Stress and the empty nest is real. Did this come as a surprise to you? Maybe you thought that with the kids gone, you’d be in a semi-retirement situation. 😂 (Don’t worry, it took me by surprise too!) In fact, the empty nest can actually bring its own stressors. Today, I’m sharing the four significant causes of stress for empty nesters, telling you how I’ve dealt with it, and offering practical tips to help you deal with it too.
1. Stress and the Empty Nest: Wrong Expectations
No matter how you thought the empty nest was going to affect you, you were probably wrong! Oh, we all had that initial adjustment period. (If you’re worried that yours has gone on longer than normal, click HERE.) Maybe you were one of those people who thought that the empty nest would be tough, but you’ve been surprised by how much you like it. (The house stays clean! The beds stay made! You can eat what you want when you want! 😄) Or maybe you thought it would be a breeze, but you find yourself struggling with a loss of identity now that being a mother isn’t your primary role. You’re not alone! Lots of empty nesters struggle because they think they’re prepared for the transition, only to find out that their expectations were way off-base.
When my last one left the nest, I spent about a month feeling, well, discombobulated! Eventually, I regrouped and started moving forward, but I was surprised that the emotions and unsettled feelings resurfaced after every school break ended! Just like any grief, empty nest grief can be unpredictable, and sneak up on you when you’re not expecting it.
How to Handle Your Stress
First of all, know that whatever your expectations, you probably got it wrong! Permit yourself to grieve, and give yourself the gift of time to adjust to the transition. You were engaged in active parenting for 18+ years, and even if you worked outside the home, you primarily identified yourself as a mother. It’s going to take time to see yourself differently and figure out how your “new normal” will feel.
2. Stress and the Empty Nest: The “What Now”Syndrome
When your nest empties, you have to figure out what’s next for you. Maybe your plans are well-defined and something you’ve planned for a long time, like building a second home, or going back to work/school/dating, etc. The possibilities can seem endless, and frankly, overwhelming. Add to that the fact that you probably had a list of some specifics things you planned to tackle once your nest emptied, ranging from cleaning out closets to getting in shape. If it’s a big project, it can seem overwhelming even to get started! Sometimes the struggle isn’t in getting started, but in maintaining your, um, enthusiasm for the task. Amirite? 😏
When my nest emptied, I had plans! I knew I wanted to work, but I wanted to do work that had meaning. I landed on blogging because I had a heart to bless, encourage, and inspire other women to live fully as they entered this new season of life. So I started Empty Nest Blessed to share that message. The business of blogging has changed a lot in the past four years, but my mission is still the same: to bless, encourage, and inspire empty nesters! (For more on me and how Empty Nest Blessed came to be, click HERE.)
How to Handle Your Stress
- What are your interests? What do you want to do or learn that you haven’t had time for with kids in the nest?
- What are your skills? Is there a skill that you had in the past that you want to brush up on and start utilizing again?
- What do others think you’re good at?
- What’s your passion? Where could you make a difference?
For more help, click HERE.
3. Stress and the Empty Nest: Changing Relationships
As your kids grow, your relationship with them will evolve as well. Parenting adult children can be challenging! The hardest thing may be to learn to hold your tongue and retrain yourself to say things like, “Hmmm, that’s interesting…” and “Tell me more about that…” when it’s not your default mode. 🤐 At the same time, your kids may be extra sensitive as they begin to differentiate and figure out who they are apart from you. Add to that the fact that, if you’re an empty nester, you may be a part of the sandwich generation, with not only kids of your own to support, but with aging parents to care for too. Finally, if you’re married, you may wake up in the empty nest to find that you’ve neglected your relationship and it needs work. If you’re single, you may want to enter the dating scene again. All of these shifts can be stressful, especially when several are happening at once.
I found that it took intentional thought, some honest and candid conversations, prayer, and a lot of humility on my part to deal with all of these relational shifting sands! What did I want my relationship to be with my adult kids? How could I best help my parents at this stage in their lives? How was not having kids at home going to change my relationship with my husband? I’ll be honest. All of these things are still playing out in my life! Relationships are dynamic, and situations and circumstances change over time. I’ve had to stay open, stay positive, and attentive to what the people I love need from me.
How to Handle Your Stress
Be open and honest with the people you care about when it comes to the changing nature of your relationships. Work to understand how your kids’ generation is different from yours so that you can relate to them better. If they adopt a new interest, learn about it so you can converse with them intelligently. Ask them about it, allowing them to be the “expert” and even show off a little. Above all, remember that kids of every age are hungry for their parents’ approval, so encourage them as much as possible. (This book has been helpful to me!)
When it comes to your aging parents, be attentive to their changing needs, and do your best to spend more quality time with them. I’ve been acting as a scribe and working through the keepsake journal books Grandma, Do You Remember When? and Grandpa, Do You Remember When? with my parents when I visit them, and it’s been such fun! We fill out a few pages every time I visit, and I’ve heard precious (and hilarious!) stories about my parents’ childhoods, early marriage, and more. The completed journals will be such a treasure for my kids one day.
If your marriage is struggling, or if you’re going to dip your toe back into the dating pool, talk to others who may have been in the same situation, and don’t be afraid to get professional help if you need it.
4. Stress and the Empty Nest: Health Issues
If you’re over fifty, you’re well aware of your changing health. Issues ranging from a slowing metabolism and weight gain to menopause and more can crop up gradually—or suddenly; and this can bring on stress, anxiety, or even depression. It seems like everybody’s got something! No matter what your issue, one thing scientists and doctors agree on: the importance of exercise. Getting and staying fit after age fifty is critical to reducing inflammation, dealing with mental health issues, and keeping your brain healthy.
I’ve definitely had to prioritize fitness and a healthy diet as an empty nester. Exercise fools your body into thinking it’s younger than it is, and that’s something I try to keep in mind when I don’t feel like exercising! I feel younger than my age, and I want my body to think I’m younger too!
How to Handle Your Stress
Schedule a visit to your family doctor for a checkup, and also an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist, a gynecologist, and the dentist. (Yes, we all have more health care providers as we get older!)
Exercise! If you’re out of shape or overweight, it can be overwhelming to think about where you are versus where you need to be. But it’s never too late to get started, and even those with limited mobility can benefit from beginning an exercise program.
Have you found the empty nest to be more or less stressful than you expected? Leave me a comment and let me know about your experience, okay?
Y’all, it’s no secret that animal prints are big right now, but even so, I nearly flipped when I saw this giraffe print top! The bow can be tied in the back, or wrapped around to the front and tied (or not). I paired it with this feminine pink blazer for a decidedly girly take on business attire. My snake-embossed leather pumps and coordinating belt feature pink tones as well (see the photo above). The belt reverses to a white patent, for maximum versatility.
Photos by Megan Weaver.
P. S. Are you ready for Father’s Day? If not, you’ll want to check out my Father’s Day Gift Guide! I’ve got lots of great ideas for all of the men in your life. (In fact, if you’ve got a male birthday coming up in your family, you’ll find some good ideas for that too!) Click HERE to head right to it!