Those late summer and early fall months are filled with all things back-to-school shopping, which can also usher in a barrage of emotions for children and adults alike. It is a time that incites growth and change, independence and uncertainty, excitement and anxiety, and pride and worry, to name a few.
It is not uncommon for people of all ages to feel a little lost, wondering where and how they are going to fit in in their new roles and environments, and feeling a little unsteady as they transition into a new Life Phase.
As parents, our lives are often centered around our children’s academic, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual needs: from reading, writing, and arithmetic, to wellness appointments and activities, to birthday parties and Sunday School, to kissing boo-boos and helping heal broken hearts.
One minute we are burning up the highways, breaking up fights, cooking, cleaning, and trying to create healthy, happy, and helpful humans, and the next we’re sitting in a house of deafening silence. For some, it may feel as if your very identity has been stripped clean from your bones.
I distinctly remember feeling a bit of anxiety the year before my youngest entered Pre-K. That’s right—Pre-K. I realized that the first of many “Final Things” was barreling down on me like a freight train. And I remember how worried, isolated, and unloved I felt when my eldest, who’d moved some twenty-four hours away from home to go to college, didn’t return my text messages or phone calls for days. I felt all of this in spite of the fact that I’d begun preparing myself for The Empty Nest three years before he graduated.
As an older parent, many people my age were struggling with identity issues and having a difficult time navigating their quiet, uncluttered homes and schedules. “I just don’t know what to do with myself,” I heard time and again, a resounding cry that seemed to worsen each time the children came home for a quick visit, only to leave again. I knew I didn’t want to feel that way and I knew I wanted to be able to step into my own “When I grow up Life,” so I started a blog and began writing once a week. It wasn’t anything profound, but I was stringing words together, dreaming about my own future, and setting the stage, one that I was familiar with and could expand on when the time came.
Even with that plan in place, I still struggled when my first moved away. Never one to shy away from sharing how I feel, I mentioned this to the Nurse Practitioner at our pediatric office. She smiled and shared how she had been experiencing many of the same feelings and how her husband had helped her find a new perspective and peace. “You raised them to be independent and to take care of themselves,” he said to her, “and you can’t take it all back, now.”
As parents, that is our ultimate goal, isn’t it? To foster independence, self-worth, self-love, critical thinking, and to teach them skills that will enable them to take care of themselves as they become adults.
You are not insane or pathetic or needy, nor any other name you might be calling yourself as you feel like you are coming unglued in the empty, quiet car or house. For starters, you are grieving the loss of a life as you knew it. That, Neighbor, is a bona fide loss event. As with any loss event, your grief may run the full gamut of emotions and will, if you allow it, bring you to a new level of personal and spiritual growth, peace, and fulfillment. Below are five ways to help you transition from feeling The Empty Nest to Filling it back up.
Be what you wanted to be “when you grew up.”
You know that thing, The Thing that you dreamed about, The Thing that sparked curiosity and joy. I wanted to be a writer, so I began writing. Do It. Want to finish that degree? Sign up for a class, or four. Fill your days, nights, and your home with the tools you need to help make your dream a reality. You deserve it!
Chances are good that your friends and other moms in your surrounding neighborhoods are feeling the same way. Stop saying, “We must get together,” and actually SET A DATE. Maybe you have always wanted to start a group of some kind. There is no time like the present!
Take up or reinstate a hobby.
Let’s count the ways our hobbies vanish when our children make their grand appearance. Better yet, let’s count the ways and hours you now have to devote to those fun, frivolous, and downright relaxing times! Dust off that stack of twenty books and begin reading! Always wanted to run a 5k? What are you waiting for?
Chances are you and your spouse spent much time dividing and conquering the many demands that raising well-rounded children brings. You went one way and your partner went another, only to collapse into bed beside one another at night. Get reacquainted! Spend time exploring new ways of enjoying your time together or taking those trips you dreamed of. Snuggle on the couch in your underwear, or not… Rekindling your love and friendship will fill the space to overflowing.
Home. Work. Family. Chances are you have had little time to devote to You, to your self-care. Put ME on your calendar. If your expenses have been reduced, set aside a little of it to pamper yourself. If not, take those walks in nature, soak in a bath, watch Hallmark Holiday movies on repeat, give yourself a pedicure. Whatever helps you relax, rejuvenate, and feel like your best self, build it into your schedule. You deserve it!