Finding Happiness as an Empty Nester
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.