While stationed in Guam with our young family, I met a couple whose three older children were all back in the states: they were attending college, married, or living on their own. They now found themselves a very different family with their last child at home. Looking at my own small children, I had a little flash of foreshadowing as I tried to wrap my brain around how difficult it would feel to be literally half a world away from one’s young adult children. Over the next several years, I witnessed several friends dealing with the same scenario and saw how difficult the separations were—for the parents and the kids.
As the years passed and we continued to move, the thought became a reality. When we moved from Germany to the Pacific, one of the hardest days of my life was leaving our oldest child at his college in Texas en route. (Let’s just be real for a moment: I cried myself to sleep for two weeks.). Aside from the normal emotions that coincide with the first one leaving the nest, it was made worse by the fact that we’d be so far away and wouldn’t see him for some months. Today finds us on the East Coast with that young man now serving in the Air Force himself and our second son in Hawaii, finishing college. Who knows what paths our youngest two will take?
One of the most surprising aspects of the long-term military service my husband (and by default, me) has embraced is how difficult it would prove to have our own children begin scattering around the globe. We’re tight knit. The paradox of a military family moving often is that you become extremely close as you typically don’t have extended family nearby to rely on, not to mention all the shared experiences that military life throws at you. The flip side of being tight knit is that the “brats” really do grow up to be free thinking and independent because they’ve honed those skills to adapt to new situations, separations from the active duty parent, and being the new kid more times than they can count.
Whether you’ve made the difficult decision to allow your high school senior to stay behind with friends so they don’t have to relocate during their last year of high school or you’re facing a move in which an older child or two of yours will not be going along for the ride, know that you’re not alone. Here are a few issues we dealt with that might resonate with you as you face the beginnings of an empty nest:
Your family will look different. When we made the first move with half of our children, the empty spaces at the table and the weirdness of figuring out what to do with bedrooms we no longer needed proved unsettling. (Not that there weren’t some upsides. We no longer needed billeting for six, only four. And we could all fit into a rental car.) Looking at a house was different as we didn’t have the same need for space. While it felt for a long time that our family was no longer “complete,” over time we adjusted to the new us. Part of children growing up is us accepting it. This may seem obvious…but when you’re close to your children, this is done in fits and starts; it’s not a smooth transition!