It’s easy to joke about how nice an empty nest is going to be when you’re in the trenches with small children who need constant attention and drain every last bit of your energy on a daily basis. But when that house really is truly empty for the first time, and those messy little faces covered in chocolate and dirt are a distant memory, the new reality can be hard to adjust to.
What do you do with all the time you used to spend caring for your children? How do you learn to put your attention back onto yourself when you’ve been putting so much of your energy into their daily needs for so long? How do you cope with the sorrow of not being the day-to-day parent that you’re used to being?
Feelings of grief and loneliness are perfectly normal when a child leaves home to begin a new, adult life—and it’s a transitional period for them too. They need to learn to be independent, functioning adults; and you need to learn to let them go, confident that you taught them how to do just that.
Your new life is a chance to focus on yourself and to forge a different kind of relationship with your adult children. Take some time to grieve the loss, and then slowly try to embrace and eventually even enjoy the wonderful gifts available to you during this stage in your life.
- Focus on you. Not having to spend as much time on day-to-day caregiving means that you have extra time to focus on your other relationships and your own well being. You can put more energy into your career, cook and eat foods you enjoy without having to take their likes and dislikes into account, take classes you’ve always wanted to try, rekindle the romance you and your spouse enjoyed before children took up so much of your time and space, spend time with friends, travel, and explore new hobbies and activities that bring you fulfillment and joy. You’ve spent 18+ years raising your children, and you deserve to look after you now!
- Reclaim your home. An empty nest means you can reevaluate the space you’re living in, and either move into a smaller, more manageable home or redecorate the newly kid-free areas of your existing home. Changing your space to suit your new needs and hobbies by turning a bedroom into a craft room, an office, or a fabulous guest room is a great way to begin to embrace your new life.
- Enjoy a bit of financial freedom. It’s cheaper to run a smaller household because there are fewer people to buy food for, and fewer people using your water, electricity, and the gas in your tank. That bit of financial breathing room can help you save for a vacation, remodel formerly kid-occupied areas of your home, or explore new hobbies.
- Create a new routine. You’ve been used to working around everyone else’s schedule, but now you can create a brand new routine that works for you. Maybe it’s yoga first thing in the morning, or going to bed ridiculously early, or taking a book to a coffee shop and reading the afternoon away. Enjoy that personal freedom!
- Forge a new kind of relationship with your child. You’ll always be their mom or dad, but now you can connect on a new level. They are starting to experience adult things—paying rent, living on a budget, starting a career—and it’s exciting to be able to watch your child grow and learn as they experience all the firsts you once did. You can still be there with your wisdom and been-there-done that advice, so reach out and make an effort to connect regularly.
- Put your energy into volunteering. Let’s face it—you’re just good at caring for others! Put those skills you’ve honed over the years to good use by volunteering your time to help a charity that’s close to your heart. Visit MyForesters.com to find out about volunteer activities in your area, and to learn more about how to apply for a Foresters Community Grant of up to $2000 that enables you to organize and lead a volunteer activity that’s meaningful to you and your community.
As with any major life change, it will take some time to adjust to having an empty nest. Let yourself feel what you’re feeling, but try to focus on the positive things this change will bring to both you and the little birds you’ve released into the world.
If you feel your grief is lasting longer than it should, or it’s more intense than you’re comfortable with and it’s impacting your day-to-day functioning, speak with your healthcare provider to get some extra support.
417413E CAN/US (12/19)