Empty Nest Syndrome: Let’s Bury the Phrase in the Yard

Finding a Full Life in an Empty Nest

Beautiful Tree
A few posts back, I mentioned the number of women I’ve personally heard from (and others who I have read about) who are currently struggling with what they call the “Empty Nest Syndrome” or as one lady (who’s kids still live at home) referred to as the “May as Well Be An Empty Nest Because the Birds are Always Gone Syndrome.”

As I’ve said before, I HATE the term “Empty Nest Syndrome.”  What is empty? The total absence of anything. If my coffee cup is empty – – – something that rarely happens, but that’s another story – – –  the cup is without anything in it.  Empty.  Nothing there.

If a home is empty, there isn’t anyone in it.  Empty.  No one there.

I was walking around my yard a few weeks ago when I saw a bird’s nest on the ground.  I, hesitantly, turned it over to see if anything was beneath it.  I was greatly relieved to find that the nest was empty.  No one home when it came crashing down.  Now that’s an EMPTY NEST.

A home in which at least one parent, often two, are living is anything but empty.

What you’re experiencing (and if you’ve read this far, I assume you’re going through the experience or, at least, know that it exists on the horizon) is simply another chapter in your life.  It’s a chapter that’s simply a little quieter with a little more “free time.”  From here on, I’ll refer to the aforementioned syndrome as the “Quiet House Chapter.”

The thing that makes this chapter seem so drastically and dramatically different is that it’s a huge transition.  You go from walking out to the car, one day, with multiple kids fighting over who’s turn it is to sit up front to walking out to the same car the next day with only your shadow as a companion.  He, or she, calls shotgun and off you go.

You go from making lunch for a party of 2, 3, 4, or 5 to making lunch for a party of one – two if your cat’s awake.

It’s not the end of the world, though, and I get crazy upset with people who act like it is.  It’s a new chapter, that’s all, and as any book lover knows, new chapters can be exciting.  New chapters can be challenging.  And new chapters can be, dare I say it, fun!

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to any of the emotions felt.   I’m a mother bird, too.  God blessed me more than I ever thought was possible when he allowed me to become a mother to three beautiful daughters who I love and cherish more than my next breath.  I’d wager to say that this transition in life is even tougher on mothers such as myself, who were stay-at-home moms while raising their children.

To compound the matter, this particular stay-at-home mom also home-schooled her children all the way through school.  That’s a lot of years of sitting at the table studying history, going to the library, picnics at the park, making lunch together, and so forth.

That’s why, I believe with all my heart, that my family has been kind of nonchalantly keeping an eye on me – waiting for Mother Hen’s wig to flip.  They know that my family is my life – they always have been and they always will be.  It doesn’t matter if we’re currently under the same roof or not.  Family is family no matter where they count their sheep.

When you get down to it, it doesn’t matter if you’re a working parent, a work at home parent, or a home-schooling parent,  when the life that you dearly love with every fiber of your being changes – it throws you.  What you have to do is make sure it throws you forward.  Allow it to make you stronger, not weaker.  Demand that it make you better, not bitter.

And, please let the only parties you throw be happy ones, as in no pity parties allowed.  I promise, you’ll be the only one there.

Whether you’re kids are living at home (yet seem to be gone all the time) or they’ve already moved out, there are certain tips for coping with the “Quiet House Chapter” as well as a little homespun advice from a Mother Hen who’s proverbial wig is still in place.

Playing in the Next Room

Here’s something I shared with one reader a few months ago.  I got an e-mail from her yesterday and she said the advice has worked “brilliantly” for her.  I could tell, just by reading her words that she was in a much better place.  The first few times she contacted me, I could almost “hear” tears in her words – this time I’m almost certain there was laughter.

Remember when your kids were small and they’d play in their bedroom or the living room?  Even if you were in the kitchen, you knew where they were – playing in the next room.  The concept of them staying in the same room you were in, 24-7, would have seemed bizarre.  Even though they played in the next room, you were their parent and they were your child and you loved them with all your heart.  You knew they were just a “call” away – whether it were you doing the “calling” because supper was ready or they did the “calling” because someone took their Barbie!

