I get a lot of e-mails requesting recipes (through my food blog), advice on caring for an older pet (from people who know we have a 8,548 year old cat named Prissy!), and requests for particular articles, tips, etc. If you’re one of the ones who e-mails me, keep it up! I love, love, love hearing from you. Even the man who suggested that coffee isn’t healthy and that I probably drink too much of it.
I told him I just didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life and that I was praying for him. I explained, of course that I was just kidding… about the first part, anyway.
I’ve gotten several e-mails lately dealing with Empty Nest Syndrome. Thanks be to God I don’t have to deal with that one yet. I actually have a very full nest and cherish every second. Not only are all three of our daughters still at home – most of the time, their boyfriends are here as well. With that many young people around, who needs television? !
However, a few nights ago, I did get a little taste of what an empty next would be like. My husband and all three girls and sons-I-never-had were out. One daughter was working, my husband was out of town, and the rest were exploring haunted houses in a nearby town. The house was so frightfully quiet, my cats and I didn’t know what to do with ourselves. I opted to clean, and the cats went the curl up and sleep route.
Something occurs to me – quiet is alien to me. If I had a magic wand, I’d make our home filled with young people 24/7.
I know that if I hear from several people who are dealing with an issue, many more are out there dealing with the same problem. So I thought I’d post my advice here – such as it is, in the humble hopes that maybe someone can find a little comfort or, at least, some coping advice they can put to use.
First of all, change how you think about the situation.
So many parents refer to this time as a “loss.” It may sound extreme, and I’m sorry if it sounds harsh, but the only parent who can truly claim a “loss” is the parent who has lost a child. If your child is living, you haven’t lost anything! Admittedly, it’s a transition, a big one. As I said, my girls are still at home, but I certainly feel the transition. As they grow older, you’re no longer the center of their world. That certainly wouldn’t be normal, would it?! I don’t have ready “co-pilots” for trips to the store or McDonald’s like I once did. The trip’s a solo flight most of the time. I haven’t LOST my girls, though. I know where they are.
Life is full of transitions – and usually they’re transitions we’re certain (at the time) that we’ll never weather. Moving away from home and dealing with homesickness, losing a house, saying goodbye to a loved one, etc. Somehow, we come through transitions time after time. The trick is to keep plowing along and to fight. Never give in to emotions or lose yourself in a sea of sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have sad moments. That’s perfectly understandable and you needn’t apologize for your feelings to anyone. Mothers have emotions that no one on earth can even come close to understanding. Someone once said that a mother is only as happy as her saddest child.
Must have been a mother who said it.
We also have a little nastiness known as hormones (Hello, Menopause) – and, as luck would have it, right around the time it hits us that our babies aren’t completely babies anymore is the time our hormones aren’t completely reasonable anymore. They don’t exactly lessen the blow, do they? In fact, they cause each blow to feel 12 times worse. Not. Good.
Add to that the fact that ALAO around this time, a lot of us are dealing with troubling situations with our own parents. For those fortunate enough to still have their parents living, whole new worries and concerns can arise.
An individual doesn’t have a midlife crisis – midlife is a crisis.
To get a “feel” for what many parents go through during this transitional time, I’ve researched message boards, blogs, magazine articles, and, frankly, my own inbox. It didn’t take long to realize that the first thing parents need to do is change the way they look at it. I read so many comments like, “It doesn’t get better…” and “I just keep waiting for the phone to ring..” etc.
It WILL get better if you allow it to – and watching for the phone to ring isn’t a good example of allowing it to. That’s a good example of wallowing. Anyone watching for the phone to ring, watching for a car in the driveway, or putting their life on PAUSE for any reason whatsoever needs to snap out of it right away.
Life is too precious to put it on hold.
What you want to do is to create an environment where your child(ren) will want to come back and visit. You DON’T want to create an environment of guilt trips and sadness. They’ll avoid that like a teenage boy avoids showers.
Be happy, be encouraging, be upbeat. Be someone they’ll want to be around, not someone they feel like they HAVE to be around.
Stop thinking of anything as “empty,” whether it’s your house, car, or life. If we dwell on negative words and thoughts, we’ll only be making ourselves miserable. Empty is a negative word – replace it with “peaceful,” “calm,” or “relaxed.” MAKE yourself bury the negative thoughts in the back yard and vow to never dig them up again.
