“Are you going to homeschool through high school?” a curious church member asked when she learned that my husband and I had decided to homeschool our five-year-old.

“High school?” I responded incredulously, “I’m not even sure we’ll make it through kindergarten!”

That was 19 years ago, and not only did we make it through kindergarten by God’s grace, we made it through elementary school, middle school, and high school. Twice. When my eldest daughter graduated from high school and began attending the local university in town, not much changed. She lived at home and commuted to school. Because she was home in the evenings for meals and homework, I only had to adjust to her absence around the dining room table during school hours, and life continued in much the same vein.

When my youngest daughter chose to attend a college three states away the same year my eldest daughter accepted a job in Washington, I faced the empty nest syndrome in earnest. And although my goal for the past 17 years had been to educate my children through high school and into college, I realized I had given little thought to what I would do when that day finally came. I had spent years praying, teaching, and training our daughters in preparation for life after high school, but I hadn’t thought to prepare myself for this new stage of life. I didn’t anticipate the wide range of emotions I would experience when my daughters left home. I wasn’t ready for the changes that would occur in my household, my social life, and my marriage.

In an empty nest, you dust more than you clean. You throw away leftovers instead of never having enough. You turn the radio on for noise instead of turning it down for quiet. You still buy a gallon of milk at a time, but find yourself giving half to the neighbors before it spoils. You frequent Facebook for a glimpse of your college student instead of telling her that she shouldn’t spend so much time posting pictures. You pray more than you work, and find that prayer is the hardest work of all.

It is a different season of life. Not all good, not all bad, just different.

Looking back, I realize that the transition from full-time homeschooling mother to empty nester would have been easier if I had prepared as carefully for my graduation from homeschooling as I did for my daughters’.

One of the first changes that often catches a homeschooling mother by surprise is the wide range of emotions she feels when her children leave home. Many women experience a profound sense of sadness. Although we’ve worked toward this goal for years, the reality of sending a child away to college often produces a depth of emotion very much like the grief we experience when we lose a loved one. And in a sense, we have. Although our children will come home for breaks and summer vacations, we realize that the dynamics of our relationship and lifestyle will never be quite the same again.

Veteran homeschooling mother of three and author of Seven Tools for Cultivating Your Child’s Potential, Zan Tyler was surprised at the intensity of her emotions when each of her children left for college. “There was a deep, deep mourning,” she says. “I can’t explain it, because you’re raising them to launch them. It’s not that you want to hold them back; you’re just grieving your own loss.” When her youngest daughter left home, Tyler admits, “I cried and I cried.” She didn’t just cry for a day, or five days, she says, “I cried for six weeks. And it was the kind of crying that some days I would make it to the couch, and some days I wouldn’t.”

She explains how her husband Joe helped her deal with her emotions. He said, “Okay, today you’re only allowed to cry for 30 minutes.” And then he set the timer. His wisdom and humor helped her grieve in a healthy way. After all, she says, “I’d been doing this for 21 years. I wasn’t just giving up my day job. As a homeschooling mother, everything about my life was changing.”