Ten Ways To Adjust To Life With An Empty Nest
Our nest is almost empty. In a few weeks are youngest child leaves for college. Our other four children are out on their own and now the last one is walking out the door. He signed a 12-month lease on an apartment and, as fiercely independent as he is, we know he will likely never move back home. Since his older four siblings are already married we will never, unless unforeseen circumstances occur, have children living in our home again. We will have an empty nest.
This is difficult for me to wrap my mind around. My identity for so long has been wife and mom. Homeschool mom. We have lived with children so much longer than we lived alone, 31 years compared to a few.
Another factor is that we are a very close family. I not only raised five kids, I was also their teacher. We spent a huge amount of time together when they were growing up, right up through their teen years.
So how are we supposed to adjust to this very permanent change?
Preparing for a new baby
When we found out we were going to have our first baby, we started preparing. We painted the nursery and bought the necessary furniture. I sewed curtains, a diaper stacker, baby quilt, and dresser topper. I bought a maternity wardrobe. We went to Lamaze classes and toured the hospital to prepare for birth. We spent 9 months getting ready to expand our family from 2 to 3.
So do we need to prepare for our new reality, our empty nest? I believe we do.
Since our family is spread out, our nest emptied slowly, one child at a time over the past 13 years. Our children have become less visible long before they actually moved out, so there has been opportunity to “practice” being alone again before the real deal occurs. I have had time to think this through and process it over the last few years and have come up with a plan to ease the transition to empty nest.
Here are 10 ways I have come up with to adjust to our empty nest
- Discuss your new life situation with your spouse. Go on dates. Ditch the phones and talk to each other. My hubby and I went away overnight recently just to spend some time together and have an open discussion. We asked questions that led to real discussion like: What is on your bucket list? How would you like your life to change now? How do you see your life in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? We didn’t have answers to all those questions, but we opened the door to ongoing conversations.
- Learn something new. For me, this blog is my something new. I recently read the book, The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin, and was motivated by her story of why she started her blog, what she learned in the process, and how rewarding it was for her. I plan to read books, take a few classes, go to museums. Yesterday I took my daughter and grandson to an art museum to see the Maurice Sendak display. It was wonderful! Learning something new is exciting and helps take my mind off feelings of loss.
- Complete long-term projects. We have 35 years of photos to put in albums. I have been working on it for a few years and am up to 2012, so I only have 7 more years to go and I will be caught up. I am so looking forward to the satisfaction that comes from completing a lifelong goal. And I am getting a tattoo to commemorate the accomplishment. Stay tuned. What projects do you have started that you want to finish? What projects have you never started that are waiting for you?
- Practice old pleasures. Continue to do things your family enjoyed doing together. It may feel like it doesn’t “count” if you do something as a couple that you used to do as a family, but it does count. It is just as valuable to go spend a weekend in a cabin, sit around a fire in the back yard, go biking or hiking as it was when you did it with your children. We may feel sad and lonely when the two of us to do things that we used to do with 7 of us. But we’ve gotten over that hurdle in other areas of our life. It has been many years since all 7 of us went to church together, and we have adjusted to the dwindling number of us in a pew, so we can adjust to this also. What we do as a couple still counts. It strengthens our bond. It says “we are worth it.”
- Pursue a new hobby, individually or as a couple. A few years ago I started quilting. When our local quilt shop offered a class in paper piecing I took it and now have two small samples hanging in my sewing room. More recently, hubby and I began geocaching. We go out in the evening a couple of times a week, just the two of us. It has been a joy to learn something new together and go searching for those little hidden caches, the keyword being together.
- Focus on your health. Make the effort to lose some weight if you need to. Exercise. If you have put your health needs behind everyone else’s needs, now is the time to improve your health. I started a weight-loss journey almost a year ago and am approaching the 30# down mark. I wish I had done it 2 or 3 decades ago, but now is better than never.
- Improve your relationships. Work on your relationship with your spouse, your adult kids, your grandkids, old friends you haven’t had time for. Make some new friends. People are important, so make time for them now. Having coffee early in the morning with one friend keeps us connected, doing lunch with another is our thing, and a trip to a quilt store with my neighbor is our connection. We go to the park to watch our local grandkids play, make the drive to visit our son’s family who live a few hours away, and plan geocaching trips with one of our daughter’s family. Spoiler alert: we are going to Vegas for a week to go geocaching in National Parks.
- Be a good neighbor. Bake cookies for the neighborhood kids. Take a meal to a family when they move in. Stand outside and visit with your next door neighbors. Ask one over for a cup of tea. Mow their lawn when they are on vacation. Walk around and pick up trash in the area. Wave and say hello when you are outside. You will not only brighten their day, you will improve yours also.
- Keep a positive attitude. Think about the benefits of this stage of life. Now that you don’t have children at home you will have to buy less groceries and wash less laundry. No more waiting up for the last teenager to straggle in means you can go to bed early. Or you can stay up late reading if you want. You get to chose.
- Remember, this is temporary. No one calls the 80 year old couple down the street empty-nesters. They just call them the old couple down the street. The empty nest is not a sickness, it is a season. This is another season of change in your life so look up, look forward,and lean into this new life of yours.
While I do admit to feelings of sadness, loss, even uncertainty as we face our empty nest, I also feel a growing sense of anticipation. I now have the time to pursue new hobbies, deepen relationships, complete old projects, focus on my health, be a better neighbor,and learn new things. My husband and I can do the things we could only dream about when we had a full house.
As Robert Kiyosaki said in his book Rich Dad Poor Dad, “I would rather be welcoming change than dreading it.” This new season of “emptiness” may just become our most fulfilling time.
Do you have a plan to transition to an empty nest?