The solo parent’s bond with a child can be incredibly strong– for many reasons. Maybe the child spent more time with one parent, or there’s a loss due to the death of a parent that has created a crucial connection. So, what happens when that child grows up and leaves the nest? Does a solo parent’s empty nest syndrome hurt more?
I received a message from a solo mom whose daughter is going off to college. She spoke about the feeling of loss in a way that hit me hard. I’m not there yet– my kid is in middle school– but her daughter is leaving the nest. “I feel like I’m losing my right arm,” she said. I’m going to address this type of grief in this episode and look at how we cope with different levels of grief in a few episodes here, because people in our tent of divorced, widowed, blended and solo-by-choice families deal with grief with a frequency and intensity that parents in traditional families don’t necessarily have to.
In this episode, we talk about…
[0:43] The solo parent’s relationship with grief
Grief is a guest that pops in at the most inconvenient times. It’s a slippery subject, because just when you think you’re done with it, it pops back up and slaps you around. Those of us who are parenting as widowed, divorced, solo by choice, and stepparents have a relationship with grief that other parents might not experience.
I received a message recently from a solo mom whose daughter is getting ready to go to college this year. This mama is overcome with the grief of losing her best friend, her helper, her baby – she said it felt like losing her right arm. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this is real grief, even though the occasion of her daughter’s moving out is for all the best reasons. Being able to send a child to college is the ultimate dream of many hardworking solo parents, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt to see them go.
Sometimes when good things happen, you can feel guilty about any negative emotions that surface. A kid leaving home can definitely trigger feelings of grief related to a divorce or a death, so don’t be surprised if old feelings arise. To help my solo parent tribe, I’ve put together some tips for getting through the pain of saying goodbye – whether your child is heading off for a weekend with the other parent, going to camp, or leaving for college.
[2:38] Becoming aware that you are experiencing feelings of loss, and taking time for self care
This awareness around your feelings might require some time and space. One way to boost your awareness is documenting your fears, feelings, and anxieties in a journal. Get them on paper or on the computer and out of your brain. Journaling gives your inner voice a chance to expand. You have the opportunity to get to know yourself, and it can be a therapeutic way to see your progress through challenging times.
When you’re grieving, it is often a good time to engage in self-care. Self-care can be anything from focusing on breathing and mindfulness, to replacing a negative thought pattern with a mantra. It can involve getting out to spend time with friends, checking items off a to-do list, dressing up, or organizing your house – anything intentional that fills your cup.
I’m not wagging a finger here, but I know when I feel grief hitting me like a ton of bricks, I need to fight the urge to indulge too much. Eating less sugar, drinking less caffeine, and replacing it with foods that are prepared mindfully can help bring my body into balance. And I know this is a tough one, but cutting back on regular alcohol consumption can help steady the mood and the mind.
[4:58] Being proactive
When you have energy, I recommend being proactive. When I asked the mama I was talking about earlier what she was doing to cope with preparing for her empty nest, she said she was leaving lots of notes for her daughter. She was hiding them so her daughter would find them when she unpacked at school, and she sent her daughter some presents that would remind her of home. She even gave her daughter a mug that says ‘Call Your Mom’ and a recipe book for desserts she can make in the mug now that she wasn’t there to make brownies. Planning ahead for these things made her feel better, and I know her daughter will love the sweet surprises her mom thought of for her.
[5:41] Getting enough exercise
The body holds on to a lot of emotion, so be sure to get enough exercise. Circulation and releasing endorphins will help you to be able to release tension and relax. This is especially important because, when you’re grieving, you need to get your rest.
You can exercise on your treadmill or bike in the basement, but I suggest making time to get outside as well. You can walk and talk with a friend, or call your therapist while you are outside. Research shows that being in nature can ease anxiety and help you to unwind.
Awareness of your grief is one thing; acceptance is another. It might take some time to get to a place of acceptance, but it will feel so good when you get there. You will feel settled and calm – even if it’s only for a moment, enjoy that moment and remind yourself that there will be more and more moments like that over time.
[6:49] Taking it one day at a time
All we have is today. Take it one day at a time. Breathe, cry, laugh, and know that you are an amazing parent. I, for one, am really proud of you.
Whether saying goodbye for a few days, a month away, or for a semester at school, when a kid leaves a solo parents’ home, it’s a meaningful event. You don’t need to combat the feelings. But easing into acceptance of the situation will help you spread your wings, Solo Nation, while your kids are spreading theirs.