I cried yesterday: a long, ugly cry.

I’m normally a tear shedder when I’m upset, but this caught me a little off guard because I thought I had it together. I didn’t. We sent my first born child off into the world, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: that’s it, our house will never be quite the same.

Even as I write this, I’m torn. Part of me should have expected this kind of upset, I even made jokes about it over the summer. But the other part of me thinks it’s what I’ve been raising him to do, go out in the world and be independent and successful, and I’ve had ample time to get my head around this, I should just be happy and proud. I feel guilty about being sad.

Clicking through social media I see dozens if not hundreds of happy pics and enthusiastic posts from other moms (after all, lots of my friends are mothers of his classmates growing up) dropping their kids at college and I think am I the only one distraught? I can’t be.

I don’t care if you stayed at home, worked full time, are married or single, when your child finally leaves home it is a seismic shift.

“I don’t care if you stayed at home, worked full time, are married or single, when your child finally leaves home it is a seismic shift.”

The last time your life changed this dramatically was probably when you first held that child in your arms. Happy, overwhelmed, overtired, scared, back then you were too busy trying to keep that little bugger alive and happy to have time to dwell on how drastically your life changed overnight. Maybe some time in the toddler years you had time to ponder it a bit, but it’s not the same.

In this instant, you arrive back at your house and the change has created a void. That extra person at the dinner table, bouncing around the house, making messes they don’t clean up, they aren’t there, and it’s quite a bit quieter.

There’s a lot of good advice out there about how to fill that void and move forward and I suggest you read this. But before that happens, I realized what I had to go through was grief.

I was a little disappointed when I looked up some info on grief. This website listed 12 common causes including retirement and selling a house but they did not include your kids leaving home. I think that speaks a bit to how overlooked parents, especially as they get older, tend to be in our society.

But I dug a bit further to see if I had simply misdiagnosed the feeling and when you look at the five stages I don’t think I did. Remember, people commonly bounce around these stages in no particular order. Here’s how I’d say they apply:

Denial: “It’s like he’s going to summer camp, he’ll be back, we can talk whenever we want, nothing will change.” Plus, I’m so busy running errands to get him ready I don’t think about him being gone.

Anger: “This kid is driving me crazy, he never cleans up after himself, he can’t leave soon enough” Most parents I know have been hitting this point with their teens a lot over the past year and I’ve come to realize I think it’s part of the natural process from both teens and parents who know they are going to be moving on soon.

Bargaining: We’ll plan a big family trip to have more time together, we’ll talk every day… Now to be fair, I know there are some kids who talk to their parents every day after they leave the house, but I’m not convinced this is the healthiest option for either party. I probably wouldn’t complain if my kids did, but I’m simply not going to hold my breath.

Depression. This was me yesterday (and a bit today too). But knowing it’s normal helps. I will get past my sadness.

Acceptance. This is where I’m just happy and proud. Don’t get me wrong, I will always miss my son, but the goal is to be comfortable with the new life, and I have faith I’ll get there.

If you’re having trouble getting through this a couple months from now, I’d definitely advise seeking out some help. But if you’re feeling this in the next couple of weeks because your child just left, just know I’m with you. This sucks.

I’m not a wallower, so after my cry I went down to his room to see if maybe I should consider one of these empty nest makeover ideas. He left the light on and hadn’t cleaned his toilet. Thanks for letting me be mom-annoyed at you one last time, kid.

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About Laura Keyes Ellsworth

Laura has been writing and editing for more than 25 years, a fact which more than a source of pride, sends her running to the wrinkle cream aisle of CVS. She has worked for CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg, The Economist Intelligence Unit, and CBS radio. She has three children, and you will either find her thoroughly enjoying their company or yelling at them to clean up after themselves and turn off the lights.

View all posts by Laura Keyes Ellsworth