Making the Most of your Empty Nest
By Lisa Klewicki, Ph.D.
Carolyn had sent her daughter, Sally, to college over a month ago. Carolyn used to be busy designing sets for Sally’s school musicals and coordinating her daughter’s teen youth group. But now that Sally was no longer home, Carolyn felt detached from her community and worthless. She no longer chatted with other mothers while waiting to pick up her daughter from after-school activities or called other parents to coordinate volunteers for a bake sale after Mass. Carolyn felt lost and sad, but she did not know how to “restart” her life without children.
If you find yourself pondering what to do with your free time and battling the sadness that results from not having any more children at home, you could be suffering from “Empty Nest Syndrome.”
“Empty Nest Syndrome” is the time of transition following the departure of your last child from the family home, whether for college, marriage, or a job in a different town. For many parents, this time of transition can be distressing. The difficulty of adjusting to your changing role as a parent can lead to feelings of sadness, loneliness, and diminished purpose in life.
If you are struggling with Empty Nest Syndrome, know that this stage of life does not need to be a time of suffering. Your children have begun their own adult lives. Don’t miss out on this valuable time of your life. Make it something to look forward to with enthusiasm and excitement.
In order to combat the sadness and loneliness, you need to be healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Health in these areas will strengthen your ability to transition successfully to the next stage of life.
Physical health: First, spend some time reflecting on all that you have accomplished and enjoy reminiscing on the past. You deserve to sit back and relax a bit before jumping into the next set of activities.
Next, talk to your doctor about ways to increase your physical health through regular exercise and examining your diet. Focus on activities that get you moving. This not only helps to build bone strength, but it will also invigorate your body through the release of endorphins, which is a natural way to combat sadness.
Emotional health: Don’t forget to set aside time for your emotional well-being with your spouse and friends. Take this opportunity to renew your marriage and focus on each other’s need to be emotionally close.
Spouses often use this time of couple’s solitude to rekindle their love and romance. You can travel the world without worrying about your child’s entertainment, and you can discuss things that do not involve how to raise teenagers. You will also have more time to focus on friendships that may have suffered while you focused on raising your children. These friendships may be with fellow parents, siblings, or your own parents.
You can also expand your mind through book clubs, cooking classes, art classes, or learning a new language or a new instrument. Do not forget that reinstating a long-past career, starting a new career, or taking your current career to the next level is one way to combat the sadness, loneliness, and lack of direction in your life.
Spiritual health: Your physical and emotional good health should be pursued in conjunction with focusing on and renewing your relationship with God. Spiritually this time can be a refresher for you. Imagine being able to pray an entire Rosary while in deep contemplation, not just a decade while driving to a sports practice. Imagine a holy hour—the whole hour just Christ and yourself. Use this new, uninterrupted time to draw closer to Christ and experiment with different types of prayer. Think about spending quiet time with Christ in the Scriptures (i.e., Ignatian meditation) or praying the Liturgy of the Hours with the Church. Consider learning more about your Faith by attending a Bible study or hosting one in your own home.
Community service is another way to lift your spirits and help you to see the purpose in your life more clearly. Take Carolyn, for example. She has a couple of date nights planned with her husband and is looking forward to their new daily Mass and lunch date on the first Friday of the month. She thinks about how excited she will be to have her daughter home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Carolyn then calls her neighbor, saying, “Hello, Mary—are you ready to go on our walk?” She hangs up the phone, puts on her tennis shoes, and heads out the door with a smile.
For those whose nests are still full, preparing ahead of time can help you to manage your emotions and make sure this is one of the best times of your life.