Still Struggling With the Empty Nest? | Tips to Help Get Your Groove Back

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
woman in coral turtleneck looking down

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.

woman in coral turtleneck in arched entry

1. Check Your Self-Care & Make Changes if Needed

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

If you haven’t already, make an appointment to see your gynecologist and get a thorough check-up. This is a season of life when our hormones can go a little crazy! Anxiety, and its evil twin, depression, are pervasive during this time. There’s nothing wrong with getting help! Believe me, what you are experiencing is very common, and your doctor will have heard it before—probably many times! (For more information on anxiety and depression—and a self-test—click here.)

 

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

As far as your kids go, be sure you’re not overly needy. Just like you’re adjusting to a new stage in life, they are too. You must be the grownup here and not place the burden of your empty nest adjustment on your kids. Instead, you need to shift the relationship you have with them toward (somewhat) of an adult/peer relationship (even if it means hiding your true feelings for a period of time). If you want your relationship with your kids to continue growing, you need to make sure you’re a positive and encouraging person in your child’s life as much as possible. (For more on how to cultivate a good relationship with your adult kids, click here.) Bottom line: You need to be someone that your adult kids want to spend time with and someone who is a blessing to them! Being overly-needy or demanding will just push them away.

woman in coral turtleneck looking up

5. Assess Yourself Honestly

As you think about trying to move forward in your life, the first step is to assess yourself. You might need to ask a friend or family member to help you do this. When I was struggling to “find myself” again after our nest emptied, I texted my kids and asked them to describe me in three words. It helped me to see myself as they saw me.
  • 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

Prolonged grief, anxiety, and depression can cause a person to be too inward-looking and self-focused. This is not healthy! Consider how you can give yourself away to others. (I promise that you will find it fulfilling beyond your wildest dreams!) You need to allow others to benefit from all you have to share.

woman in coral turtleneck in arched entry

7. Take Control Back

Finally, take action. Take back control. You’re not a victim, and only you can do something about your situation. This can be as small as getting out of bed and going to the gym, or it could be as big as working up the courage to go back to school. You were a role model for your kids all their lives. Don’t stop now! You want them to be proud of you and see you as someone they aspire to emulate.
 
Motherhood is a sacred task, but you were made for more than motherhood! Your role as a mother will always be precious, but being a mother is not who you are as a total person. Get out there and take steps (even just baby steps) in the right direction.
 
Need some more help? I’ve gathered together some of my favorite resources below. Click on the images to learn more about each one. (BTW, I just started reading Blessing Your Grown Children by Debra Evans, and it’s wonderful!)
 
 
 
 
 
 
How was your adjustment to the empty nest? Did it take you a while to get your groove back? I’d love to know your tips and what helped you move forward. Please share them in the comments below!
 
woman in coral turtleneck looking to the side
 

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!

 
 

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Suzy Mighell

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8 Comments

  1. Hi Suzy!
    Thanks for the reminders in this great post. I’m still finding the new normal in year 2 of the empty nest, and love your encouraging words. I’m one of the “lonely/missing them” kinds of moms…but my hubby is thrilled to have me all to himself!! Meanwhile, I’m spending this week of my empty nest in Paris(!!) with my 80 year young mom while my husband attends a conference! Bonjour!

    1. Betsie,
      So fun to be in Paris! The empty nest does allow such fun opportunities to do things like that, right? I hope you have a wonderful week!
      It takes a while to get used to the empty nest, and even then it ebbs and flows. My 80+-year-old parents say they still get a touch of empty nest syndrome when I leave after visiting them; so in a way, just like other forms of grief, it never completely goes away. Thanks for your sweet comment. xoxo Suzy

  2. Dear Suzy, I have three children. When the first went out for studying, I thought my world is broken, although I had a interesting job. Then the second went to Hamburg and it was a little bit of solace to visit him in a nice city. And then the third want to go to England for one year. But then I telephoned with a friend and we make up bellalemoncella. This was the best thing we could do. Because in the times when women of our age are invisible, we make us visible and we had a lot of fun. Now the children are grown up and have their own lifes and I am very proud of them and my life is fine too.
    Kind regards Bella

    1. Bella,
      I am so happy for you! Congratulations! Thank you for sharing your story! xoxo Suzy

  3. I have an adjustable bed and I love it! You will enjoy your new bed! Now that my twins have graduated college and are living in their own apartments and employed as mechanical engineers, I struggle most with knowing what amount of help, financial and otherwise, I should be giving them as problems arise! My son seems to want to visit us more, and he communicates much more often than his twin sister. We try to not be too needy with her. It is a balancing act between showing her we care and allowing her to have her space and to make her own choices.

  4. Andrea,

    I’ve found my relationship with my adult daughter to be much more challenging than my relationship with my adult sons. Mothers and daughters are definitely a thing!

    We are enjoying our bed!

    Thanks for your comment!

    xoxo
    Suzy

  5. For me the empty nest has been like stages of grief. It is unique to each person and always changing. I have three children- the two oldest girls and the youngest a boy who is a junior in college, middle one finishing graduate school in Chicago where she also attended undergrad and oldest gainfully employed in SF. At one point all three were in three different states- two of them plane rides away!

    My tips are lean into the feelings and fully experience them. I developed new routines and hobbies and started working outside of the home. I absolutely love the shore so I pack up my beach items- good reading material, a writing journal, healthy food, good walking shoes or my bike and explore the area, exercise and relax- sometimes solo, or with a dear friend or with my husband. Being with people who understand really helps! Being alone to contemplate and turn inward helps too! Seeing a movie or getting dinner solo is fun too! I feel it is important to enjoy time with yourself.

    A seasoned empty nester couple suggested that kayaking had helped them with the empty nest and so my hubby and took up kayaking, buying our own and have explored many beautiful areas in CT bird watching, fishing-him, and exploring the beauty of nature. We pack picnic lunches, stop off for dinner as the mood struck us- free and not tied to anyone else’s schedule.

    Those beach days & days in nature have been healing, contemplative & just plain relaxing! After all of the caring and focusing on others needs MY needs and interests became important and nurtured!

    Acknowledge your feelings, communicate and develop a new normal. Be there for your children, enjoy them but give them space to grow and develop into healthy, independent adults. Praying and trusting that more good times are to be had and being proud of the work you have done.

    My oldest surprised me with a trip to Paris- just the two of us. The five of us plan visits in their areas and here at home when they visit. Suzy gave good advice of not being needy and getting in your children’s way as the forge independence. You will want them to enjoy your company!

    When my children come home they enjoy being nurtured & I enjoy the nurturing and seeing them relax & they even sometime enjoy making dinner for us! For my son in college a home cooked meal or an invitation for he and sometimes roomies to a nice meal out is always welcome and something I make time for. When he graduates I know the empty nest feelings will be back again but I feel equipped and ready to lean into them yet again.

    It is a highly personal process!
    Hope this helps!
    XO and prayers….

  6. Lizzy,

    WOW! Thank you for that wonderful comment! You gave great advice. I want to come to CT and kayak with you! Your kids are so blessed to have a mom who is thriving in the empty nest! How awesome!

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom. I loved every word!

    xoxo
    Suzy

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