I’m not a professional counselor, but as someone who has talked to many empty nesters and dealt with the transition myself, I do know that sometimes people seem to get “stuck” as they transition to the empty nest. I get a lot of emails from women who think they should have adjusted or “gotten over it” sooner than they have. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think they’re bad mothers because they feel nothing but relief and freedom when their nest empties. People want to know if they’re “normal” in their reaction to the empty nest. (In fact, the “What’s normal?” question is so pervasive, I wrote a blog post about that very thing last year.)
The truth is, empty nest syndrome (I’m not a fan of that term!) is a form of grief. By age fifty, everyone has experienced grief of some kind, whether a miscarriage, the loss of a parent, spouse, child, good friend, or even a beloved family pet. Anyone who struggles through grief knows that it’s different for everyone. No two people experience it in quite the same way. For some people, it’s intense at first and gets somewhat better over time. For others, it’s tolerable at first when there’s lots of activity and support, but it comes around and startles them months or even years later. In almost all cases, though, it’s the ebb and flow of grief that surprises them. My own empty nest grief has been like that.
Earlier this week, I read back over some of my journal entries from those first weeks and months of the empty nest. At first, the grief was intense and I felt like I was in a fog. I was exhausted, weepy, and discombobulated. But then it got better. And. Then. Came. Thanksgiving. Break. I realize now that I had a whole bunch of unconscious, unspoken expectations for that time (like, that my daughter had missed me as much as had I missed her), and there was no way it was going to live up to my expectations. It didn’t, of course, and I grieved anew as soon as my daughter left again. Then I regrouped. And. Then. Came. Christmas. Break. I did better with my expectations, and it was longer, but when she left, the tears came again.
Fast forward four years. Our last one will graduate from college in May. Over the years, I’ve realized that my grief will ebb and flow, and now when she leaves after being home, my feelings are an odd amalgamation of sadness (She’s gone. We’re sad. We miss her already.) and joy (We’ve got the house back! It’s so quiet and peaceful! We can walk around naked if we want!). After three kids, we’ve learned that a part of our heart goes when our kids go, but seeing them mature and thrive is so very sweet.
If you’re still struggling with your adjustment to the empty nest, I hear ya. If you feel “stuck,” I get that too. Today I’m sharing tips to help you get to a place that you’re comfortable with in your empty nest grief. I’m going to help you get your groove back.
1. Check Your Self-Care & Make Changes if Needed
- How’s your physical health?
- Are you exercising regularly? (Experts have found that cardio exercise worked just as well as anti-depressants?)
- Are you making good food choices?
- Are you getting enough sleep?
- Are you getting out of the house and spending time with others?
I wrote a blog post earlier this week about inflammation, and the effect it can have on our health and mood when we don’t take care of ourselves. You can read it here. I also wrote a post about my morning routine, and how I make sure I’m caring for myself mentally, physically, and spiritually every single day. You can read that one here.
2. Get a Check Up
3. Consider Counseling
It might be a good idea to see a counselor who can help you deal with the underlying reasons for your struggles. A good counselor can be like a friend who comes alongside you and helps you get “unstuck.” In fact, some counselors specialize in grief, which would be ideal. You may also need to be on medication prescribed by a physician. While not a cure, it may be helpful in the short term as you work through things.
4. Watch Your Neediness
5. Assess Yourself Honestly
- What skills do you have?
- Are you currently working? If so, are you fulfilled? If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.
- Was there anything you put on hold while your kids were around that you would like to do? Hobbies? Interests? Hopes and dreams?
- What are your untapped talents and abilities that could enable you to serve others and be a blessing?
I wrote a post about how to chase “meaning” in the empty nest and thrive in your third act. Click here to check it out.
6. Give Yourself Away
7. Take Control Back
Happy Weekend! After sleeping on a queen-size bed our entire married life, Bob and I got a swanky new king-sized bed this week! (It is completely ridiculous how excited we are about this!) We even sprung for the adjustable version with the massage feature. So I’m here to tell ya’, we may not get out of bed the entire weekend! LOL. I hope you have fun plans this weekend that are a lot more exciting than ours!
Photos by Megan Weaver.