On the night I mentioned above, the first word that popped into my head after about 5 minutes was QUIET. As a mom of 3 lively girls and the wife of 1 lively husband – quiet was quite new to me. I’ll be honest… I din’t much care for it at first.
I turned on a Golden Girls marathon and the “quiet” was soon filled with Rose, Blanche, Sophia, Dorothy, and the sound of my own laughter mixed with my popcorn chewing.
I had my own little party and shhhh, don’t tell anyone… it was awesome! You know how, with kids and husbands around, it seems like you only get to actually see bits and pieces of television shows? My funny bone and I feasted on about 10!
If you can’t embrace the stillness and quiet and enjoy them as “peaceful” and “tranquil,” then do what I did… make your own noise.
Second of All, Examine How You View Life
Don’t make your children (or spouse for that matter) your only reason for being alive. If you do, then you just may be right when you say, “it’ll never get better.” If you don’t have any interests outside of your children, please take care of that problem (and it’s a beaut of a problem) before the day’s out.
Below are just a few ideas:
- Start a personal blog. Not only does it give you a creative outlet, it’s a cool way to let others know what you’re up to. Blogger.com gives you all you need to start blogging within an hour of hitting their site. Personally, I wouldn’t advise using Blogger.com for a business blog, but for a personal blog? Why not?
- Start a new flower bed. Having a hobby like gardening isn’t just FUN, it’s great exercise. Fresh air, exercise, fun… plus the reward of gorgeous flowers when all’s said and done. I love flower (and herb) gardening. I am the queen of geraniums (pictured above) and herbs and don’t mind patting myself on the back with a dirt covered hand that smells like rosemary. Fill your life with as many things as you can that make you excited and happy. Growing your own flowers, herbs, and vegetables is just so darn rewarding.
- Get involved in social media. If you aren’t already on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, hop in. The water’s fine!
- Adopt a pet! Cats, dogs, birds, etc. – they’re nothing if not babies. They’re also a great, great deal of company, enjoyment, entertainment, and an endless source of love. Furry babies (or feathered, for that matter) keep a lot of people sane and fill a void that needs to be filled.
- Redecorate your home. Use your extra time and money to totally re-do at least one room of your home. After that’s done, move to the next room.
- Take a vacation. Grab a camera and take off for someplace you’ve always wanted to see.
- Read more. Choose a great author (my own favorites are Agatha Christie, Dean Koontz, Nicholas Sparks, William Shakespeare, John Grisham..) and make it your mission to read every book they’ve written. I ALWAYS have an Agatha Christie mystery “going” – I read and re-read her mysteries. Great stuff.
- Become a Collector. Begin collecting antiques, jewelry, dishes.. Whatever interests you. It’s a great deal of fun to hit up antique shops, thrift stores and even yard sales. I’ve been a collector practically all my life – cookbooks, brass candlesticks, coffee mugs, books, dvds, antique dishes, Liberty Falls houses and figurines, bracelets, earrings, purses… It turns everything from ebay to weekend excursions into treasure hunts.
- Watch movies! This is just a fun suggestion – you won’t benefit in any way, I suppose, except for having a good time. Like the “author suggestion,” above, I’ve always liked to take a certain actor or actress and watch everything they’ve been in. At my husband’s choosing, we’ve been watching everything Vin Diesel lately. They’ve actually been fun.
- Begin a healthy routine. Start exercising with dvds, walking at the mall, playing tennis, walking your dog, etc. You’ll be doing something healthy for yourself plus activity releases endorphins, those delicious little feel good vibes that make you happy to be alive.
- Take up cooking. It’s one of my own favorite things to do in the world. There’s nothing like going to the grocery store, loading up on ingredients, bringing them home, and making great things happen in the kitchen. Of course, it’s all the sweeter if you throw in a Starbucks trip between the reaping and sowing.
- Ask for a little help. During the early part of the transition, be frank and honest with your spouse and other people in your life. Tell them that you fully expect to be a “pill” for a month or two and would greatly appreciate a little help with keeping a smile in place. Your spouse could make a special point of coming home for lunch more often – or maybe meeting you for lunch.
Realize that You’re Still Loved and Needed More Than Ever Before!
To realize this, you need to do little more than to think back to when you left home. You missed your parents terribly and probably even felt closer to them than ever before. I know it was true for me. I came to look forward to visits with my mom and dad more than ever.
