Ten years ago, I was whining and complaining about how I needed more space for my home office and how my wife and I were tired of subdivision living. Our youngest, John, had flown the coop a few years before, so we were the proverbial empty nesters. In a moment of grace, my wife and I looked at each other and wondered, “Why don’t we move? Why don’t we buy a home that meets our needs, not our children’s?” Five months after that epiphany moment, we moved into our present home, which we have enjoyed immensely.

I recently interviewed author Bobbi Chegwyn on my podcast, Raising Daughters, about her book, The Post Nest Plan Book: For Empty Nest Moms Wondering ‘What’s Next?’ It’s interesting that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to prepare our young adults to launch out of the nest, yet don’t prepare ourselves for this vexing transition. My old mentor, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, introduced the concept of touch points years ago to describe the emotional roller coaster that accompanies big leaps in development for children and adults—think the stage of autonomy known as the terrible twos, the fears exhibited by 5 and 6 year olds, middle school and puberty, high school and college seniors, the months prior to your wedding or having your first baby, menopause, losing our parents. And, the empty nest.

I counsel tons of high school senior girls and their parents because of intense arguments and power struggles. Teens are experiencing feelings of loss, fear and uncertainty about their transition away from home as they anticipate going off to college. And it truly is a loss, a grieving process as you move away from your support system. Parents, in parallel, are going through their own grieving process when any of their kids leaves the nest, but especially the last one. Feelings of sadness, anxiety, regret and loneliness are all normal and only cause problems if we ignore them. The old expression, “What’s unexpressed becomes unmanageable,” fits here. Most teens and their parents don’t like to express these feelings so they get stuffed and then resurface as anger and fighting.

Chegwyn encourages parents to begin the process of coping with the empty nest when their child is in the 11th grade. Decluttering your home allows you to let go of things that no longer serve you and to create space for what works for you and for new beginnings. She also emphasizes the need for us all to find new ways to fill important needs such as love and connection, significance, variety, growth, contribution and purpose. So much of our focus, time and energy during child-rearing years are about our kids. When the last child leaves the nest, we need to take self-inventory about who we are now, what kind of person we’d like to become, how we’d like to contribute to life, what we are passionate about and how we can find connections since we won’t be up at school and in the stands at games. Empty nesters need to ask themselves questions like “What is most important to me now? How can I experience it in new ways? What’s next?”

Coming to terms with the next leg of your journey is a process that I hope you do consciously. You have new opportunities and choices, and you are in charge of your story. I also strongly believe that all along the way, parents need to make couples time a priority so that when junior leaves the nest you don’t find yourself looking at your spouse and wondering, “Who are they?” I disagree with the old axiom that when our children come home on breaks from college, they want their parents to be in the same marriage, in the same jobs, in the same house and to “Not change my room!” Well, actually I do want you in the same marriage. But it is vital that you create the life you want to meet your own needs and desires. Not only is it vital for your growth and happiness, but it will also model how to go through transitions and times of change and uncertainty with you in charge.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a Behavioral Pediatrician who counsels girls aged grade school thru college. Listen to his weekly podcast, Raising Daughters, to gain information on raising strong, resilient girls. For more info on Dr. Jordan’s retreats, summer camps and books visit drtimjordan.com.