Empty nest syndrome is a real thing. But it's not necessarily a bad thing.
It's been two years since my second child graduated high school with honors.
He is an amazing young man with a mind of his own and a big heart.
I recall as I sat on the back row among an ocean of other parents watching their children walk the stage I could feel the moment of life-pivot not only for these graduating seniors but for all the women who watched and cheered as our babies received their diplomas.
I can remember the day he was born with such vivid sensation it was hard for me to grasp how he was leaving the nest.
It is a mix of emotions but mostly incredible joy because I know I've done my job preparing him and encouraging him to be the independent young man he is today. It is not sadness that brings tears to my eyes, rather, a moment of recognizing that a chapter of my own life has come to a close as my son is standing on the edge of the nest about to take flight.
As a counselor and coach, I work with a lot of women who feel lost after their children leave home. Empty nest syndrome hits hard.
When your identity and role in life has been care-giving mother to your children for so many years it can be challenging when suddenly there are no baby birds to care for. This is an ideal time to discover who you are outside of this role of mother and care-giver.
Here are some key questions I am asking myself today. I encourage you to consider these questions for yourself:
- What did I love to do before I had children? For me, it was theater, singing and writing. Though I write for my work as a coach, instructor and counselor, I used to write fiction and poetry. I plan to get back to that. Soon. And I would love nothing more than to get back to acting and singing on stage. That took a backseat when babies were born. What about you? What might you return to now that your kids are growing out onto their own?
- Do I still love this nest or is it time for a change? We still have one more kid to see through high school so we will likely stay in this house another 3 years but with both my sons soon off to college living in their own house (together by the way... isn't that great that brothers choose to live together in college?) I have two vacant bedrooms and reconsidering the nest. How can I make this nest more conducive to my new stage in life? I'm converting one into an office of my own. You might consider if it's time to downsize or move to the beach or the mountains. Where have you dreamed of living? If you choose to stay, is it time to remodel? redecorate your nest?
- How will my kids and I stay connected? What is my role now? In my case, my sons are both going to college close to home so we've agreed to designate Mondays as family dinner night. This way I can ensure they get at least one healthy meal each week and I get to hug their necks regularly. I've noticed over the past 3 years since my first son moved out on his own that when he comes to visit, my role is no longer authoritative parent (well, sometimes... but it is fading more and more as he is now 21). Our roles with our young-adult children can and should shift to open-minded listener. They are at a stage in their development where they are seeing the world through new eyes of independence and they typically have opinions about things. It's important to allow them their opinions and just be happy to see them. They need to know we are here for them but we need not load them up with unsolicited advice.
- How's my marriage? Oh yeah! That guy! This is a great time to reconnect... There is more time and space in life now to turn toward your spouse and rediscover the flame that brought you together in the first place. Yea!
- How are my finances? Fortunately my oldest son is fully independent and my second son has an 80% tuition scholarship to college and has a job of his own so they aren't sucking me dry in this department. I know a lot of parents at this stage are feeling the pinch of the higher education bills. It's a good time to hunker down and take a good look at the bank accounts, retirement funds, investments, expenses and re-evaluate. What can I do without now? Where might I cut back? Where would I like to spend?
- Where am I with my career? For a lot of women I work with, after the kids leave the nest they are just beginning to develop a career outside of primary job as mom. For some women, like myself, who have had long established careers outside of the home and child-rearing job, it's time to reassess where we feel most passionate and where we feel tired. Will retirement be an option? Partial retirement? Career change? My own work continues to evolve year to year morphing and shape-shifting and as long as I am tuned into my heart and desire to be of service I am confident I will be led to what's next. What about you?
I see this time in life as one ripe with opportunity for celebrating a job well done as we watch the kids leave the nest and a time to begin anew and consider who we are aside and apart from child-rearing mother. We will always be mother to our children but our role there changes and it's actually feeling quite exciting to me as I consider the possibilities.