After 18 years — at least — raising children, it’s understandable to feel a void when they leave home. That feeling of loss and sadness is called empty nest syndrome, and though it’s not a clinical diagnosis, is a real feeling. Some women feel like they won’t survive. But we’ve got news for you: You’ll not only survive, you can thrive.
“An empty nest can feel like it stands still without the energy and chaos of the kids’ daily presence,” Melissa Shultz says. She wrote the book From Mom to Me and says, “Mothers spend so much time getting children ready for [their] next phase, but they forget to prepare themselves. Our children are moving forward in their lives, and we need to do the same.”
Sharon Greenthal remembers feeling like she’d lost her sense of purpose when her youngest child left home. “I used to have 10 things on my calendar at once. I wasn’t ready to have my life slow down as much as it did,” she says. But that slowdown is an opportunity to redirect your focus to yourself.
When Beverly Willett became an empty nester, she decided it was time for a fresh start. Willett says, “I went through a rough divorce that resulted in me having to downsize and move out of my home. When my youngest left for college, I needed a new perspective.” A freelance writer for several years, Willett wanted to write a book, but she felt she never had the time. After a vacation to Savannah turned into a permanent relocation, Willett felt inspired.
“The words just flowed out of me, and I could not stop writing.” She published her first book, Disassembly Required, in July.
How can you make the most of your empty nester? Here are some tips.
1. Start early.
Even before the kids leave home, you should “spend some time thinking about what you enjoy doing,” Shultz says. Reconnect with interests, hobbies, or people who you may have put on hold while you were raising kids.
2. Stay positive.
Transitions are hard, but you pass through them. Greenthal says, “Many talk themselves out of the potential to be happy. But if you are open to it, being an empty nester can be a fulfilling time.”
3. Move forward.
Shultz suggests taking a vacation. We suggest that you at least redecorate. One friend of ours sold her four-bedroom suburban house and moved to a two-bedroom townhome with a city view.
4. Start dating.
Shultz says, “Go out with your spouse and make a pact not to talk about the kids. It may be hard at first but work at finding other topics you are both interested in.” If you are single and put dating on hold because you were too busy taking care of your children now might be the perfect time to get out there.
5. Connect with friends.
Take stock of your friendships, Shultz says, “You may feel you have outgrown some relationships while others will thrive now that you have more time to spend together.” Greenthal started a blog and a Facebook group to connect with other empty nesters. She says, “It made me feel less alone to have a community of people going through the same things.”
6. Remember that you’re still a mom.
Your children don’t live with you anymore, but you will still be part of their lives. Willett just returned from a visit to New York where she had dinner with her daughters. Willett says, “I am getting to know them as adults, and it’s amazing to be in this new phase of our relationships.”
7. Give yourself some time to adapt.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to be happy right away. Greenthal says, “Having an empty nest is as big a change as bringing a new baby home. It turns your life upside down, and you may think you may never figure it out — but you will.”