Finding yourself again after grown up children leave home is challenging. After years of looking after our families and raising our kids, many of us tie our self-worth up in what we do for other people and forget we have a worth all our own.
It’s not surprising. After years of limiting or even putting them on hold to help nurture the dreams of others, our own dreams may seem completely out of reach. Worse, many women struggle with a real sense of loss. They mourn not only the presence of their children in the home, but also the time in their lives that has now passed. There is an element of fear around ageing that becomes much harder to ignore when your children have flown the nest.
An empty nest comes as a shock if you are the parent of an only child. You drop your grown up child off at university or they move to their first home and boom, everything changes in period of hours. If you have more than one child there may be a slower progression to a totally empty nest. However, while some may find this comforting, for others it is like a sword of Damocles hanging over their head.
Finding yourself again is made even harder by the fact that for most women, an empty nest occurs around the time they are experiencing peri-menopause or menopause itself. Contending with the physical and mental aspects of this huge life change alongside of an empty nest is nothing short of overwhelming.
Finding Yourself Again – Enjoying the Journey
I’ve experienced empty nest syndrome and I have also spoken to many women about this time in their lives. Readers have reached out to me about it as well. Needless to say, the experience of empty nest syndrome is different for everyone. However, it seems to be experienced as profoundly by those who have careers outside the home as by those who are housewives and stay at home mums.
So how do you go about finding yourself again in the midst of all the emotional chaos? It can be challenging, but it isn’t insurmountable. In fact, this time in our lives can be hugely invigorating, a chance to reinvent ourselves for another chapter. In fact, life beyond the empty nest can be as exciting, fulfilling and joyful as it was before, albeit in different ways.
Finding Yourself Again – Top Tips
Reconnect With Other People In Your Life
This is a wonderful time to reconnect with old friends. We are often so busy with our children that the other important people in our lives get neglected. Finding those people and inviting them back in can be part of finding yourself again. Over the last few years, I have reached out to friends I had lost touch with, many of whom are in a similar situation. A few friends have moved on and it was painful to discover this, however there are many who have been very happy to reconnect.
Whether you experienced an empty nest abruptly or it is happening slowly over time, now is definitely the time to reach out. If there are activities you used to enjoy such as a team sport, class, or shared hobby, see if any your old friends are still involved or are interested in taking the activity up again. Inviting someone to do this can be a great way to start a conversation if you have been out of touch for some time.
It can also be a real joy to reconnect with your partner, if you have one. Spending uninterrupted time together can be a lot of fun and benefit your relationship. Nevertheless, don’t be alarmed if there are some tensions at the beginning. Change of any kind is unsettling. Added to this, men experience empty nest syndrome too, but they often are not very good at expressing exactly how it is affecting them. Be patient with yourselves as you settle into this new phase of your relationship. After the first few weeks, the bittersweet emotions my husband and I felt were eased as our empty nest allowed us to rediscover what it was like to be a couple.
Reconnect With Yourself
Part of finding yourself again means getting back in touch with your hopes and dreams. If you have held on to them tightly, it may be quite easy to start thinking about bringing those dreams back to life. However, it may be that time and experience have made you reconsider what you really want. Some women reported that even if there were no impediments and they could do absolutely anything, they were really not sure exactly what it was they would like to do.
If you are feeling lost, choose an age you remember fondly. It should be a time when you were starting to form ideas and opinions about who you were and what you wanted to do. For many of us, this is somewhere between 10 and 12, but chose an age that resonates with you. Make a list of the things you used to love to do. Is there anything – or a variation thereof – you might like to try doing again?
For example, author and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin writes of spending hours with her “blank books” when she was a child. She filled them with quotations and pictures of things that resonated with her – and these blank books were definitely part of her journey to becoming an author.
Finding Yourself Again By Excavating Your Authentic Self
If your inner child isn’t coming out to play, or you don’t have fond memories of your childhood, finding yourself again may present extra challenges. One way to get around this is to sit down with a notebook, a pen, and a cup of your favourite beverage to do some excavation into your authentic self.
First, write down what you are most passionate about. What do you love to do that doesn’t feel like work? For example, when I sit down to write, hours disappear without my even realising it. Going through old recipes, documents, and photographs researching my family food history for the cookbook I am writing has a similar effect, as does curling up with a really good book, travelling somewhere new ,or exploring a historic stately home or castle. Once you start listing the things you love, it all begins to come together. How can you do more of those things?
Next, write down the things you would do if there were no limits, no budgets, no time constraints, or challenges with location. Acknowledging your wildest dreams may well help open the doors for you to make a version of them happen in your life.
Now is definitely the time to finally write the book you have been talking about for years, start the business, study a new language, painting or pottery, learn to sew, take a garden design course, or fulfil another long held dream. To paraphrase Rainer Maria Rilke “You are never too old and it is never too late.”
Do What You Want To Do
Inspired by (not-always-so) well meaning comments, many of the housewives and stay-at-home mums I spoke to felt compelled to “fill their time”. The question, “What will you do with yourself now the children have left home?” can definitely make anyone feel uneasy. However, anyone who has ever looked after a home knows that there is more than enough to ‘fill your time’ with or without children. Yet you may suddenly find yourself under pressure from family and friends to get a job or otherwise fill the (non-existent) empty hours they assume you are left with when the kids leave home.
In the course of my research I heard, “I feel no desire to go out to work, but I feel I ought to” many, many times. In almost every case, this was from stay-at-home mums who did not need to contribute to the family budget. As one reader expressed, “It’s like being a housewife and remaining a housewife isn’t enough.”
Being a housewife is absolutely enough. If you love homemaking and family finances allow, then please enjoy doing the things you love to do. It is no one else’s business what you do with your time other than your own.
Know You Are Enough
We all have a worth of our own that is in no way related to anything we do. Whatever you choose to do with your time, it is absolutely fine, and you are enough.
What’s fulfilling for other people may not be fulfilling for you and that is perfectly okay. People are always keen to give advice and tell others what to do, but no one else can possibly know what fulfils you.
Now we are all grown up and have raised children of our own, we are more than qualified to decide what makes us happy. Enjoy the process of figuring out how you want this next chapter of your life to unfold. It is a beginning, not an ending, and it can definitely be the start of something amazing.