Category Archives: Empty Nest Syndrome

How Baby Boomers Can Find Themselves Again After Life-Altering Events

Do you feel like you need to find yourself again? Baby boomers can go through a lot of major life changes that throw off your sense of self. Retirement, caregiving, empty nest syndrome, divorce, or the loss of a loved one can change your life forever. 

After my mother’s death, I got a letter from the hospice bereavement coordinator that helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They acknowledged that family members who have spent most of their time caring for their loved ones for months or perhaps years often ask themselves after their death, “Where do I go?” or “What do I do?” 

Finding Yourself

That’s exactly how I felt after my Mom died.

I was the primary caregiver for my Mom who had Lewy Body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that rendered her helpless both physically and mentally. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had – by far. When she passed away last June, I assumed that while I would grieve for my Mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my job was finished and my life could get back to normal.

Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed, and yes, lost after she died. My life, my thoughts, and my feelings had revolved around the care of my mother. I discovered that when your roles change drastically, you lose a sense of who you are. Your self-image is shattered.

This uncomfortable feeling can happen whenever you go through a major change in your life.  Perhaps you’ve recently retired or became an empty nester. After dreaming of all the things you’d do when you had more time after child rearing and working 9 to 5, you feel lost instead.

Remember, although you may no longer be a caregiver, part of a couple, an employee, or full-time parent, you are still 100 percent you. You just need to find that person again. 

How?

Allow Yourself Time to Mourn

GrievingIf you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of sweeping them under a rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.

Whether you lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have lost your lifestyle and identity as well. It’s okay to mourn that loss.

However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You’ll need a network of support. Healing may mean lots of heartfelt prayer, talking out your feelings with a supportive loved one, and/or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy.

Let it Go

As I wrote in my blog, Moving Forward After Adversity, avoid getting stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” feelings that often comes with grieving but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t allow sorrow, stress, resentment, or bitterness to become a way of life.  Take all that negative self talk out of your head like, “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact of the matter is that your life isn’t over; it’s just a new beginning for you.

The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, have a meaningful and productive life, and enjoy living once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from your experiences and prepare yourself for the next exciting chapter of your life.

Moving ForwardRediscover Yourself

It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family and children or elderly parents or nurturing a career. You may have given up a lot of things that you enjoyed. Make time to get to know yourself again.

“To move your life forward, it has to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, M.D. in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Use this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this time in your life as an adventure to explore the real you.”

You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you’re focusing on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and skills and how you can best use them. What truly makes you happy? What really matters to you? What do you feel is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, a married couple, or a parent? What is it that will make you excited to get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals. 

Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun, and joy as a way of rebuilding yourself and your life.

Reinvent Yourself

My life changed overnight and that can be disconcerting. Last summer, we moved into a new home we had built to be closer to my Mom (who unfortunately died the week before it was finished). My husband and I went from being empty nesters to a house full of grown children and grandchildren. Plus, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and begin working again.

It was a tumultuous year in other ways as well. As I’ve shared before, my mother-in-law lost her fight against ovarian cancer and my son began going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.

Let’s get real, between all these events and changes in my life, I was shaken. I felt fragile and fought depression for the first time in my life.

It’s been a journey, but I am beginning to recover and heal. In the process, I’m learning to embrace all the new changes in my life. My new job writing magazine articles does require meeting strict deadlines, but the subjects are fun and it’s exciting work. We are a multi-generational family living together, but I’ve come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through many of the same emotions as I am as he finds his way after divorce and we’ve connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.

So, don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a little.

A few years ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Cindy, who was also a caregiver. In the last few years, she lost her husband and both her parents.

Cindy is my inspiration. Talk about embracing change. She is traveling around the world, went back to school, and moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter and three grandchildren. We went zip lining together for the first time and are making plans to go up, up, and away in a balloon next time she visits.

Embrace Your New Role

You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, the time comes when you make a choice. You can move on and discover possibilities that a life change presents you or get stuck in negative emotions.

Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can move forward, eventually you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know this from experience.