Thinking back will also cause you to realize you needed them more than ever before as well. I constantly needed something from them – whether it was advice on pruning roses, making gravy without lumps, or what in thunder to do with a corned beef my new husband had just brought home. I burned up the phone lines! I can remember “hearing” their smiles each time I called with another emergency.
I SO totally understand that now.
Finally, Look Beyond Your Nest and Make a Difference.
I saved this one for last, because I think it’s the most important. Not only will it help YOU the most, it’ll benefit others who are truly, truly in a bad place. We all know that there are people and animals in the world who are suffering. Do a little research and find a cause and organization that really speaks to your heart.
Below are a few closest to my own heart:
- International Medical Corps
- World Vision
- Save the Children
- The Humane Society of the U.S.
- Saving the Polar Bear
I don’t mind, and I’ve never minded, being looked upon as someone who thinks they can save the world. Tree Hugger? Fine. Mrs. Do-Gooder? Whatever. When you look outside of your own window and see all that needs to be done, you’ll leave yourself with little time to feel anything but determined. And busy.
Never, ever think of your home as “empty.” Think of it as “full” – full of love, full of fun, full of laughs, full of comfort, and full of good times just waiting to happen. Create an environment that everyone wants to come home to. If you dwell on the negatives, that won’t exactly draw them in, will it?
Keep the pot of coffee on standby, cookies in the cookie jar, throw pillows on the couch, and a big, warm smile on your face.
You’ll have more smiling faces around you than you’ll know what to do with.
One day you’ll find yourself thinking, “Man… I could use a little alone time with just me and Blanche. And Dorothy. And Rose. And Sophia….“
A final thought: Nothing is truly EMPTY if there’s someone or something there. That’s like Common Sense 101. Even if you’re the only bird in the nest at the moment… you have my permission to have a one bird party in that nest.
Let the feathers fly!
Arts Musings says
Mid life isn’t meant to be a time of crisis. In fact, it can be one of the most fulfilling and productive times in your life. You have all this life experience that has molded you into the person you are. Channel that into something that will help others live purposeful lives.
You have a purpose in life. When you’re in touch with that purpose and live your life fulfilling that purpose, there’s no room for crisis. Celebrate this time in your life.
Arts Musings, You are exactly right. Finding your purpose and then “purposing” your find is what we should all focus on, regardless of how old we are… or aren’t.
I’ve read so many people (most in fact) who say that the years after 35 are their happiest ever. It’s been true for me, with the exception (of course!) of losing my parents and in-laws. I think life would be darned near perfect if all 4 of those characters AND my sister in law were still with us!
When you get on “that” side of 35, you know more about who you are and what you want from life. You also have enough stubborness to not let anyone get in your way! And Heaven help them if they do stumble into your path.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts – very inspiring! You are precisely right, it’s a time to celebrate! – Joi
With all due respect, and with sincere thanks for your upbeat attitude, you don’t really understand this transition yet. Much like the women who tried to give me advice on motherhood before having their own children, your blog strikes me as a just bit premature.
I have a great full time job (in fact, I’m an elementary school teacher!), great friends, two wonderful dogs, and an active social life. I have a blog, I sing in a choir, I cook for fun and I love to entertain. And yet…..in spite of the fact that I am still close to my three grown kids, and in spite of the fact that I see them pretty regularly, I can’t yet move past the real grief that I feel at no longer being “Mommy”. I miss bedtime stories, I miss bath time, I miss making them cookies, and rocking them, and taking them to the beach. I loved being “Mommy” and I miss it like hell.
I love my kids; I love my life. I’m still REALLY sad. Read about it in my blog, which I call “Postdepartum Depression”.
It’s harder than you think it will be. Trust me.
Momshieb, From one mom to another, hi! It’s my time, I suppose, to say the words “With all due respect…” because, with all due respect, you’re pretty wrong. I DO understand. I simply approach the entire transition differently from some others. I refuse to give in to the sadness and dark days. I’ve found the way that works for me and I’m sticking with it… quite honestly, I’m afraid that if I don’t, I’ll lose what little mind I have left!
This is the first year (as in EVER) that I didn’t get Christmas cards to mail out. EVER. I simply can’t envision myself signing fewer names than I have for over 20 years. When I passed by the card’s display in the store, I got a quick image of myself crying as I signed my salutations – salutations which would be different this year.
