How to make the most of being an “Empty Nester” | Carson Tahoe Health

How to make the most of being an “Empty Nester”

The “chicks have flown” and now you may find yourself feeling alone, lost or just not sure about what to do. While big changes tend to take some adjustment, it’s important to focus on the positives of your new independence and see an empty nest as a reason to start something new.  Below are some tips  for empty nesters, compiled by author Karen Stabiner.

 Challenge yourself.
You can choose from two paths when your nest empties. The first is to keep doing what you were doing and there are big holes where what you were doing was parenting. The second, happier path is to set yourself a challenge. Ask yourself, “What else would I like to do?” The answer might be read a novel a week, take a class, learn to cook Indian food, or join a choir. There are lots of opportunities out there.

Take time to grieve.
I don’t believe in the notion of, “Well, now that he or she is gone, I’m going to have a lesson every night and I’m never going to sit still.” I’m wary of people who address the empty nest by scheduling things 24/7. I think we need time to miss our children. The only way to recover in a vibrant way is to give ourselves time to grieve because we love them–and they’re gone. The key is to strike a balance.

Be interesting.
As I like to tell my daughter, I think it’s my responsibility to always be interesting enough that she’s going to want my company. I won’t earn that just by sitting there and missing her! I want to be someone she would like to talk to, someone that anyone in their 20?s or 30?s is going to want to talk to. So I read the newspaper, go online, and keep up with what’s going
on. That way when my kid says, “Did you read about…” there’s a chance I’ll know what she’s talking about. Or I can send her something about a subject she’s interested in and say, “Did you read about this?”

Reach out to your community.
Don’t buy into the stereotype of the lonely, wistful, now-what person. Instead, decide what you want to do and find resources in your community to support that. Get involved in volunteer work. Attend concerts and book readings. One woman I know went to the library and noticed there was nothing on the bulletin board for empty nesters–so she created her own group. Now she literally has a corner of the library devoted to her empty nest group. They have readings, speakers, programs and volunteer groups. And all the women in that community who choose to do so now have a new aspect of their lives!

Observe the 18-week rule.
It took 18 years to get to this point, so give yourself at least 18 weeks before you do something drastic. People get a little crazy; life doesn’t feel the way it used to, so they look around for someone to blame for their distress and the closest target is usually the guy sitting next to them on the couch. They blame their husband and get a divorce, or they sell their homes the minute the children leave for college. My advice: Don’t rush into anything.

Make a self-centered goal list.
After you’ve given yourself time to feel what you’re feeling, make yourself a goal list and be, not selfish, but self-centered. Figure out what you want to do for you, which may not be something that you considered when you were a full-time parent. For 18 years you’ve been focused on your family, but eventually you begin to remember what you used to enjoy doing–and what you’d like to develop in yourself a bit more.

Don’t abuse technology.
Today, we have no many new options for staying in touch: we can text, email, video chat, or call our child on our cell phones–but that doesn’t mean we have to use them. Monitor your use of technology so that you’re not basically in the room with your kids all the time. Constantly getting in touch is a form of nagging, and may send the message to your children that you have no confidence in their ability to survive on their own.

Tell them you miss them.
As long as you don’t do it all the time, it’s fine to tell one’s child, “I’m missing you so terribly today, and I just wanted to hear your voice.” Our children like to know that we love them and miss them; they just don’t like to hear it constantly because then they feel guilty.

Be an active listener.
This is much harder than it sounds–and I say that as someone who listens for a living! We need to listen to our children, download, without necessarily judging or fixing, which is our instinct. Sometimes they just want to talk and then they’re done and feel much better. You may be a wreck, but they’ve sorted something out just because you were there to listen to it! I think empty nesting is all about modulation–learning to put parenting into a lower gear.

Rediscover the little things
I believe it’s the small daily things that sustain you over time. It’s not, “I’m going to sell the house and dye my hair blonde, join an ashram and find enlightenment.” It’s a question of looking back at your life and asking yourself, “What are the components that matter to me? What are the couple of adventures I’d like to have? How can I put all of this together and feel that I have a new foundation?”

For me and my husband, there was no big watershed event where I could say, “Now that our daughter is gone we can do X and we’re totally happy.” Instead, it has been lots of nice little things that we build together.

Karen Stabiner is the author of eight books, including The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love, and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop