Overcoming The Shock Of Becoming An Empty-nester15 min read

The children are gone. You’re an empty-nester now.

What comes next for you?

There’s an empty room, and the house is quiet. The house no longer echoes with your children’s laughter. Or that argument that you got into freshman year of high school.

The house no longer celebrates birthdays. There’s no laundry to pick up off the floor. The house no longer echoes with movie nights, board games, and arts and crafts.

There’s no homework to help with and no science projects to help create. The house no longer echoes with their footsteps as they run too fast down the stairs, and you scream, “Stop running!”

You now eat dinner by yourself or with your spouse. You used to make your child’s favorite meal for them, but now he or she is no longer present to eat it.

The house is still, and it scares you.

You must first work from the inside out

Processing grief. Permit yourself to grieve the separation. You’ve been a daily constant in your child’s life and vice versa. It’s a profound sense of loss.

Don’t listen to anyone that tries to rush you through this process. Handling it with care is essential.

Cry it out. Write a letter to your child (without giving it to them).

Try journaling your thoughts and feelings so you can remove them from your mind and body. This grieving process will be different for everyone.

Commit to seeing this through. Don’t pretend that you’re strong. This is your moment to collapse. You’re an empty-nester!

A parent’s relationship with their children is a remarkable bond. And when there’s an alteration of that bond, it’s crucial to respect the changes. It’s critical to label them by bringing life to them.

Furthermore, it’s important not to place this grief on your child. Express that you miss them. Yes, however, to healthily move through the grieving process, your child mustn’t feel guilty for leaving.

Your child is also experiencing grief. Therefore, placing the added pressure on them keeps the wheels turning and creates a bigger mess for the both of you.

I cried a lot. I cried hard. I wrote in my journal and felt the absence like a gorilla on my back. I told my son I loved him.

I highlighted his courage (even though inside, I lacked the courage to move forward).

Once you’ve grieved, it’s time to move towards the next stage.

Acceptance. Accept the transition. Not accepting this change is going to create more suffering in your life. It’s going to keep you stagnant.

This is one of the many inevitable stages of life. Fighting against this evolutionary process is like fighting to grow old. You can’t.

Because of this reason, I encourage you to be brave and take a deep breath, then say, “I accept this. My child will become a better version of themselves as a result of this, and so will I.”

When you accept this process, you are modeling for your child that this transition is a normal part of life.

Acceptance is a critical universal tool in life. Many experiences in life are unavoidable, such as; breakups, moving, losing a job, etc.

The quicker you can model this for your child, the sooner they can learn to accept the things that are outside of their control. Once you agree with this process, you can then move forward to letting go of the past.

After my son settled into college, I cried like a baby in the car. I feared he wasn’t ready (but it was me that wasn’t ready).

I feared I didn’t teach him everything that he needed to know (but honestly, good enough parenting is great parenting).

I feared the world would be too cruel to my sweet child (but admittedly, it’s a matter of perspective).

The anxiety became gut-wrenching, and for a moment, I thought I stopped breathing.

At this point, there’s no going back. You can only move forward into this next stage in both of your lives.

This is a pivotal moment as an empty-nester.

Forgiveness. Permit yourself to forgive yourself. There isn’t a rulebook to parenting. Being a perfect parent doesn’t exist.

Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve had my share of plopping my child in front of the TV to clean the house.

I’ve given him McDonald’s when I’ve had a long day and didn’t have time to make dinner.

I’ve screamed, yelled, and have said and done things that I wish I didn’t. We’re humanly flawed, and that’s okay.

What matters the most is accepting your child for who they are now. Be present in their lives now, respecting them, and showing them compassion now.

I remember having a heart to heart with my son. I apologized to him for all of the things I may have done to hurt his feelings or the times that I came up short.

I then laid out the expectations of what our relationship will look like moving forward.

I’ll always be his mother. However, I’m giving him space to evolve into an individual. Looking forward to seeing the man that he will become.

Your children are forgiving. When you model that vulnerability, they will see you as a human being.

They will also learn what taking responsibility for your mistakes and decisions in life looks like and how to communicate their feelings effectively. Moreover, you can’t return to the past and do things differently.

