you’re making. Some parents I know seem to think, “I am now going to be in a great mood, because I have done all the hard work, and launched my kids. This is going to be great!” Some parents really do feel that way, God bless them, but most of us encounter unexpected emotional ups and downs as early nesters. So I think it is a good idea to accept occasional emotional setbacks and sadness as part of the normal process that you are going through. It will feel bad sometimes, but that’s normal.
And don’t’ forget, your kids are probably going through a similar process of separation too. The time will perhaps come when you can sit down with them and reminisce what it was like in the years right after they left home to begin lives of their own. Until that happens, we can at least stay strong, stay centered and, like our kids, turn to learning.
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