Empty Nest, Redefined: It’s time to rediscover who you are.

I recently read an interview where a celebrity spoke about her children leaving home.  One of her friends asked her if she now had an empty nest, and her response was perfect. “No,” she said. “Because I’m here.”

Even when all of your children have left home, your house isn’t empty – you’re still in it.  But for many women, especially those who were stay-at-home moms, when the last child leaves, it’s a sad and emotional time. Women mourn the loss of being an active mom.

It is bittersweet, but it is also so many other things. It means you did a good job. Your kids are launching and moving out into the world. This can be a time of growth for you as well. Although it may not be easy, it’s time to put a positive spin on the empty nest.

 

Rediscover Yourself

For years, your whole identity was about being a mother. Now it’s time to explore who you are. That could mean trying a new hobby, taking a class, volunteering or going back to work. Or, you could choose to travel more or spend more time with your spouse.

It’s also a time to consider strengthening your friendships. For example, I know of a group of women who get together weekly for Empty Nest Wednesday. They talk, play board games and enjoy each other’s company.

Whatever you choose, make the most of this time in your life and focus on creating a new sense of self, one that is separate from being a mother. If you don’t have anything to occupy yourself, this transition can be really hard.

 

Managing negative thoughts

While men also experience loss when their children move away, it’s usually harder for women. Typically, more of the domestic responsibilities fall on us, so there is more to grieve. But don’t isolate yourself. The more you get out and live your life, the better you’ll feel. There are several things you can do:

  • Talk to a therapist who can help you process your loss. You’re grieving the loss of your role as the primary caregiver, and working with a therapist can help you move forward.
  • Find ways and things that fill you up and bring you joy. Whether it’s exercise, taking a class or going to a concert, go do it! Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself.
  • Reconnect with old friends.  Your relationships with other moms may have fizzled out as your kids got older.  Now is the perfect time to reconnect since they can probably relate to how you’re feeling.
  • Set small daily and weekly goals. For example, take daily walks outside and make a weekly goal to reconnect with friends and family.

 

What to know when grappling with an empty nest

  • You aren’t expected to pretend everything is fine. If you’re sad or struggling, tell someone. We find comfort in sharing. Tell others when you’re feeling down and having a hard time.
  • It’s time to let your child grow wings and fly. This a healthy development in both of your lives. You did a great job, and now they need to experience life on their own. Of course you miss them, but give them space to separate.
  • It’s still about them. Your children are building their own lives, but they’re still your children.  Don’t give them a guilt trip to call you more. If you miss them, call and ask how they’re doing!
  • There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s okay to experience all of the feelings associated with grieving. But if you think your sadness has gone on too long, see a therapist for help.

 

Women can prepare for an empty nest

Our society conditions women to be caretakers in the name of motherhood.  While we feel valued for self-sacrifice, who do we become when our kids leave the nest?  It’s not only healthy to strive for balance and be multi-dimensional as a mom, but it serves as a healthy model for our kids as well.

It’s always a good idea to be well rounded and not have your identity wrapped up in one thing. How can you do this if you’re a stay-at-home mom? There’s nothing wrong with asking your partner to stay home with the kids while you go to an art class. You can put your kids first, but you also need to take care of yourself. We have more to give when we’re able to take care of ourselves.

 

Let’s celebrate this milestone

Instead of only focusing on the sadness, I encourage you to celebrate this milestone. You can mourn the loss of children in your house, but take the time to celebrate your accomplishments as a mother. Your children are becoming adults. Yes, it’s bittersweet, but it’s also a new chapter in everyone’s life, including yours.

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