It’s over. The boxes are sitting in the hall, and that baby you held in your arms is about to fly the nest.
Everyone’s empty nest story is different. Maybe your children lived with you well into their thirties, maybe your son has just left for university, maybe your daughter is about to buy a home with her partner.
You could be feeling heartbroken at the thought of your children not living under your roof, or you could be relieved to have them out from under your feet. Maybe you’re sad, maybe you’re happy – or maybe you’re a bit of both.
However you feel and whatever the situation, the question now is where do you go from here? How do you work out who you are, and what you want to do with the spare time that an empty nest inevitably brings? What is your new child-free life going to look like, and how do you start to move in a positive direction?
We will all face an empty nest with different expectations, different feelings and we won’t all handle the situation identically. When children enter our lives we are not given a set of instructions (mores the pity) and the same applies when they leave.
Some of the feelings we encounter will shock, anger or confuse us. Some of us may very well be a little bit lost for a while – and that’s OK.
There is no blueprint for this time in our lives, all we can do is look to the women who have walked the empty nest path before us and seek a bit of guidance or comfort.
I have been waking the empty nest road for a few years now and have found ways to not only survive but to actually thrive in my midlife years. We CAN reinvent ourselves, we CAN live a midlife that rocks and we CAN feather our empty nests by living our lives to the full!
I hope my below tips will help you find your own path to awesome!
Seven steps on the road to the new you when you have an empty nest:
1. Allow yourself to mourn – Very few women give birth and immediately think, “I can’t wait for this baby to grow up and move out.” Even if, by the time your children leave home, it’s such a relief that you begin cramming their positions into boxes with gleeful abandon, a child leaving can still feel like a loss.
You may feel guilty for what you believe you did or didn’t do when your children were ‘all yours’:
“Did I always spend as much time with her as I should have?”
“I wish I had watched him play football more often.”
“Have I taught her enough to cope with ‘real’ life?”
“I wish we had talked more.”
An empty nest is an empty nest. There is a deserted room which was once filled, even if you are genuinely glad that your children are moving on in life, or simply happy to have a bit of ‘you’ time.
2. Work through your feelings – Some feelings you encounter will be expected, some will come as a complete shock.
Mothers who have been eagerly planning what they are going to do with the extra time, space and freedom that comes with a child leaving home are freaked out when nostalgia hits. Suddenly the last few years of dirty clothes strewn everywhere, a permanently occupied bathroom and that kind of funky smell that only teenage boys produce (if you have never had a teenage boy under your roof, the best description I can come up with is: if a dirty laundry basket and a muddy field were to have a lovechild, this is what it would smell like) all melt away.
Images of cherub faces, childhood drawing and cherished moments begin to seep into the minds of even the most ardent fans of an empty nest.
In equal measure, mothers who have been dreading the hole that is left in their lives when a child leaves are mortified when glimmers of a rather lovely, child-free future flutter across their loss.
Keep telling yourself that it’s OK to have these feelings. There is no right or wrong way to feel, there is only your way. You may find it helpful to talk out your feelings with friends/family – especially if you know a person who is in the same boat as you. Keep in mind that seeking help from friends/family does not mean that you have a problem or that you are in a deep crisis. Talking out your expected, or unexpected feelings is simply a tool to aid you on your journey to your new life.
3. Rediscover the woman you used to be/wanted to be – Having children undoubtedly means giving up a lot of the things you enjoy, or not having the chance to try out the things you want to. Especially if you have children at a young age. Having a child means abandoning the things that do not fit with motherhood.
Did you love going out, but didn’t have a sitter? Did you have hobbies and activities before your children? What did you defer in favour of being a mother?
In order to move on and rebuild yourself, it’s important to exercise your interest in your passions or even find new ones.
4. Learn to like yourself – Hmm, that sounds a bit cheesy and new agey doesn’t it? Yet it’s important to note that a lot of mothers feel rejected or abandoned when a child leaves home. Your son may be so caught up in his new life that he forgets to call. Your daughter may be so busy redecorating her new home that your mother daughter time has disappeared. This change in the balance of the relationship you have with your child could lead to a whole lot of self-rejection. Don’t sweep these feelings under the carpet.
Have confidence in yourself as a person of worth, and have faith in you! Our relationships are ever-changing and constantly evolving. Not speaking to your child three times a day does not make you a less important linchpin of their life, and it certainly does not mean that they do not love you!
5. Seek a new side of yourself – The period of ’empty nest syndrome’, though often difficult and sometimes unwelcome, does hold a silver lining. Now is your chance to shake up your life and try out new things.
It could be as simple as trying a new sport, having a home facial or taking up a new hobby. Or maybe you have always dreamed of going back to college. Have you longed to move to a new area of the country, or even up-sticks and live in France?
You could throw caution to the wind and simply flit off to Paris. Chances are, you do have some very real obstacles to consider. Do you want to move away from your children? Do you have older parents to take into consideration? Do you have the budget to fund your time abroad?
Although the road you long to trek may be blocked by life’s obstacles, there are always other roads that you can navigate. Don’t throw the baby out with bathwater by rejecting the thought of any change, just because you can’t make every change. In the first instance, you need to look for changes you can achieve, don’t dwell on what’s out of reach.
If the changes you make are constructive and healthy, then how can they fail in making you a better person? So give some thought to who you want to be. Is it the person you were before you had children, or maybe you want to recreate yourself. Is there anything you can do differently in your life to facilitate your change?
6. Learn that it’s OK to be alone – Just because you may spend more time alone, don’t see yourself as isolated. See the alone time as an opportunity to be you, and to express yourself in your own unique way. Feel like dancing as if no one is watching? Go ahead! Want to slob in your PJ’s on your day off? Why not?! Don’t feel like doing the washing? Leave it!
Try to use your alone time in a positive way.
7. Embrace the new you – Change after your child leaves is inevitable; so embrace it! Evolve, become a stronger version of yourself and welcome the new you with open arms. Life is meant to move forward – if you spend your time looking back over your shoulder you’ll end up with a crick in the neck. You will also miss the amazing opportunities that are on the horizon. So keep living your life to the full, keep learning and keep loving. And know that you are remarkable!
Have you had trouble adjusting to an empty nest? Do you have any tips to share with those going through it? Hit the comment section.