I passed the cards right by!
We all have to do what we know we can handle and avoid that which is if-y.
This transition is extremely difficult for me, make no mistake about it. I cry fairly often, just never in front of anyone – and I’ve become an expert at drying up quickly! For 24 years, my life was a dream: I woke up my beautiful little girls, we all had breakfast and I helped them get dressed and fixed their hair. When they were old enough – I home-schooled my girls from Kindergarten straight through 12th grade. Each day was filled with History, Science, Language/Grammar, Literature, Spelling & Vocabulary – complete with wonderful library trips, field trips, and (of course!) Friday lunch at McDonalds!
My heart literally aches for those days. Aches! Only another mother would understand that – so I feel lucky that you know where I’m coming from.
However (I’m sure you knew one of those was up my sleeve… even though it’s actually a pajama sleeve right now, actually)… I can’t stand life and I can’t stand myself when my “transmitter” is tuned into these emotions. Way too dark, dank, and depressing. Plus, I’m afraid that if I allow myself to spend much time with these thoughts, they”ll become part of my disposition. I don’t want my husband, my daughters, my son-in-law, my future son-in-laws, or my cats to detect anything in me that’s depressing.
We moms are what keep our families together – we’re the glue, if you will. We have to stay strong for our loved ones and give them a safe haven they can always come to, day or night.
Everyone has their own approach(es) and it’s up to each of us to find what works best for them. For me, it’s a matter of refusing to give in to the waves of sadness… strong as they are!
I in NO WAY… NO WAY at all meant to shortchange the pain. I’m here to help people and my approach is, admittedly, a positive and upbeat one. This attitude has helped me through losing both my mom and dad suddenly and unexpectedly… as well as the losses of grandparents, in-laws, a sister-in-law who died in an accident, a very bad car wreck, and the loss of my dream home.
Life isn’t always bluebirds and butterflies, if anyone knows that – I do. Anytime we lose “our world” (as we know it), it’s extremely hard and painful. Your world.. and my world… was our family. The thing is… it still is! They’re still our babies and they always will be. Something that helps me is “spoiling” them, still, just in different ways. For example, my oldest daughter loves bottled mint water, so each time at the store, I buy her several. When she comes over, she can go right to the refrigerator and get her special drink. It occurred to me the other day that I’m STILL providing her with her bottle!!!
Had I rather she be in my lap with a bottle of Similac rather than sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of mint water? Sometimes – but I wouldn’t trade the bestest buddy she is right now.
The world we knew is different now and, very often, it doesn’t seem fair. Between us “moms,” the other day was a particularly dark day (thank you, holidays) and I just kept thinking, “This isn’t how I want it…” Fortunately I got a call from one of my girls right around that low point and we went out to eat!
Whether we eat around the table, with them in high chairs or eat in an Olive Garden – we’re still with our much beloved children. It’s just different – a very big adjustment.
Like I said before, I just insist on looking at the positives. The negatives hurt too much – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve found that by focusing on positive thoughts, you leave no room for the negative ones. When they do slip in sideways (again, thank you holidays), you just have to find your footing again and channel the thoughts back down a positive avenue. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I feel like it’s making me a much stronger person.
And that’s exactly how my family needs me to be – so I’ll just keep on keeping on.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights. Ironically, my oldest daughter (Emily) works in an Elementary school. She’s a health care tech and works with special children. She falls completely in love with each one as they do with her.
Have a great Christmas with your family and stay strong – I “hear” the strength in your voice. It’s almost as loud as the love.
All my best, Joi
Sherrie Smith says
Ive recently become disabled and an empty nester and I have also been a caregiver for my very sick husband. My life has been mostly taking care of everyone else and now I am struggling with learning how to live for me. Any advice?
Anne Powell says
I love your positive way of thinking! Dealing with an empty nest syndrome is definitely very difficult as it is a big change. There are many ways to deal with the problem of having our kids moving away and the best one is to look positive and do the many great things that we couldn’t do while they were living with us. The important is that our kids are OK and that wherever they move to they will be happy! It is very sweet that you are writing about this and that you have such a positive vision of everything. I will be an empty nester soon and I am feeling horrible about it. My kids are moving away and I feel old… but I know that I have to stay relaxed. Thank you for sharing! It is really helpful to read something that lovely!