In time, you’ll reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, back to school, or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. You’ll look at the changes in your life in a positive way, feel more confident and in control, and become more productive and optimistic about your future.

The time will come when you will find yourself again, embrace your new role in life, and feel like your new shoes are a good fit. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually, you won’t have to struggle so hard to “make it work.” It just will.

Images courtesy of surasakiStock, Ambro, and renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Finding Happiness as an Empty Nester

What do you do after the last chick leaves the nest?

What do you do after the last chick leaves the nest?

I thought when my youngest son, Christopher, moved out, I wouldn’t be like those OTHER mothers who cry a river and mourn the loss of motherhood. No empty nest syndrome for me!

After all, I had a very full life. My marriage was still going strong with my husband after 30 years, I had recently celebrated the publication of my second young adult novel, a second grandchild was on the way, and we were planning a trip to Germany.

So imagine my surprise when I wasn’t such a big girl after all. As I watched my baby pack up his stuff and move out, I sobbed, wailed, and bawled, all the while lamenting that we women only fully appreciate motherhood once it’s gone. My husband didn’t carry on like me, but I swear I saw tears in his eyes too.

At first, the house seemed way too quiet and empty. But then a funny thing happened. The good news is that like a lot of women today, once I adjusted, it became a wonderful and exciting time of life.

My husband, Scott, and I had quiet time to reconnect with each other. We came to appreciate the opportunity for spontaneous date nights and enjoyed intimate dinners for two at home. We signed up to learn sign language in preparation for volunteer work with the deaf. I had more time to focus on my writing. We both enjoyed our new-found freedom and privacy.

In addition, we found joy in watching our youngest child transition into adulthood. We could see the fruits of our labor realized which was very satisfying and rewarding.

The fact is that “empty nest syndrome” no longer has the same meaning as it did in the past when the term was associated with depression and loss of identity. Today, many women have fulfilling careers and active lives after their children leave home.

Of course, this was my personal experience and I realize empty nest syndrome isn’t the same for everyone. Some parents continue to feel apathy and a sense of loss well after their last child leaves home. This time period can be particularly hard on single mothers who overnight find themselves alone or for those in fragile marriages which have been largely held together by raising children. After spending decades as a parent, it’s not surprising that this change can be difficult. In addition, you may be facing additional challenges such as menopause, retirement, or caring for aging parents.

If you’re having trouble adjusting to this new phase of life, there are positive steps you can take to find your bliss.

  • Start planning for this next stage of life before it arrives. For instance, join a dance class or begin renewing old friendships. Experts agree that keeping busy and tackling new challenges can ease the sense of loss you may be feeling. I’m not talking about drastic changes like selling your house and buying an RV to travel the country or quitting your job to pursue some random wild dream. But perhaps this is the perfect time to make some changes in your career path, go back to school, or volunteer in your community. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, take up painting, or start that novel you’ve been putting off. This may be your chance to follow your passion. (See my article, “Finding and Following Your Passion” for more information.)
  • If you’re married, now that the kids are gone, perhaps you and your spouse can find common interests or hobbies to enjoy together. Maybe you’ll rediscover your love for bike riding or hiking, learn to sail, sign up for French lessons and plan a trip to Paris, take country line dancing lessons, or become certified scuba divers. The door is wide open.
  • Going to the gym may have been one of the first things you gave up after you had a baby, but now that you have fewer obligations you can put exercise back on top of your list. Along with all the health benefits, exercise is a great mood lifter. Join a gym, learn a new sport, try a Zumba class, sign up for country line dancing lessons, or take up jogging. If you have a friend who has recently become an empty nester, you’ve found the perfect workout buddy. Reward yourself afterwards by having a cup of coffee or seeing a movie and you’ll also create social opportunities to get you out of that empty house.
  • If you can’t quit worrying about your child’s well-being now that he or she is out of the home, try setting up a regular schedule to chat for your own peace of mind. Skype is a wonderful tool for staying in touch these days.

If you’re feeling down after your last child leaves home, try some of these tips. Instead of looking at these years negatively, try looking at this time as a unique opportunity to pursue life-enriching, exciting, and fulfilling activities.