Accept what has happened so that both of you can open this new chapter in your lives. Then acclimate to the adult relationship that you will have with your adult child now that you’re an empty-nester.

Forgive yourself for everything that you didn’t know because now you know. We’re only given the tools and resources from our parents. You’ve done your best.

Relinquish all of the blame and judgments and leave it where it belongs––in the past.

Health. It’s incredibly easy to allow our physical and emotional health to decline, especially when you’re dealing with intense sadness and pain. It’s pretty common to experience some form of depression.

You begin to question your purpose and lack of control. Many of you over-identify as parents. What happens next is when your child leaves, you start to wonder what the meaning of life is. It’s hard for you to separate yourself.

Starting an exercise routine will significantly increase your mood. This will counter many of the depressive symptoms that you are experiencing.

It doesn’t have to be anything significant. I’m not even recommending joining a gym. Just take a walk around the block or walk for an hour.

Walking is simple, and it can be done anywhere, anytime, and at any age. Here are 50 benefits to walking daily and how it will improve your overall health.

I struggled with my weight for the majority of my life. I began to realize the emotional benefits of a workout routine.

It not only kept me busy, but it also maintained my sanity, and it felt good.

Now that you’ve explored the inner workings that create lasting change in your life during this transition let’s take a look at the outer workings.

The outer stuff is the fun stuff

Here comes the good stuff.

Somewhere in life, the lesson was once you decided what to do with your life that you’re there forever!

There isn’t any encouragement to experiment with different passions, only to avoid pursuing them.

The thing is life is weighed down by responsibilities or what is perceived as responsibilities. Then a decade or two passes, and there’s disbelief about the amount of time that’s passed.

Now you’re an empty nester. Being a parent is just one part of you. There’s so much more to you.

This is the time for you to discover more of who you are. You have more time than you’ve ever had before. In some cases, you have extra money lying around.

Your child is living their lives. Shouldn’t you?

So what do you do now, and how do you begin?

Let’s get started with some questions first.

Reconnecting with the old. What did you love doing as a child? What did you suddenly realize that you were damn good at doing? And you also felt damn good doing it.

What’s the one thing people tell you that you “should” be doing? What’s the one thing that you’ve put off from doing or stopped doing since you became a parent?

What’s the one thing that you love to do on the side, but you’ve told yourself a story that you can’t possibly do it full-time?

If money wasn’t an issue, what would you spend most if not all of your time doing?

Seriously take the time to reflect on this. Be brutally honest with yourself. I remember for me; writing is the one thing that I loved doing as a child.

Somehow along the way, I stopped writing, and only in the past year, I’ve finally reconnected with it.

Now is a perfect time to take inventory of your life. Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The end is death.

Have you done the things that you’ve wanted to do? If you had six months to live, what would you do with those six months?

Where would you go? Who would you meet? Who would you do it with?

Are there friends that you’ve lost contact with? What about your spouse? How are things now? What can the two of you do together and separately to enrich your lives?

Reconnecting with the old is a great way to spark up an internal dialogue and begin to light the passions that were locked away like a buried treasure in the sea.

Now that you’ve reconnected, how do you bring this reconnection to life?

Experiment. Give yourself permission to experiment with your life. With children, their imaginations run wild.

Children are willing to experiment with everything and anything! But, as adults, there’s a gap between imagination and creativity.

I have a friend who recently became a nurse. However, she’s questioning if that’s all that she wants. She has such a hard time finding the “right fit” for her career.

She has several interests (doesn’t everyone). She doesn’t know where to start. The best way to tackle this is to pick one and give yourself 3–6 months of experimenting.

One of two things will happen: you’ll immediately fall in love with it, or you’ll trash it.

When I continued to avoid my passion for writing, I opened a Shopify store. I had this grand idea that I would begin selling things and create some residual income.

I enjoyed certain aspects of selling. However, when I got into the thick of things, I shut my store down two months into it. I didn’t have the passion for it.

This included the market research, the intricate details of setting up the store, maintaining it, advertising, and everything else that goes with running an online store, etc.