You were 1 call away.

When your kids are older and they seem to spend more time at the mall than their own bedroom, or they move out on their own or go off to college – it will truly help you to think of them as “playing in the next room.”   The beautiful thing is, you’re still just a “call” away.  Whether it’s you making the “call” because you’re making their favorite casserole for supper or they’re making the “call” because they want to know if paper plates are microwavable – you’re still 1 call away.

Pull Yourself Together

There will be days when you feel kind of sad.  There will be days when you think you’d give anything to turn back time.  There will be days when you’re kind of lonely.  It might remind you of when you, yourself, moved away from home for the first time – another huge chapter in your life.  But remember this:  Nothing really changed, did it?

Well, actually, very often things change for the better.  I honestly believe I grew closer to both my mother and my father after I got married.  The crazy thing is, I’m almost certain I saw them more often – especially when the granddaughters came!  I had them over for dinner several nights a week, we went shopping more often, we walked at the park, my mom always made Sunday dinner, my father and my husband talked for hours about sports…

Keep one thing in mind:  How you act as you enter this new chapter will determine just how much everyone will want to be around you!  If you make your kids, or husband, feel guilty or try to make them feel sorry for you – you will push them away.  No one wants to take a guilt trip – they’ll simply avoid the risk by avoiding you.  If, every time one of your kids calls you spend half the conversation talking about how lonely or miserable you are, do you really think they’re going to rush to the phone to call you again any time soon?

For your sake as much as the sake of your family, if you’re coming undone over the Quiet House Chapter, pull yourself together.

Idle Minds Are the Devil’s Workshop

Maybe it’s not the nest that’s as empty as it is the life.  I know, ouch. Many times parents get so wrapped up in raising, teaching, caring for, and playing with their children that they overlook one tiny little thing – everyone has to have their own life, their own interests, their own goals, their own ambitions, and their own smiles.

Yes, their own smiles.

When parents look at their children – we smile!  Even if the child is being a cantankerous little snot, on some level it amuses us. There’s nothing in the world wrong with smiling at your kids – I smile just thinking about mine.  What’s wrong is acting like they’re the only thing that can bring a smile to your face.  It’s a big, beautiful world out there – filled with, literally, countless things to smile at and about.

Never let anyone feel that one of their responsibilities in life is to flip your happiness switch.  Flip your own!

When the Quiet House Chapter begins, you’ll find yourself with lots of free time and free thoughts.  This is where the chapter takes on a certain level of excitement – you get to fill this free time and these free thoughts any way you want.  No one’s dictating what you have to do from this time to that time.    You can take up new hobbies, learn new skills, take up yoga, launch a home business, or write the next great vampire novel.

Below is a list of different adventures you might want to take:

  • Take up bird watching.
  • Go to the Animal Shelter and rescue a dog who looks lonely.
  • Rescue two!
  • Learn to speak a new language
  • Learn cake decorating.
  • Take online classes in a subject that fascinates you.
  • Take up photography. This is one of my favorites! One of my favorite things to photograph (besides my family and cats) is trees. This tree hugger is never happier than when she’s out getting “the money shot” involving a tree that has caught my eye. The tree at the top of the post is a personal favorite.
  • Learn everything you can about sharks, whales, dolphins, and the ocean.
  • Volunteer.
  • Begin reading all of Agatha Christie’s mysteries.  Start at the first and keep going until you’ve read them all.
  • Go to the shelter and adopt a couple of kittens.  Cats make incredible companions.
  • Grow an herb garden.
  • Buy a couple of yoga dvds, a great yoga book, and fall in love with the experience.
  • Take up serious walking or biking.
  • Take trips to your local state parks and zoos.
  • Go to the Grand Old Opry.
  • Learn to play an instrument. Check out guitar lessons from TakeLessons.
  • Make candles, soap, jewelry, or all three.
  • Buy a sewing machine and take up sewing.
  • Learn to quilt.
  • Perfect your homemade bread recipe.
  • Start an eBay business – find great deals on antiques and collectibles, then sell them for extra cash.
  • Visit your library regularly.  Scourge the shelves for fascinating new subjects to read about.
  • Buy a bird!
  • Start an aquarium.
  • Buy hamsters and provide elaborate cages and mazes for them.
  • Start watching a sport you’ve never watched before. Pick a team and follow their every game.
  • Learn to make a great cake from scratch – then experiment with different recipes.

