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Nine Things to Do When You Have an Empty-Nest

The day that all older women told me about arrived recently…my fourth and last baby has graduated from high school and will quickly be out on his own. While endlessly carting around four littles seemed like it would never end…it did and rather quickly too. The author and podcaster, Gretchin Rubin, frequently quips, “The days are long, but the years are short.” That is a perfect description for the speed of going from a full nest to an empty-nest.

Amen and amen, sister.

I’ve been someone’s mom for 25 years and a stay-at-home mom for 22 years. I home-schooled for 16 years. I cannot really recall what life was like before kids. My spouse and I married two weeks out of college and just 21 months later, had our first fantastic child. We’d only lived on our own for 3 months.

There’s just not a lot of “just us” history.

An Odd Coincidence

When I first became pregnant I remember running down to the main office of my job at the time and sharing the great news. The receptionist replied that it was sad because I couldn’t get passed out drunk again. (Quick note: I’ve never been that drunk nor ever desired to be.) Not to be beat, 25 years later while bemoaning the idea of an empty-nest, an acquaintance reminded me of the freedom I’d have to day drink more…again, not an idea I’m wild about.

Other than drinking, what am I suppose to do?

Because I am ever-curious learner and a voracious reader, I came across a lot of great articles regarding the end of the “Endless mom” era and the beginning of the “As-needed mom” phase. They all had one thing in common…there is no one way to feel about being an empty-nester.

1. Feel the Feels of the Empty-Nest.

Do not ignore how you feel…all the emotions at once or no emotions at all. Embrace the emotion you are feeling in this moment. Find someone to talk to about your ups and downs, especially if it’s a close friend who you’ve weathered “momming” with, your spouse, or even a professional counselor.

Feel the feels and eventually move on. If your children are out and thriving, then you did your job well.

2. Make a List.

Get creative and ridiculous and make a list of all the things you couldn’t do when you had kids around. Let me stress: not because having kids is bad but it can be restrictive. You will have more items than you know. Do you remember spontaneity? A quick weekend away without preparing like you are going into battle? A mid-day nap? Making a list and doing some of the tasks will help you remember a part of yourself that you had to hibernate for a while.

3. Volunteer.

If you are like me and haven’t been in the workforce for a while and don’t have a clue what you want to be when you grow-up, find a place to volunteer. Think of activities or organizations you love and ask if you can help. If you still want to be around little kids, schools and libraries would love to have you. Passionate about plants? There are so many community gardens and youth garden programs. Do you still like to cook for a squad? Homeless shelters and Meals-On-Wheels can use your skills. Not only will you feel very helpful and needed, you will be developing skills and knowledge you can use if you want to enter the workforce again. Over the years you have developed a huge reservoir of useful skills before the empty-nest.

4. Declutter…Mercilessly.

Ouch, this one hurts…a bit. How many boxes of hand prints does one really need? I love my kids’ art work and stories. I loved to track the progression of their creativity and mastery of the written word–just like some parents liked trophies. As a former home-school mom, I also needed to keep a lot of it for legal reasons. I don’t need it all anymore…physically. Mentally may be a different story.

Decluttering is a profound way of working out the emotions that are in your heart and resetting the narrative. We only value stuff because the emotions we attach to it. Why are you keeping things you never use? What does this item tell you about yourself? If you get rid of it, what could happen? Does keeping all my kids’ papers from elementary school tell me that I’m a good mom? Will there ever be a “I need my 3rd grade paper on football!” emergency? Doubtful.

Decluttering can take a day, a week, or a lifetime. Be gentle on yourself and celebrate every item you are able to re-purpose somewhere else. The empty-nest is a time to reconsider the nest overall. Another great The We Spot article on decluttering is here.

5. Focus on YOUR Physical and Mental Health.

As a mother, was self-care ever a “real” priority for you? Did you give it a lot of lip-service but still wear raggy, old underwear? Your kids are flying solo (or almost solo) and it’s important for them to see that you are taking care of yourself just like they should take care of themselves. I doubt they ever missed a doctor, dentist, or eye doctor appointment. When was the last time you had one?

Unfortunately (or designed by nature as a cruel joke), as the kids start leaving, women begin their menopause phase. Yay? All varieties of new physical and mental excitement start. Before the onslaught of hormonal changes, focusing on your physical and mental health would be a wise decision so that you establish a rhythm of care for yourself.

6. Reconnect with Your Spouse or Friends.

Having kids can really effect your relationships with your other loved ones. Guiding and teaching our kids to be independent people takes a lot of sacrificial time and work. Now is the time to renew those life-long loves and friendships that you have been nursing along for a while. Empty-nest divorce is a common occurrence. Studies have shown that this transition in a marriage can be one of the most delicate times. Identifying that weakness and addressing the issues can be one of the most rewarding times in a marriage if both partners are willing to work on it.

7. Try New Things.

As a mother, life has had to be simplified a bit to handle all the activities, schoolwork, friends, etc. When was the last time you tried something new or said to yourself, you are just too old for that? Really? GO DO IT. Try a new workout. My neighborhood just had a new fancy pickleball court built. What is pickleball? I do not know but it includes a ball and paddle and historically I am not good at sports with equipment. As soon as it opens, my reluctant husband and I will be out there trying it with laughter and grace. Trying new things is so good for your mental health and whatever it is could be your new best thing. For more reading on the benefits of new ventures, click here.

8. Become Who You Always wanted To Be.

What or who did you want to be in fourth grade? I wanted to be Amelia Earhart and write lots of adventure books. Honestly, looking back on those notions, I was an Iowa farm-girl who craved adventure beyond what she knew. And I loved to write. I still do…that little girl never went very far. Now the mission for me (and all of us eventually if we want) is to find a way to fulfill those big dreams with our current reality. What a fun quest!

On our way to adulthood and parenthood, we have had to make choices and compromises to support our kids, our lifestyle, and our notions of the “good life”. With adult kids building their own future, is it time for you to re-evaluate yours? Maybe a smaller place is in your future? Maybe you don’t need the mini-van? Maybe you don’t need to work full-time anymore? Ask yourself a lot of questions and overall….redeveloping an empty-nest can be just as difficult as building a nest.

9. Give Yourself a Lot of Grace.

Just as being a parent was a brand-new experience that you had to grow into, being an empty-nester is just as hard. Learning to balance new relationship boundaries with your children and not being the one in control can be challenging. Be willing to fly and fail as much as you need. Keep a humble heart and a willing spirit to learn and grow.

The grand lie I have found in the mythology of the empty-nest is that we would know what we’d want to be when we grew up and that it would be amazingly joyous the day our kids left. New phases of life are difficult…plain and simple. But learning to re-frame and refocus on what we lost into what we are gaining can be a key to the beauty of this time.

And I don’t think alcohol consumption has anything to do with it.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of The We Spot, it’s employees, sponsors, or affiliates.

Dawn Miller

Dawn is a small-town farm girl who married her mountain man after college. She's a mom of 4 amazing kids and 3 beautiful fur-babies. Having her degree in psychology and English, she pursued social work after college but soon became a SAHM and homeschool teacher. Now that her kids are all older and in high school or college, she has started over with a career in yoga and Christian meditation through Everyday Dawn Yoga. Beyond her family, she loves coffee, dark chocolate, running trails, Jesus, and laughing hysterically until she pees.

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