No matter how hard you prepare yourself for the inevitable beforehand--helping them pack their bags, or even sharing that last meal together at the table does not prepare you for the inevitable, until you see them walk away.
Knowing ever so well that this is it, things will be different from now on, as you will not always be there to protect or coddle them; rather you have to do all of that from a far, ignoring all those maternal/paternal instincts and just reassuring yourself that you did raise a child that is self-dependent and most of all, old enough to know when to ask for help.
Inadvertently, the house will become quieter, less messy and cooking food will be more for yourself than the finicky eater who makes a face at the sight of vegetables at the table, worthy of a scolding or two (slap on the head is optional) i.e. an empty nest.
When a child leaves the house for the first time, parents, especially women, experience feelings of loss and grief, known more commonly as “The empty nest syndrome.” In general, both parents miss the company or daily interactions with the child which can also be termed as loneliness, and in extreme cases, may also be symptomatic of excessive crying or lack of interest in socialising.
Coping mechanisms to deal with an empty house are far and many. Not all children are the same, and if you have more than one child, you already know how different your relationships with both of them are. A lot has to do with how the dynamic between the child and parent is from the beginning. If the bond is very strong between the child and the parents, do not start venting out how much you miss your child. Keep in mind that this change in the family affects your offspring more than you, as they are possibly homesick, feeling lonely or even scared and just overall under a lot of stress knowing that they are completely on their own now. The last thing you want is them becoming the parent to reassure you that everything is okay.
Remember that they're the ones in a completely new setting spatially, and the last thing you need is your child parenting you. The other polar opposite also does not work; constantly calling them and telling them what they should or shouldn't be doing will just stress you and your child out even more and put a strain on the relationship. As a parent, it is hard not to worry about your children, but “helicopter parenting” from afar does no one any good.
Rather, follow the rule that communication is key, but in prescribed doses.
Regardless of how close you are or aren't with your children, alternate between calling and texting twice a day for the first few weeks. Easier said than done, but they need their own space of mind to figure things out and also get the message that you are just a phone call away if things get out of hand. Eventually, the communication will become a two-way street and as a parent, you will slowly realise that they too are now becoming responsible adults. A moment of pride, a revelation, followed by one happy tear rolling down your cheek, accompanied with a smile.
“Empty Nest Syndrome” does not only affect the parents, but also other siblings who haven't left the house. Encourage them to communicate with the newly anointed adult regularly, and also spend time as a family more, which can simply be a weekend outing, or a Skype call with their sister/brother that they also dearly miss. Misery loves company after all, right?
As parents, you do end up with a lot of free time that was previously denoted to checking up on your child, making sure they do not burn the house down and keeping them in line to avoid jail time. Instead of constantly focusing on the emptiness, shift that focus to your spouse. Rekindle that old flame, start doing things together like you did before; the era of changing diapers and emotional blackmail sagas of who gets control over the TV remote are over. Time to walk down memory lane, buy flowers, cook his/her favourite meal, leave a little romantic note in her wallet and devour entire pizzas watching movies that you both love minus the third wheel!
When your child starts dropping hints regarding future plans of soaring out of the comfy secure nest that you built for them, start making the most of the time. Sharing family meals and outings are important. However, be stealthy about the whole thing, after all, those hormones and unpredictable mood swings can either make or break a memory worthy of being cherished.
From holding them in your arms for the first time, tying their shoelaces, to watching them become hormonal troublemaking teenagers; sooner rather than later, as parents, the realisation sets in that there will come a time when your child will be able to take flight on their own. Dealing with empty nest syndrome is not pleasant and laced with melancholy in every fibre of your being. But think of this transition period as a preparation for a new chapter in not just yours, but their lives as well.