I know I mention pets a great deal – but, for one thing, I’m the biggest animal lover in the world… and for another, they STAY babies!

If you decide to pursue a certain interest, buy all the books and dvds you can find on the subject – check out books at the library, research it online, and embrace the fascinating new passion with all you have inside of you.

Please just remember this – it’s something I harp on a great deal on Self Help Daily and Out of Bounds:  Never, ever stop living – the day you do, you start dying.  If you wake up one morning and you just aren’t sure you have any reason to laugh, find one!  When we move from one chapter to the next in life, there are a couple of things that are RIPE for picking:

  1. We can become bitter, sad, and refuse to make the transition from one chapter to the next.  We can keep looking back, with tear-stained eyes at the chapters we’ve already lived and make everyone around us nearly as miserable as we are.  We can make it so that we have absolutely nothing to contribute to conversations – other than “Well, I hope YOU’RE happy.” and “I’m so LONELY.”  (Wonderful, wonderful conversation nuggets, don’t you think.)
  2. We can look back on our past chapters with joy and pride, while embracing the one we’re currently living in with all that’s within us.  We can become so busy learning new things and taking up new interests and hobbies that our spouse and our kids simply don’t know what we’re going to come up with next!  My oldest daughter was a little taken aback yesterday when I called her out to my garden to show her something I’d found:  On a sage leaf was the largest (HUGE) yellow spider I’d ever seen in my life.  I was so proud!  I had her take a picture of my sage loving friend.  My sweet, petite, lovely daughter said, “Kill it!” a couple of times but why would I go and do a thing like that?!  Yes, I’ve become fascinated with spiders.  I guess it was only a matter of time.   The mammoth spider lived to see another day and he provided me with another interest to pursue.

Life is filled with excitement, fun, and fascinating moments – as long as you keep looking for them.  I don’t beg often, but if you’re currently going through this chapter in your life, I beg you to fill your days with reasons to smile…  and, no they don’t have to be spiders!

If you ever want a sounding board, my e-mail is on the site.   Now, I’m off to the garden to see if  “Sargent Sage” is lurking around. Such a handsome devil.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are disrespectful, offensive, or off-topic.

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11 thoughts on “Empty Nest Syndrome: Let’s Bury the Phrase in the Yard

  1. This is exactly the message that I needed to hear right now. It has been one week since my son went off to college and it has been more of an adjustment than I anticipated, since he was hardly ever home AND I still have a teenage daughter at home.

    Thank you!

  2. This was just what I needed to hear too. It is so over welming since I only have 1 child. She’s 27 and a registered nurse. I think it is hurting her just as much. Pray for me. She is moving out in March of 2011. It really hurts. I am disabled and I have too much free time on my hands.( You are right an idol mind is the devels play ground). )As the country song says” How can I help you to say goodbeye it’s o.k. to hurt it’s o.k. to cry.”I hope time will ease our pain.

  3. June,
    I will most definitely pray for you and your daughter! I always tell people that if it’s at all possible, they should get a pet. My oldest daughter (Emily) got married and they moved into their own place in October. I still miss having our talks over morning coffee but she comes over to have dinner with us at least 4 times a week!

    Sometimes I honestly think I see her more than my two daughters that still live at home. Anyway, my cats (particularly my inside cat, Alexa – who’s my constant companion) have been a TRUE gift from God. If I’m working in the yard, my outside “babies” keep me company. When I’m inside, Alexa is never more than a couple of feet away. I can only imagine how lonely it’d be when my husband’s at work and my girls are all away from home. I think the quietness would drive me bonkers!