Yes, I invested money and time, but I had to accept the brutal truth: I didn’t enjoy it.

Even more so, when I eventually quit my full-time career as a social worker, I experimented with quite a few different jobs.

With each career change, I learned a tremendous amount of skills, but most importantly, I learned what I liked and what I didn’t like. I learned what I would take with me and what I would leave behind.

This is why it’s important to experiment early and often. Let’s return to my friend, who’s a nurse with multiple interests.

I suggested she map everything out and create the position she wanted. She wanted to be a health educator that merges reproductive health and teach women about their reproductive health.

She doesn’t need permission to begin doing this. And you don’t either because you can do the same. Teach yourself the skills you‘ll need for your experiment, then start doing it.

Whether you volunteer your time or ask your boss if you can somehow incorporate it into your daily job, etc. Get creative! This is your life.

There are tons of people who slap a name on a business card and call themselves an expert. Often they are no smarter than you and I, the only difference is they took action.

What happens when you merge your passion, skills, and action? You create movement. Tim Ferriss doesn’t participate in long-term thinking or living of life.

He does mini-experiments in which he experiments with the things that interest him. He studies with it, and he may move on or hold on to what he likes.

Now, of course, you don’t need to be like him. However, there is something you can learn here. You can create your life, and you don’t need some textbook requirements to validate or adhere to make this a reality.

It’s okay to try something and not like it. If we don’t try it, how will we know? It’s okay to invest in something and still change your mind.

I’ve felt embarrassed once. I followed venture after venture. People couldn’t keep up with what I was up to next.

I felt terrible about this because our society doesn’t support these changes; in fact, people label it as “fickle.”

You’re fighting against what society says you “should” be doing and how you “should” do it.

You’re challenging people’s perceptions as an empty-nester. And this will make people uncomfortable and often insecure.

Ignore it and follow your journey. Don’t worry about what other people think. Honestly, since I’ve made some drastic changes in my life, I’ve had plenty of people reach out to me to find out how I made it happen.

Keep in mind, some of these passions may turn into a career, a hobby, and so much more. This leads to the next and final thing.

Travel. You don’t have to sell all of your belongings as I did and move to Southeast Asia; however, traveling supports imagination and creativity. It’s essential for your mental health.

You don’t have to travel across oceans. You can finally go to that one place that you’ve been trying to go to in your town or the next state over.

Traveling makes you happier. Sometimes you need to remove yourself from your environments and challenge yourself to experience something outside of your comfort zone.

It allows you to take a break from the routine of your life, have new experiences, and meet new people.

This directly makes you happier because it opens up your worldview and challenges you to think differently. Traveling to different parts of the world changes you for the better.

It increases your self-confidence because you have to learn to navigate new situations that aren’t easy. When, at home, there isn’t much effort. 

When you’ve successfully navigated an environment that is entirely unfamiliar to you, your confidence improves, and you feel as if you can conquer the world.

Traveling and living in different countries has humbled me in ways that make it difficult to express.

It’s also encouraged my son to travel, as well. He went on his first international trip to Aruba.

This courageous step towards traveling models for your children that the world isn’t as scary as it’s made up to be and that you can be outside of your comfort zone and still have positive experiences.

“To raise a child comfortable enough to leave you means you’ve done your job, they are not ours to keep, but to teach how to soar on their own.” ~Unknown

Focus on the plan and live an enriching life

As you and your child experience these transitions, the external factors that jerk you through an emotional roller coaster won’t govern your life.

You’ll have a plan that you can apply to enrich your life and model behaviors that your child can learn from so they can enhance theirs.

It will awaken all that you have suppressed for so long in your life. It will teach you things about yourself, and you will grow an even stronger connection with your child.

Your child won’t have to spend his or her time worrying about you because their parents are looking life straight in the eyes, meeting it head-on, and living it. If your child is fearful, they will look at how brave their parents are.

If your child is afraid of having new experiences or meeting new people, they will look at you and say, wow, my parents can do it, so can I.

If your child is afraid to fail, your child will look at you and say my parents tried, they failed, and they tried again.

You will become an inspiration not only to your child but also to yourself.

Aren’t you worth it?

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