Empty Nest Approaching? 4 best ways to ease the losses
Here in the US, spring is definitely in full swing and we are approaching the summer months. It’s is a time of growth, renewal, and transitions. When we’re young, the transition of spring into summer is exciting! Knowing that summer break was just ahead gave us something to look forward to!
As parents in midlife, this time of year can be hard. The approaching summer months might mean that your children will soon be leaving the nest. If an empty nest is right around the corner for you, you probably have some feelings bubbling up.
Empty Nest: It’s not a diagnosis, but it is an actual syndrome.
When I was young and it started getting nicer outside, there was a feeling of excitement and I just wanted to get out and and take a drive in my car with the windows down and the radio blasting. But, as a mom with a child about to be leaving the nest, it was a time filled with difficult emotions.
Days filled with an underlying anxious feeling, moments of total sadness, nights lying awake worrying. As a mom during this time, you are not only helping your child to navigate their own transitions, but you are experiencing strong feelings related to your own.
It’s not a diagnosis but it is an actual syndrome. It’s called the Empty Nest Syndrome. The Mayo Clinic calls it “a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” Even when the first child leaves home, it’s difficult. It’s a step away from the old days and a step towards the new, towards change.
What makes it so hard? Well, there are a few things. Besides the fact that change in itself is hard. There is loss, which can be pretty tough, if not downright painful.
The 3 Losses of an Empty Nest
1. Loss of company/companionship
For many parents, children are more than just the people we love and care for; they are like friends. They are the people we hang out with. We have “our things” that we do together, which might be watching a show on Netflix or a sharing a family meal.
We have special relationships with our children. We have inside jokes and we tease and pick on each other like no one else does! These are the people that we are closest to. (Not gonna lie – I’m about to cry just writing this.)
2. Loss of that daily interaction/being involved in their lives.
Let’s not kid ourselves, our teenagers don’t share everything with us, and they share less and less the older they get. But being away from home makes it easier for them to share even less; it kind of sets the stage for us not being involved. There are fewer opportunities for interaction so it makes sense that we won’t know what’s going on with them day-to-day.
What did he have for breakfast? Did she stay up late? Was he stressed out about a test or upset by a situation with a friend? Did something exciting happen? If we don’t talk on the phone every day, and ask all of these questions (i.e., annoy them or intrude), we won’t know. And, that feels like a big loss.
3. Loss of purpose
I believe that for many women, becoming a mom is the first time that they feel they really have a purpose. For me, it was finally a REAL purpose. And that purpose was huge – taking care of a human being that totally relied on me for survival. Yes, an actual purpose.
Additionally, parenting consumes the lives of a lot of moms. Sometimes, moms lose themselves or forget that they can do other things and try other activities. It is a huge job and it can certainly feel like there is no time left for anything else. That was pretty much me (for a variety of reasons).
So, when a child is getting older and the time for him or her to leave the nest is approaching, it’s natural to feel a loss of purpose. As mom, your purpose was to take care of them, to arrange things for them, and to be there for them. Your own growth was more about how to do better at all of these things, rather than how to do OTHER things not centered around mothering. Think about all the parenting books and magazines you’ve collected!
So what can we do now?
So, what can we do now to navigate these major life transitions and be ok with a life that doesn’t include day-to-day mothering? How do we get through the feelings of loss?
1. Feel & Cry
Yes, cry. It’s ok! I used to try to avoid feelings so I wouldn’t cry, because I believed that I would just stay in that sad place; I even felt like I might not be able to stop crying. Allowing yourself to cry is a way of validating that it IS sad when your children leave. It can be very sad and bring about a lot of difficult emotions. Read more about feeling your emotions here.
Avoiding these feelings makes it seem like they are negative or bad. But, it’s normal (remember, all feelings come and go). Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to feel the loss. Losses deserve to be grieved. Once this happens, you can more easily move forward and be more apt to feel the “easier” feelings of excitement and happiness for you and your child.
2. Connect & Open Up (or Share)
Stay in touch or reconnect with friends. Or, even make new friends. Just don’t alienate yourself. If you’re feeling lonely, chances are others are too! A lot of the time, I think “I’m the only one” feeling a certain way (afraid, alone, unfulfilled, anxious, etc.), but I know that is not true.
Others feel the the same – sometimes exactly the same – as I do! It’s comforting to know you’re not alone in these struggles and being with friends alleviates the feeling of losing your companions. Having your feelings validated by friends and other moms really helps. You’ll find yourself laughing together about all the craziness that life – and life with kids – brings.
3. Learn & Grow
So, you feel like you’ll have no purpose anymore? I get that! With the responsibilities of day-to-day caretaker significantly decreasing, yes, you will want to find something to take the place of that. Especially if mothering was your main focus. I can tell you, it’s easier than you think it might be.
When the time is coming for the children to be leaving, you will automatically begin thinking about things you want to have more of in life, or things that you’ve wanted to try, but haven’t taken the time to pursue previously.
And, what you think about will start showing up in your life. It’s just like when you buy a new car and you’re all focused on and excited about your car and then you see these cars everywhere.
For example, you start thinking about ways that you can get those creative juices flowing, you will start noticing ads or flyers about classes or, groups, run across lots of ideas while browsing Pinterest. If you are thinking about adding more physical activity to your life, you will be more likely to find opportunities related to fitness or movement.
When you get involved in these things that peak your interest, you will also find like minded individuals who can be a part of your social support system as well!
4. Take Time for You
You’ve always put the children first. Now, it’s time to put YOU first. You always took care of others. It’s time to take care of YOU. Adding self care into your routine will be easier because you will have more free time. Taking better care of YOU will make you happier, which will lead to more confidence and courage, and will in turn lead to finding more things in life that you enjoy – new things that you may never have thought about before.
How you take care of you will depend on your own preferences. Some of us might choose to spend more time reading books, some may take up meditation, some may sign up for aquacise classes (me), some may start a yoga practice, some may become an activist or volunteer their services for a project that has a personal meaning.
The losses from an empty nest are real, but it can and will be ok.
Change itself is hard and change, combined with loss, can be crippling. Allow yourself to grieve the losses, be gentle with yourself. Fill some time with social activities, start thinking about things you would like to pursue or try, and practice self care, whatever that means to you.
You may be done with the day-to-day caregiving, but parenting never ends totally. Our kids will always need us. Think of how often you needed your mom, even after moving out of your childhood home.
Leave a comment below and let us know how you’re feeling about an impending empty nest, or what you’ve done to manage your own empty nest if that’s already happened for you. It’s so important for us to support one another as we navigate these midlife changes and pursuits!
P.S. I created a few worksheets with Journaling Prompts to delve into some things that can help you Love Your Life again. Get your free download by signing up here!