    I promise you that the feeling of loss (because there is a loss of sorts – a loss of a special period in your life) will get better. Looking back, the months leading up to Emily’s wedding were the worst. I couldn’t help myself, I kept thinking, “This is the last Thanksgiving (Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, her birthday, etc) Em will be living at home…” I remember it being a very, very, very hard time. The first few weeks after she had moved out were really hard, too. BUT (thank goodness for the BUT!), I was surprised by how fast the body, mind, and heart can adjust. The new “normal” becomes such a regular, accepted part of your life that you almost can’t imagine it being any different.

    Our little girls (and boys, for those with sons) will always be our little girls – even when they’re taller than we are! In many ways, I honestly think Emily and I may be even closer now than we were before – and we’ve always been extremely, extremely close.

    When kids live at home, they sort of take parents for granted – and vice versa. But when they live out on their own, it seems they actually spend more time visiting with and talking with good ole mom and/or dad! Instead of reading them bedtime stories, the roles kind of adjust and you find yourself picking up cookbooks for them! Where you once bought baby dolls and barbies (I guess we’ve spent millions on dolls!), you’ll find yourself ordering pretty things online for her new home.

    As long as there’s love, it doesn’t matter what the address is.

    Having said that, I know all too well what you’re going through and I’m very sorry for your pain. It’s no bed of roses! Every time you feel sad and every time you feel like crying, just remind yourself what a great mother you are. You’re in the worst part of the storm right now. My Emily was married in October and I remember in September secretly wishing a time or two they’d postpone the wedding! But I love her husband so much, I’d have probably talked them into going ahead with it on time.

    Just hang in there. Cry when you feel like crying – just don’t keep crying. Cry a little, dry your eyes, and get on with life. I SWEAR it gets better!!! :)

  4. THANKS! I’m trying! I am in a Yoga Instructors 200 hour class right now. So it is helping. I am very creative but that does not fill the social part of my life. My husband is a pilot and travels so I am hoping the Yoga gig will fill some of the social space. We’ll see. Okay gotta take the dog for a walk. Namaste!

  5. Sandy, yoga class is an excellent idea! Not only are you doing something physically active that’s great for your health, you’re involving yourself socially. Not only that, yoga is a fantastic stress-buster, so if stress or anxiety ever did try to sneak up on you, your yoga poses will put a big ninja move on them!

    Another benefit is this: Learning something new seems to produce a thousand and one feel good hormones. When my husband and I first got married, he was in the Air Force and we had to move several states away from home. My homesickness for my parents, family pets, town, friends, etc was HORRIBLE! Learning my way around our new home (Wichita, Kansas), learning everything there is to know about sports (I married the biggest sports fanatic in the world so I had to educate myself FAST) helped a lot.

    It’s always, always, always refreshing to hear from people who are actively helping themselves and “finding their way” through a phase of life that’s been called everything from a maze, a new chapter, and a new horizon to a dark tunnel, hell, and the end of the world. Good for you!!!

  6. When my two kids were little, I made one of a kind fashions for a local boutique while I enjoyed being a WAHM (work at home mom) providing me with a passion and interest besides “loving every minute of being with them” while they were growing up. I was a room mother, sunday school teacher, etc. Now that they are fully grown with families of their own, we have lots of happy memories and I continue to pursue my passion for contemporary crafts, while looking forward to visits with them and their precious families a few times a year. (We live several hours away from each other). I know they’re happy they don’t have to worry about me feeling lonely and sad. Sometimes I worry that I’m too independent and don’t call them more often.

  7. I’m glad I came across your site…my son leaves Sunday for Marines boot camp. My daughter left for college 3 years ago, so this is it for me. I cry everyday, all day, and I am so desperate I searched online today for help…so, thank you for your words and your ideas. I know I will be fine, it is just getting through the good-byes…I feel like it’s going to kill me. I’m tearing up just writing this.