After decades of dinner making, laundry folding, and grocery runs, coming home to an empty nest can induce a very particular kind of melancholy.
With the kids off at school or in apartments of their own, parents are left with a whole in their lives both emotional and logistical. This new phase of life takes some getting used to but it also offers the opportunity to rekindle interests from your past and look ahead to do proactive future care planning. As we age, acknowledging that your children have grown up and left the nest is one of the hardest transitions many of us go through. However, there are ways to get past this point and realign your priorities to focus on yourself, your spouse, and building new relationships with your adult children.
Add Structure to Your Day
There are a few things that you can do straight away that will help you through the early stages of having an empty nest. Putting an emphasis on good habits that provide structure is a great place to start, so think about establishing a daily bike riding routine, focusing on your garden, or getting a personal trainer. Part of being an empty nester is having more time on your hands, and using that time by doing things that make you feel happy or accomplished is an important part of re-organizing your daily life as you enter this new chapter. Getting a pet can also accomplish this, especially if you’re missing the responsibilities that were part of your parental role while your kids were at home. But avoid big changes like moving, retiring, or anything else that will overwhelm this period. It’s a big change to have your children reach the point of being (mostly) self-sufficient, and you shouldn’t attempt to mask the feelings you have or cover them up by making drastic changes. Give yourself, and your family, the time and attention needed during this adjustment period.
Are you feeling like you have a better handle on things now? Are the pangs of worry less frequent? Does the site of your kid’s bedroom, now clean and organized, provide some relief along with the melancholy? Good. A big part of being an empty nester is feeling that your role as a parent is over (it’s not, even though it might feel that way sometimes) as your kid goes out to begin their life in the world beyond your home. But you’re beginning a new stage of life as well, and for the first time in at least 20 years you can prioritize the things you want to, and think of others second.
Explore New Activities
So what will you do? You could take a class or two, pick up a new hobby, or even go back to school. You can reconnect with your spouse, enjoy the parts of your relationship that may have been strained with a house full of kids. And all those places you wanted to visit but couldn’t fit into school vacations? Now’s the time to take advantage of shoulder season prices and go.
You may find that once your kids leave town, your interest in the committees and meetings and clubs that felt so intrinsic to raising them don’t hold your interest anymore. Forget about the school board meetings, the town soccer league, and the dance studio fundraisers if you want to, and replace them with new groups. Embrace the new opportunities that being an empty nester comes with and add new dimensions to your community. Join a book club, or volunteer at a local charity, or do pro-bono work with local businesses.
And embrace the new friendships that come with this expansion. One of the things we enjoy most is when new residents and members of our communities really dig into new friendships when they’re based on mutual interests, past experiences, and compatibility as opposed to what team your kids are on, or what your opinion of a certain school regulation is, or what committee you volunteer on. As your child moves through life, don’t forget that you are, too.