Advice | Carolyn Hax: What will this parent do after the kids graduate and move out?

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am super blessed to have two pretty good teens in the later high school years. In this stage of parenting, I am finding myself with more free time (they drive themselves, don’t want to hang out with me so much, have healthy social lives, etc.) and realizing how different things will be when they both leave the nest.

And this scares me a bit. I don’t remember exactly who I am without carpools and youth sports and school. Most of the other parents I’m around either have a giant post-kids bucket list and can’t wait to get started on it, or are super sentimental and not looking forward to moving on. I don’t have a bucket list, and I am also working not to be overly emotional over a positive and natural progression.

I realize I am going to need to rediscover myself and get a life of my own. I guess I’m looking for someone to just tell me I will survive this transition and find a new me. And I feel bad for asking this, knowing I am in a lucky spot, but I feel like the next five years are a total blank — what do I do after work once they launch?!

Empty Nest Anxiety: Anything. And, yeah, the blank canvas is always the scariest part of the project.

But if all you want is assurance that you’ll get through it, then, thanks for the softball question. You’ll manage. Because it’s either that or unravel, just as it was when you brought your first child home for the first time, and you had no idea what you were doing and no ability to even peek around the corner to see how it would all end up.

That’s really it, isn’t it? We never know what’s coming — all we know, from experience, is that when it comes, we’ll figure something out. It’s with varying degrees of success, but that’s also okay. The figuring out is part of why life is so rewarding.

· Empty nest is WONDERFUL. Okay, it’s not all roses. But you will have time to do stuff just for yourself, just because you feel like it. Remember all the things you stopped doing because you no longer had time? Pick just one to start.

· Please, I beg you, begin preparing now. Hobbies, journaling, a schedule of friend lunches or day hikes. Yoga. Gardening. Traveling. Or whatever. Dust off those long-ago dreams. Did you want to be a writer? A painter? Birdwatcher? Stand-up paddleboarder? A chef? What did kid-you want to be and do? I see so many parents (usually mothers, thanks to the gender roles we’re shoehorned into) lose the plot when their kids leave for college.

· I just sent my oldest off to college three time zones away. I was dreading saying goodbye at the airport for days, and indeed I did tear up when I hugged him goodbye.

But once he was gone, I was able to reflect and realize what it meant. He earned every bit of his admission to this university, and though I miss him, I am thrilled for him. He called me this morning for some advice, and I told him that if I didn’t hear from him, I would just assume things are going great. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

· Just a brainstorm for this mom. “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron revolutionized the direction of my life. I can’t recommend it enough for someone starting anew. You don’t have to consider yourself an artist, but tapping into your innate creativity is so clarifying.

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